New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick was asked during an interview before the Superbowl last year, what the most important attributes football players had to have to be on his team. He said, “Love of football, hard work, and unselfish.” Whether you love him, or love to hate him, by most measurements he does what he does quite well. Indeed, he’s a winner. Rather than look at the details of how to win a football game, let’s take a look at the principles he uses to win often, which is more applicable to winning at sales.
Notice that he didn’t say “strength, speed, and size” among other attributes – the stuff most of us might intuitively assume is of primary importance. He didn’t say yards-per-carry, interceptions caught, or number of sacks – nor anything related to how well the on-field statistics capture a player’s competence in their role.
Clearly, he is getting enviable outcomes year after year. He has amassed a winning record that compares with a handful of the greatest coaches of our era including UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden (read Wooden on Leadership); Tennessee basketball coach, Pat Summit (read Raise the Roof), Dolphins coach Don Shula (read Everyone’s a Coach), or the lesser-known New Zealand All Blacks Rugby coach Graham Henry (read Legacy). So what is Belichick looking at that others might be overlooking? What can we learn from his strategy, as sales leaders, to ensure we have “players” on our team that make us winners and make our competition envious at least or even “hate” us, if we’re lucky?
When selecting salespeople, many managers look for attributes such as a good personality, likeability, strong drive, past success, eye contact, or a firm handshake. And very often they want to see knowledge of the product or industry on their resume. While this might give one comfort that the right choice was made, will it consistently predict that your new hire will be successful selling what you sell, in your environment, to your market? Our extensive research says no.
Picking through the data from this research, and reviewing the findings of the assessments of over one million salespeople and their managers (using ongoing research from Objective Management Group), there are visible patterns that emerge that identify what managers might look for to pluck the elite players from the rest of the pack, or even the good from the entirely, umm, not so good, that upon initial observation are not easy to spot. Most interestingly, some of the most important analysis looks at specific elements of character that are similar to Belichick’s big three. In fact, it’s not hard to see a similar pattern in Jon Wooden’s simple success formula of Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity (Love of the game + hard work + unselfish).
We all know that there are plenty of NFL players with strength, speed, size, and knowledge who even with all that still don’t perform as predicted. If you draft, trade, or hire enough of them, after much weeding, you might have a decent team. But earning seven Superbowl rings, as Belichick has, takes something else – looking at hidden attributes that we might also tap to ensure we don’t waste time and energy on weeding through player after player. To be the best, an understanding of this difference could make all the difference. One of the New Zealand All Blacks mantras is “better people make better All Blacks.” Not better players; better people – Unity, Unselfish.
Belichick’s three key attributes are also less tangible and not as easy to spot. Everyone can see size, strength, and speed. It takes more effort, care, attention, and recruiting skill to see if there is “love of football, hard work, and unselfish.” Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to measure it? What do we need to look at, to give us the edge, in the role of a sales manager who has the responsibility of ensuring that we have the best people?
Belichick’s big three show a strong emphasis on environment and culture over knowledge and skill. Our research over three decades tells us that the sales equivalent of the factors one must possess to support the right environment and culture could be characterized as follows:
Top 3 Success Factors for Salespeople
- Grit – Desire, Commitment, Outlook, and Motivation
- Responsibility – No-excuse attitude
- Coachable – I’m not already the best.
Grit is increasingly cited in recent literature as a primary factor in success. For more on that, view Angela Duckworth’s TED talk that has now been viewed 11 million times. Let’s take a closer look at these critical character traits.
We’re interested in desire for success in sales as opposed to simply desire for success. Behavioral styles tests such as DISC, while useful for creating better internal communication, miss this important distinction. If being a “salesperson” is a stopover on the way to another career, or just the result of a belief such as “I will make more money,” the desire to be a successful salesperson might not reach a level of that of a top performer on your team, even if this is an otherwise success-driven person and even if they have written personal goals and a plan to meet them! It must be specific to sales.
To many managers, the word Commitment sounds interchangeable with Desire, but the confusion leads to one of the more common reasons why new hires don’t work out. We see their strong desire and assume they’ll walk through walls to get there. If they have a high desire for success in sales, they might come across as just the person you are looking for. However, without understanding what they are willing to do to reach that success level, you’re taking a not-so-small risk, as OMG data has shown for the past three decades.
Anyone with teenagers understands this phenomenon. A kid might want to own one of those cars they saw in a James Bond movie, but sleeping till noon and taking endless selfies won’t usually help them get there? They might have the desire, but not the corresponding commitment.
How do you feel about your work, your life, your friends, your direction, your general state? Is the glass half-empty or half-full, or are the contents moldy? Your outlook comes with you to work and affects your ability to do what needs to be done and ultimately, your success.
In a scene from the HBO television show, Game of Thrones, when the character, Aria is being trained in sword fighting, her teacher notices her mind is elsewhere. “You are with your troubles,” he says, and continues, “When you are with your troubles,” he explains, pausing long enough to dance around her with his sword until she is on her back lying on the hard stone floor, “…more trouble for you!,” he says.
If we measure a poor outlook in a pre-employment assessment, we want to probe that a bit, and ask about it in the interview. Is it related to the simple fact that they are currently out looking for work, or is it a common feature of their daily life independent of circumstance.
If you want to motivate someone, find out what already motivates them. Where is their motivation coming from? When I coach managers and executives, I often hear the statement, “I don’t know how to motivate this person.” My first question is, “How well do you know them?”
Do they love to win or hate to lose? Do they like pressure from a superior or do they apply pressure to themselves? No right or wrong answers on that; if you know you need pressure from above, then set up an environment that creates that and it will help your success, or find an “accountability partner” to help remind you to do the things you know you need to do. Do you compete against others or against yourself? Do you like recognition or is self-satisfaction more important? …and many others.
In a sales force evaluation I reviewed with a client two weeks ago, we found that the two most motivated salespeople were motivated in opposite ways. Any one approach the manager adopted would motivate one while demotivating the other. Only a tailored approach would be effective.
Is your motivation extrinsic or intrinsic? In other words, does it come from outside rewards or is it more internal or even altruistic? In the book, Drive, author Dan Pink uncovers research that shows that we are motivated mostly by three things: autonomy, growth, and purpose – all intrinsic. Money can still be a driver but for most of us, it usually isn’t a primary driver unless you don’t have enough to meet basic needs. Since 2008, intrinsically motivated salespeople are now the majority at about 54%. Incidentally, there are certain compensation models that can reconnect even the most intrinsically motivated among us to their own bottom line.
If you are interested, recent new data from Objective Management Group regarding the latest statistics on motivation in salespeople was revealed by Dave Kurlan in this article.
Responsibility – No Excuses
Measuring “responsibility” provides a yardstick on how willing someone is to own their outcomes, both desirable and undesirable. When things don’t go right, which way is the finger pointing? Is it pointing out there at someone or something, or back at you? Does it depend…? As a manager, have you ever heard, “Well at the last minute, the competition lowered their price and got the business? There was nothing I could do about it.”
Having a “no-excuse” policy for yourself and for your team doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate reasons that things go wrong outside of your control. It means that you aren’t wasting your time on them. The focus, rather, is on what is within your control that you could do or could have done to change the outcome. The excuse prevents learning because it provides a psychological out, and gives away all the power to the subject of the excuse. It feels good in the moment because it gets you off the hook, but it ultimately makes you powerless to make important changes.
My spell checker always puts a red line under the word, coachability. (It just did it again. Hey, programmers!, it’s cromulent.) Being coachable is a predictor of professional growth. It doesn’t mean that one isn’t already great…if they are. Rather, it’s about limiting oneself. If we are closed to all but our own personal views and experiences, we cut off receiving potentially useful knowledge from others who might contribute in some manner to our continued success.
When we think we know it all, it’s unlikely we’ll take anyone’s advice. I teach a training module called Improvement Dynamics™ that illustrates our limits by describing the nature of the very next deal that we almost got. It’s the one we might have closed, but didn’t. Each of us has such a deal or opportunity over any time frame of your choice, regardless of the breadth of our experience or of our sales ability. One can ask themselves what skill they need to refine, what activity they need to do more, or what belief they should update so they can close that very next deal that they otherwise would have missed.
Regarding uncoachable salespeople, if someone is already on your team and having success and beating targets every quarter, but you can’t tell them anything they already “know,” there can be value in keeping them on your team, but they must be managed differently. However, if we follow the logic of people like Belichick and Wooden, then being “unselfish” or insisting on an environment of “unity” might be more important to your overall success than protecting an attitude problem merely for their incremental sales numbers, while the team suffers.
The 3 Success Factors
In short, we could summarize the critical qualities a salesperson must possess if you want your team to have the edge, as Grit, No Excuses, and Coachable. There are many more attributes and skills that contribute to sales success, of course, and you can read about the 21 core competencies of salespeople in this article by Dave Kurlan. However, these three success factors must be present because the other skills and experience necessary for success won’t be enough to compensate for if these qualities are missing.
These “big three,” however, are a subset of the 21, and gaining an understanding of what they are and how to spot them is not just about having good salespeople, but about gaining the edge in your market. They are instrumental for shaping your environment and fostering a culture of constant improvement.
Where else have we seen this emphasis on culture make the difference in defining winning teams? In the sports world, Belichick has a lot of company including many great coaches and managers both today and before his time that have witnessed the benefit of environment, culture, and character over more obvious commonly-measured skill sets.
John Wooden coached UCLA to seven consecutive national championships by specifically de-emphasizing victories in favor of behaviors. Wooden would say, “Winning takes talent; to repeat, it takes character.” Vince Lombardi said, “Collective character is vital to success. Focus on getting the culture right; the results will follow.” And then there’s the All Blacks rugby team who looked for, “…high work rate, strong body movers, guys that were unselfish and had a sacrificial mindset.” Sound familiar?
Using radical new thinking about statistics, Theo Epstein helped the Red Sox break a “curse” and win the World Series. But when they started to lose in subsequent seasons, there was infighting and finger-pointing that made it difficult to recover their former glory. While other teams were hiring statisticians and quantitative analysts to find the next big inefficiency in the game, Epstein left the Red Sox and went to the Chicago Cubs with a simple approach that followed on what these great coaches mentioned above had discovered – find good players with the right character. Once again, the statistics were important, but character was more important.
Epstein said, “If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most. It’s impossible to quantify." Sounds a lot like, “Better people make better All Blacks,” doesn’t it?
With this mindset, he went on to help the Cubs’ break their 103-year “curse” and win the World Series. Perhaps the curse had been self-inflicted all along and someone needed to step up and own the problem. No excuses. What problems do you have at your company that you can choose to decide are happening because you haven’t found a solution.
As the NFL gets into the swing of the second half of the season, fans will be watching to see what Belichick achieves with this year’s team of new and old faces. When asked how he deals with personality problems in the locker room, he said, “We don’t have them.” New England fans know this as they’ve watched great players get shown the door when they became more important than the team.
Who on your team is helping you win? And who, despite their experience, knowledge, skill, and individual success is holding you back from meeting your company’s true sales potential? What are you going to do about it?
Photo credit: Copyright: giorgiorossi73