The Sales Success Secret Shared by Bill Walton and John Wooden

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, May 24, 2016 @ 08:05 AM

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I’m reading Basketball legend Bill Walton’s autobiography, Back from the Dead.  There are great stories and lessons, but the one I want to discuss here is about legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.

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Bill talked about the basketball team’s practices and how they were so well scripted, incredibly challenging and the most fun. He called them symphonies! The practices were so powerful that the games, even against the best competition, were always much easier than practice.  The games were so easy that the players did not need to remember plays or even think.  All they had to do was execute.  The team’s system of running the fast break was so well ingrained that executing was easy. This led to an 88-game winning streak!

Translating this story to selling, I need to point out that most salespeople not only hate to practice (read role-playing), but don’t believe it is necessary.  Remember, as much as the basketball team practiced, it was only their own part that they were practicing.  They didn’t have the other team’s playbook and didn’t even prepare for the other team.  They simply practiced every possible scenario that could come up so that they were completely prepared - for anything.  In sales, how many salespeople are so thoroughly prepared that it wouldn’t matter what their prospect said, did, or asked and even the competition would be irrelevant?

"The only difference between successful salespeople and the other 77% is that the successful salespeople actually do the
very things they don't like doing." 

Here is a great movie clip from Hitch that demonstrates how difficult it is to role-play.

Albert Gray, an insurance company executive in the 1950's, said something that is still as true today as it was nearly 70 years ago.  He said, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don't like to do. They don't like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”  If he said it today, it might have sounded like, "The only difference between successful salespeople and the other 77% is that the successful salespeople actually do the things they don't like doing." 

See Dan Caramanico's comment below about practice where he writes, "Lots of teams practice but the difference lies in the adage that it is not practice that makes perfect. It's perfect practice that makes perfect. Half hearted practice or practicing the wrong things is no help at all."

And I'm reminded of this message from when I participated in Dave Pelz' Short Game School.  "Practice makes permanent!"

Finally, Bill Talerico wrote an article about John Wooden and translated yet one more great basketball lesson here.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, notre dame basketball, john wooden, ucla basketball, bill walton

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About Dave

Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years.  Dave's Blog earned a Bronze Medal in 2016 and this article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016. Read more about Dave.

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