LeBron James Has a Message for Sales Leaders

Ryan Pierce

We’ve been spending a lot of time in the field with reps lately. Some reps are on track to hit their Q4 numbers, but others are clearly at risk. Last week, I saw an experienced software rep end a 5-deal winning streak by pitching the wrong message. Her ROI story was compelling – “All of our customers have seen a 15% decrease in cost in the first six months!”. But in her last deal, she forgot to adapt. The key influencer was the HR leader, who cared more about people engagement vs. saving money. No surprise, she lost the deal.

I’m reminded here of LeBron James. Clearly a basketball god, you might think his practice routine only focuses on expert-level skills. But LeBron is known for attention to the basics. And it's these basics that keep him at the top of his game.

So what can LeBron James teach us about keeping our basic skills sharp? Consider these four fundamentals that are universal keys to sales success. Unfortunately, we continue to see reps failing to execute in these areas.

1. Pre-work. Just as NBA players study game tape, reps must do the necessary pre-work before every meeting. Too many salespeople have gotten complacent. They’re not taking the time to study the unique factors of their deals and buyers. This means they’re not tailoring their messages and selling actions to match the situation. But every buyer has a unique perspective on their problem and in a different stage in their deciding journey. So logically, the deal strategy and pitch need to adapt.

Get Back to the Basics: Don’t wing it. Make sure your reps do their homework. Do they understand what’s important to their prospects and where they are in their process? How are you building better situational awareness in your teams? A little prep goes a long way in helping reps execute the right actions at the right time.

2. Practice. Even LeBron realizes there’s always room for improvement. He watches tape of himself to pinpoint exactly what he needs to work on. Salespeople can do the same by role-playing. This is where the front-line manager continues to make the difference between mediocre and great. Home office work is a reality for managers today. But to help their reps make the number, managers need to maximize their face time with reps. Every ride-along or market visit must include role-play and feedback.

Get Back to the Basics: Practice! It takes personal initiative to realize everyone has areas for improvement. Too many reps simply lack the self-awareness of their gaps. Ask them to continuously self-assess their skills using peer and manager feedback. More importantly, sales leaders need to emphasize the importance manager field time. Maniacally manage calendars to remove any barriers.

3. Season Management. By game 70 of the 82-game NBA season, most teams know if they’ll make or miss the playoffs. Similarly, by early Q4, most salespeople know whether they’ll hit their numbers or not. When LeBron James knows his team has clinched playoffs, he doesn’t begin to coast. Instead, he plans for success in the post-season. Some reps take their foot off the gas when they realize they won’t make their target. Worse, we’ve seen reps - conditioned by bad incentive plans - check out after they’ve hit it. This time of the year is crucial for filling the top of next year’s pipeline. Failure to do this means a slow start to next year. It also prevents reps from having the right mindset of what it takes to win.

Get Back to the Basics: Don’t slow down. Help your teams avoid the many Q4 distractions so they stay focused on the market. Sales cycles continue to slow. The work reps do today will have an impact well into 2019. Momentum and focus is key.

4. Stay Consistent. Even LeBron can’t win every game. In fact, the Lakers are off to a mixed start to this season. If one of the greatest NBA players of all time can go through a slump, then so can your reps. We continue to see too much emphasis on lagging sales indicators. And when they’re off the mark, the pressure on reps increases. Unfortunately, this pressure isn’t particularly helpful. For most, it can be completely demoralizing. Consistent execution of the right selling behaviors drives long-term success.

Get Back to the Basics: If your numbers are down, don’t panic. We know it takes patience, but harping on a lost deal or a missed sales target isn’t likely to change your course. Do you know the most important behavioral indicators of success? Do your reps? Focus sales management activities on helping your teams excel with the right behaviors. More times than not, the lagging indicators will follow.  

With the world of sales constantly changing, the fundamentals remain constant. Next time you watch LeBron on the court, remind yourself of the fundamentals behind his success.

We’d love to share more insights about how modern sales organizations help their reps master the fundamentals. Contact us to learn the latest strategies for making your number now and into 2019.

Ryan Pierce

Ryan Pierce

Consultant who helps clients diagnose and address their barriers to sales productivity. Ryan leverages his marketing background to attack issues using data and customer insight.