team talking with coach

How Best Practices From Sports Coaching Greats Apply To Sales

In sales, competition is everything. Like in sports, the teams with the best strategies, skills, and mental focus are the ones that win. Sales coaches must help their teams develop their competitive edge to win against the toughest competition, and they can learn from the sport coaching greats. Some of the all-time greatest coaches include Mike Krzyzewski (all-time wins leader in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, six-time Olympic gold medals), Sir Alex Ferguson (13 Premier League Titles in British football), and Pat Summitt (all-time NCAA winningest basketball coach). What do they all have in common? They focus on goal setting and expectations, individual technique and skill fundamentals to improve their game, mindfulness and team chemistry – and always using data to inform their strategies.

Here’s why good sales coaching should follow the best practices of coaching a winning sports team.

1. Setting clear goals and expectations
A winning team understands what their targets are and what needs to be done to achieve them – specific actions and behaviors to reach their targets.

Mike Krzyzewski is widely regarded as one of the most successful and influential coaches in college basketball history. His coaching style is focused on building strong relationships with his players and fostering a positive team culture. In fact, “Coach K” is well-known for his clear expectations of each and every one of his team members: you have to bring a great attitude, you need to commit to excellence in both athletics and academics, and you need to be ready to work your hardest to succeed. Players joined his team knowing that they needed to follow his playbook, support the team, and give their best. This upfront alignment ensured that there was never confusion or doubt as to the team goals or what it would take to achieve them.

The exact same goes for sales. It starts with setting clear expectations and goals. This helps the sales team know what to focus on and where to prioritize, and to see where they stand within the set deadlines. Then they can collaborate on the specific actions and next steps that will deliver the best results. A good coach will lead the team through specific strategies, behaviors, and actions that are geared towards successfully achieving targets.

2. Understanding and leveraging individual skills
Great sports coaches know their team members’ strengths and shortcomings, and they adapt their game plays accordingly. The great coaches study film and analyze every individual stat – not just goals or assists, but speed, accuracy, shot conversion percentage, and even fouls. In sales, coaches need to understand their teams’ strengths and weaknesses, to customize strategies to optimize their performance. It is vital to work with each sales rep as an individual, and help them develop the specific skills they are lacking. This will help them increase their overall effectiveness and performance. By leveraging individual skills, the team will become like a winning sports team where all members work together to achieve a common goal.

Pat Summitt was the head coach at the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team for 38 seasons. She was known for her discipline and demanding standards, pushing her players to continually improve their skills. Summit didn’t sit back to watch her top performers succeed but stay stagnate. She focused on discipline, hard work, and attention to detail on each play and each technique, over and over again. And in doing that, she pushed the game and their performance to a new level of excellence through practice.

Skill development and a focus on technique are crucial threads of these sports coaching greats. Examples of coaching technique include:

  • Basketball to make a shot faster: focus on using proper jump mechanics, foot placement, use of legs versus relying on arm strengthen, and keeping eyes on the target. All four of those individual techniques contribute to overall behavior that can become habit.
  • Soccer or lacrosse to make a shot more accurate: focus on using the proper foot angle or grip and leveraging your entire body so your legs and torso generate both power and aim towards the intended target. They practice hitting very specific areas of the goal to control trajectory.
  • Ice hockey defense: focus on staying low and balanced to quickly change direction, keeping your arms spread wide to deny passing lanes, and communicating effectively with teammates to switch and cover. The best defenders keep the puck in the offensive zone by putting their hip against the boards and opening their outside foot to a 45-degree angle, so their body and skate acts as additional barriers.

Improving skills requires a commitment to improve. Some players may be great at one of these steps but need to work on a particular part of the technique to improve their effectiveness. It takes focus and specific actions.

For sales, skill building can include active listening, building rapport, product knowledge, closing techniques, and perseverance. Are you only replying via email? Have you practiced your opening line on a cold call? How do you overcome objections? What techniques work best in which situations? Different sales reps, just like different members of a sports team, have varying strengths and weaknesses. It is critical to focus on practice, role playing, and building new habits in the areas that will turn into tangible results.

3. Continuous learning
Good coaches never stop learning. They continuously evaluate their strategies and adjust to changing conditions. The best coaches take a data-driven approach to understand what is working, what isn’t, and where improvements can be made.

Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the most winning coaches of all time, having won numerous titles during his tenure as Manchester United’s manager. He was also known for his focus on technique and continuous skill development. After a winning season, he would look at the data to see where they could be even better next season, overall, as a team and individually for each player. With this focus, every member of the team would work on new plays, skills, or techniques to get better game over game and season over season.

Sales reps can also always get better, quarter over quarter and throughout their career. Continuous learning is key to sustainable business results.

It All Comes Together to Win
Winning in sports or sales is no small feat. A great coach constantly uses data to inform and remind the team about what actions and behaviors need to happen to achieve success. This focus becomes even more critical when teams reach milestones or face setbacks. By leveraging these core coaching principles, they will be able to see their teams become top-performing sales machines, just like top-performing sports teams.

Start Today
Applying these concepts has never been easier. Learn more how CoachEm leverages your existing tech stack to set goals, analyze the data, diagnose root causes, and prescribe targeted actions to help managers become great coaches to get the most out of every rep.