Going Deep: A Football Fan’s Guide to Sales Strategy

December 20, 2017

A Football Fan's Guide to Sales Strategy

It isn’t hard to draw parallels between the game of football and the sales profession. Much like an NFL offense, sales teams must work together and incrementally progress toward an end goal.

There are numerous different approaches a coaching staff can devise to march down the field and reach the end zone. The same is true for sellers. Some tend to aim high and take big shots. Others prefer a more slow-paced, methodical game plan. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you go about it as long as you’re putting points on the board (or, in this case, revenue in the bank).

With another exciting football season in full swing, we thought we would find some commonalities between strategies for winning games on the football field and winning deals in the sales realm. Which style do you prefer?

The Aerial Attack

It’s becoming more and more prevalent in today’s NFL: a pass-heavy offensive scheme predicated on burying the opponent with big plays. The trend is illustrated perfectly by this statistic: In league history, there have been nine 5,000-yard passing seasons; eight have come in the past decade

It makes for an enjoyable viewing experience, but the high-flying playbook carries some risks too. Chucking the ball up for grabs can make your team more vulnerable to turnovers, and isn’t a great way to manage the clock. If a team is going this route, it better have a highly reliable quarterback surrounded by players who can execute.

The sales equivalent would be a strategy that consistently aims for monster deals, and assumes some risk along the way. This entails identifying and aggressively pursuing top decision-makers with high-value accounts. The payoff is potentially huge, obviously, but there is downside. By narrowing your scope on those major targets you can miss out on smaller -- perhaps more attainable -- opportunities. Additionally, pushing too hard can lead to burnout among reps, as well as frustration among buyers.

The Ground Game

Also known as “dink and dunk.” This is a more classic style of NFL offense, built around running the ball, controlling the clock, and moving down the field with a series of shorter plays. It tends to be a safer and more measured approach, often leading to lower-scoring contests, but there’s a reason this traditional blueprint endures today. It still wins games.

It also still wins deals. Sales teams that play the ground game operate by taking smaller day-to-day steps toward larger objectives. They stay patient, and don’t let setbacks discourage them.

Sometimes the offense will lose yardage and stall out, but these failures can be overcome with a continuing focus on the big picture.

Defense Wins Championships

Plenty of NFL teams have achieved glory almost solely on the basis of a dominating defense. The 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens come to mind as banner examples. When the D is able to shut down an opposing squad, all the offense needs to do is take advantage of favorable field position and take care of the ball.

In this comparison, the marketing department could be viewed as the defensive complement to the sales team: two distinct units working toward the same goal, and helping one another out. When marketing is generating quality leads and them handing them off to sales, it’s like giving the offense the ball in scoring range.

Meanwhile, sales pros can adopt their own “defensive mindsets” by embracing an inbound philosophy that draws customers to them (blogging, joining LinkedIn groups, being active on social media, etc.).

Scouting the Competition

In football, knowledge is power. The most effective teams have great scouting, so they they know their opponents inside and out. They know what plays their opponents are apt to run sometimes even before their opponents do. 

Sales teams can implement similar tactics. Scouting and monitoring your competitors — via social media, news alerts, and hiring trends — is a good business practice these days. Using new sales tools that make your team more efficient and make your lead scoring more intelligent isn’t cheating, but rather taking advantage of readily available assets.

The Team Dynamic

Any of the four approaches listed above can work, but the best football and sales teams are able to effectively strike a balance, incorporating elements of each.

And above all, they get every team member aligned around the same outcomes, and working harmoniously toward achieving them. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi:

“Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

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