Sports metaphors are everywhere in sales, from labeling employees as “team members,” to using offhand references like, “the ball is in our court” or “we are neck and neck with the competition.” Maybe these references can get a bit corny or cliche in the office, but in all actuality, there are a lot of relevant overlaps from sports to sales — and by embodying some of the more constructive qualities championed in sports culture, you can build a sales team that is enthusiastic, efficient and ultimately makes more sales.
Here are 5 sports lessons winning sales teams embrace:
1) Learning to win involves failure
Failure, inevitably at some point, happens in both sports and sales. And as my dad loved to say to me after a tough loss, “the other team gets paid, too,” meaning, losing is a part of playing the game because, naturally, everyone can’t win every time.
In sports, teammates and coaches are there to help each other up from failures, and good teams do this and learn valuable lessons from losses.
In sales, building a strong team culture can give your team the support they need to get back up and sell after getting knocked down. A collaborative culture uses losses to hone best practices and become a stronger team. Without that culture, failures are just a disappointment rather than a chance to learn and improve.
2) Attention to detail makes all the difference
In Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino, playing a football coach, famously tells his team that, “the inches we need are all around us” — meaning, doing the little things gets the win in the end. All successful sports teams preach the importance of attention to detail, knowing that big wins are preceded by a series of much smaller successes.
The same is true in sales. Getting your sales team to do “the little things” is a challenge all sales managers face. Reaching out to new clients and setting more meetings are examples of little things that — although they may not be counted as “wins,” themselves — play a crucial role in the final outcome. A good sales manager focuses on motivating these details and turning them into larger successes for the team.
3. A team is only as strong as its weakest link
On great sports teams, every player executes on their role and contributes to the success of the team — or as the saying goes, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
A sales manager should hold employees to the same standard, too, by keeping team members focused on and contributing to important outcomes. Promoting competition and transparency in the team are proven methods for keeping members focused, engaged and interested in the outcomes both they and the team produce as a whole.
4. Even after successes, always be improving
In sports as in business, a constant drive to improve pays dividends — as evidenced by the best basketball player in the world (at least in my opinion), LeBron James. After winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 2011, James could have been satisfied with his individual performance and spent the offseason resting with family and friends. He wasn’t. Instead, he worked all offseason to improve his game and came back the next season to lead his team to the NBA Championship.
Top salespeople are like LeBron — meeting success with an even greater desire to improve. After a great quarter, resting on one’s laurels can be a natural reaction; however, turning a good quarter into an even better year is the ultimate goal, and a constant drive to improve is what makes that happen.
5. Sales is competition
Competition is fundamental to sales and every sales managers knows it well — but not all of them fully embrace that competitive spirit. If your team doesn’t maintain its competitive edge day in and day out, you can bet your competitors are in your place. Come to work ready to win and you’ll find that your competitive edge is a great asset.
Regardless of how you choose to incorporate such a culture, though, the important part is that you take steps incorporating it. Chances are it’s already there to an extent, but focusing it and tapping into what drives your team — like an athlete on a sports team — will return a much better chance your team wins the game (and not just the quarter).