- Research Interviews
Managing a Sales Team is like Coaching a Sports Team: An Interview with Tony Balistrieri
At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Tony Balistrieri – Managing Partner – B.I.A.I. Inc, he shared some powerful insights into how sales managers can accelerate performance faster with their sales teams.
Early in the interview, Tony mentioned something we’ve often noticed when working with sales organizations. That managing a sales team has a lot in common with coaching an elite sports team. Tony explains…
Being a sales leader is like being a football coach in the NFL. You're only that head football coach as long as your team is winning. -Tony Balistrieri - Managing Partner - B.I.A.I. Inc Click To Tweet
“Being a sales leader is like being a football coach in the NFL. You’re only that head football coach as long as your team is winning. Always have that in the back of your mind. It’s your job to motivate and focus them. I have to help them win, and when and if they lose, I have to help them get beyond that loss.”
Great coaching starts with knowing your players
The best sports coaches put serious time into getting to know their players, what motivates them, and what it will take to help that player get to the next level of their potential. Players have personalities and different motivating factors and the same is true with sales teams as Tony explains…
“The best sales managers do with their individual salespeople the same thing they do with their clients. They look at them and they understand the people they have working for them and they have to figure out the motivation just like we’re going to figure out the motivation for a customer. They can get that salesperson focused to make them effective.”
It takes time and effort to get to know your salespeople and what they’re actually doing on sales calls with your prospects and customers. Sales reports and data alone cannot show us the more important insights that lead to breakthroughs as Tony has observed…
The managers that are the most effective are the ones that are in the details with their reps and spend time with them in the field. -Tony Balistrieri - Managing Partner - B.I.A.I. Inc Click To Tweet
“The managers that are the most effective are the ones that are in the details with their reps and spend time with them in the field. They take their own time and understand the customers and they understand what those reps are doing. They’ve got to be motivating and they’ve got to keep them focused.”
Data and reporting has come a long way in the last 20 years but it can be a crutch and deceiving at the same time. Watching salespeople live, on sales calls, is where the best information is gathered to coach and improve the team.
Better practice leads to better performance
Elite sports coaches understand clearly the correlation between practice and performance. When a new coach comes to a losing team, one of the first things they do is carefully analyze the players’ practice routines so they can improve them. This is so fundamental to the improvement process, it’s remarkable how few sales managers tap into the power of practice. 75% of the salespeople we work with in the SalesGym tell us they rarely get opportunities to practice with their sales managers. 75%!
Tony shared with us his perspective on practice and what to focus on…
“There are several steps for practice. You have to be able to practice how you’re going to present to a customer, and you have to prepare to do that. You’ve got to put the information together that you’ve gathered from the customer and you have to put that together with what you have as far as your offerings and then you’ve got to literally practice in front of a mirror or in front of your team.”
With sales teams, practice should start with learning how to communicate competitive advantages, differentiating factors and a solution-focused value proposition in a more concise and compelling way. These are the building blocks of better sales calls. Next, is learning how to ask more engaging open-ended questions that lead to opportunities. A bad habit many salespeople get into is asking too many closed-ended questions that ultimately lead to more talking, less listening and less customer engagement.
Practice is all about repetition
When Tiger Woods was at the peak of his career, he had a two-year stretch where he didn’t miss a single putt under 4 feet in any of the high pressure tournaments he played in. He explained his putting routine as forcing himself to make 100 3-4 foot putts in a row, with each hand, every night before going to bed. That kind of practice with pressure enabled him to become the best clutch putter in history.
“The worst habit salespeople have is spewing out all those things that they sell without taking the time to understand the customer,” Tony has observed. To break that habit, salespeople need to get much better at asking relevant and engaging questions. “How do you get good at all of that questioning and understanding the customer? You’ve got to practice that.”
Great coaches focus hard on breaking bad habits and changing the way their players react to pressure. Over 90% of the sales executives we’ve interviewed believe that talking too much on sales calls is the #1 mistake salespeople make. Tony shared with us how he approaches this stubborn problem…
“Salespeople talk too much because they get nervous or anxious as they’ve got that first meeting and they’re trying to impress the client so much. They try too hard to get to a point where there’s some momentum, where they can actually get their hands on something to sell them versus truly understanding through good questions. They need to first understand do they have a challenge, do they have any problems, what do we have that could probably help them.”
NBA players that played under Phil Jackson, who won a record 11 championships in his coaching career, often remarked on how fundamentals-based his practices were. He repeated the same basics, practice after practice, until every player could execute, with confidence. Tony believes the same approach is critical with sales teams…
“The best training is through repetition. The only way to do it is to work with them on a daily basis. To be successful at sales you have to be able to work hard and be willing to put all of your efforts into generating results and you have to work fast.”
Great training creates better performance under pressure. The best sales coaches build training into their weekly routines and create a potent practice culture with lots of repetition.
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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