Important Sales Lessons from One of Sports’ Greatest Duos

“I think the most rewarding part of the job, and I think most coaches would say it, is practice. If you have it, a very good practice in which you have 12 guys participate, and they can really get something out of it, lose themselves in practice.”

Phil Jackson

What a fantastic quote from the Zen Master which epitomizes the importance around practice and why sales reps need practice – We’re Talking ’bout Practice… Yes, Sales Reps Need Stinking Practice!

Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan had Phil Jackson. Tom Brady has Bill Belichick. What’s the common denominator?

Behind every great team you’ll find great coaches.Behind Every Great Athlete Is a Great Coach

Behind every great team you’ll find great coaches. With every great coach you’ll almost always find their life was influenced by one or more impactful coaches or mentors. Can we make the same comparison inside sales teams? Who are the mentors to sales managers? Who impacted them?

Their success comes from their commitment to consistently practice certain disciplines less successful coaches aren’t willing to practice. The same holds true for elite athletes. Can the same be said for the sales community? Is there a great coach behind every successful sales professional?



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Great Coaches Get Their Athletes to Believe in Themselves

Phil Jackson and Bill Belichick inspire their players to do more than they think they can. They stretch their limits, beliefs and challenge them along the way. Phil Jackson built up Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Bill Belichick has built up Tom Brady’s self- esteem rather than undermine it. These coaches don’t praise mediocre effort. What they do effectively is practice catching elite athletes doing things right. They don’t get caught up playing head games leaving these athletes questioning their abilities.

Can any of this apply to the sales world?

There may be a fine line between a good coach and a great coach but they can make a world of difference to professional athletes. Can the same be said in the sales world?

Hall of fame coaches –

  • Are effective communicators
  • Are compassionate
  • Have a passion for the game
  • Get to know their players
  • Are true leaders

Hall of fame coaches give their athletes direction and motivation helping them to reach their goals. They have a game plan, they are organized and always find a way to encourage the entire team to believe and work together. These coaches lead with an enthusiastic demeanor, excelling and growing the team by personal example.

All of this got me thinking…

Why do sales managers have difficulties doing what hall of fame coaches are paid to do? What makes a sales manager AND how they go about doing their job any different than a hall of fame coach?

My answer to you all is quite simple – most sales managers manage as opposed to coach and lead.

The Challenge

Previously I asked the question, Can You Imagine A Professional Athlete Operating With A Sales Reps Mindset?

Can you image a hall of fame coach operating with a sales manager’s mindset? Is there a difference in mindset between a manager and a coach? What makes a great sales manager versus a sales leader or coach? I am not here to bash on sales managers as they play an important role, however; I am here to challenge the status quo in how they grow, nurture and enhance the lives of their sales team.

“Management is transactional, while Leadership is Transformational.”

Brian Tracy

I encourage more sales managers to take on leadership roles within your sales team. Open up your mindset to lead and support your people in a way in which will ultimately allow them to achieve, be productive, and experience growth.

Here lies the challenge for most sales teams – great sales reps often times get promoted to sales managers. The challenge is most promoted sales managers are familiar with the transactional side of the business as this is what their sales mindset is accustomed to achieving. This is polar opposite of leading others in order to achieve results.

This is why I feel there is such misalignment inside sales departments. Sales managers who lack leadership qualities fall into the habit of managing off of to-do lists, activity reports and a “what will you close mindset?”

A Sales Manager or a Sales Leader

Coaches and leaders spend more time listening and asking questions. Is there any correlation between hall of fame coaches and sales managers? More often than not, sales managers operate with a “boss” type mindset as opposed to a coaching mindset. Phil Jackson and Bill Belichick are leaders and exceptional coaches as they enhance the lives of the athletes around them thus achieving outstanding results.

  • Coaches and leaders spend more time listening and asking questions. Sales managers spend more time speaking and giving directions.
  • Coaches and leaders invest serious amount of time observing. Sales managers make quick assumptions and are quick to point fingers.
  • Coaches and leaders are support outlets in assisting to develop growth plans. Sales managers give the plan and tell their people to follow it.

Do Hall of Fame Sales Managers Exist?

Just as professional athletes need great coaches so do sales reps. Sales managers must adopt a coaching mindset. Therefore, I encourage executive management to develop hall of fame sales managers.

Phil Jackson had Jerry Reinsdorf and Dr. Jerry Buss. Bill Belichick has Robert Kraft. How many in executive management encourage, support and coach their sales managers to become hall of fame sales leaders?

“My personal coaching philosophy, my mentality, has always been to make things as difficult as possible for players in practice, however bad we can make them, I make them”

Bill Belichick

Hall of fame sales managers can exist. With the support of executive management, they can build a growth oriented sales department by:

  • Building and enhancing the relationships with their sales reps
  • Providing and personally assessing their sales reps strength and weaknesses
  • Challenging their sales reps thinking and assumptions around personal growth
  • Supporting and encouraging open communication
  • Driving results through written action plans and daily practice

Mindset Will Lead the Way

Become a master of a changing mindset. The biggest and most challenging task of a sales manager is to prepare the sales team for a constantly changing marketplace. Hall of fame sales managers:

  • Earn their sales team trust
  • Provide positive feedback
  • Build enthusiasm amongst the team
  • Get involved with their team
  • Grow and develop their entire team
  • Lead people to constantly be improving, never accepting mediocrity

Hall of Fame Sales Leaders

Hall of fame sales leaders lead by example, demonstrating their values through their actions.

Leaders who lead are true mentors and role models, building business results through relationships and integrity with every member of their team.

Hall of fame sales leaders lead by example, demonstrating their values through their actions. They build relationships by mentoring and providing guidance, creating cohesive sales teams by earning the loyalty of each team member.

Hall of fame sales leaders who lead by example are competent and drive business results for the organization while building strong relationships with their sales team, customers and vendors.

If you would like some inspiration I welcome the conversation or send me a message to Your comments are greatly appreciated.

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and has been adapted for use on this blog with kind permission of Larry Levine.

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