I expect to take some heat for this post. Perhaps I’m way off base with my opinion. Maybe I’m not, after all. I hope you’ll let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
During my formative years I played the trumpet. I practiced hours a day—so much so that I missed most of the “normal” interest and experiences boys had with sports. Sure, I could hit a ball and throw a football, but the whole sports team experience was absent from my life.
I know much of that developmental need was fulfilled through all the many musical groups I’ve played with, from jazz combos to orchestras, from concert bands to big bands. Talk about teamwork!
Fast forward to now. I’ll watch a baseball, basketball, or football game. Occasionally some tennis and some golf. Maybe one each of those sports per year. Certainly the Olympics. I appreciate the athletes, the strategy, the competition. I really do. And I understand people’s passion for their favorite sports, favorite teams, and favorite athletes. I feel that way about music and musicians.
If you’ve read my blog or heard me speak, you know that I believe that sales is in the unfortunate state that it is because it is not treated like the business that it should be. When I say unfortunate state, I mean conditions that have been validated year-after-year by well-known and well-respected researchers: around 50% of salespeople hit their targets, 25% attrition rate among sales people per year, 19-month tenure for sales VPs, etc., etc. We’ve got a big problem in the world of professional selling.
One significant contributing factor is the deliberate and conscious effort by many companies and sales leaders to equate their “sales teams” to sports teams and to treat them that way. Sales teams are not sports teams. Sales is not a sport. It’s a business.
I’ve delivered enough keynote speeches at kickoff meetings to have met a lot of sports figures. I’ve worked with enough sales managers and VPs of sales to have heard every story there is about Vince Lombardi, and a host of other great sports heroes. Motivational? Sure. Entertaining? Sure. Productive with respect to delivering the numbers? I haven’t ever seen the connection.
Selling is not a sport. It’s a business. It needs to be run like the business that it is.
Are there important things we can learn about teamwork, strategy, and execution from sports? Sure. But wouldn’t it be better to learn by examining successful sales experiences, sales case studies, and research about selling, or effective teamwork, strategy, and execution from other functions and departments within our own companies?
There is more than a bit of irony here. Sports teams today are money making machines. Big bucks. Big, big bucks. Big business. Even at the college level.
Sports teams are run like the businesses they are. Why should sales departments be run like the sports teams that they are not?
I think the sooner more of us start saying “sales organization” rather than “sales team” and begin thinking in those terms, the better off everyone will be.
I’m going to do that, starting right now.
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