5 Championship Level Secrets to Building a Winning Sales Team

Books have been written, scores of interviews done, hours and hours of talk radio and television have been broadcast about that one moment on January 10, 1982…

In their playoff game against the league-dominating Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers were down 21-27 with 58 seconds left in the game.

Within moments after the snap, the Cowboys’ defense had broken through, and 49ers Quarterback Joe Montana was backpedaling, about to be sacked. Freddie Solomon, Montana’s first choice receiver, had slipped and was now too well covered for a pass.

At the last possible moment, Montana pump-faked, then threw the ball high and to the back of the end zone where it appeared to be heading out of bounds.

49ers’ receiver Dwight Clark, who was in exactly the right spot, leaped higher than he ever had, or ever would again, and caught the ball with his fingertips, bobbled it for a moment and then came back to earth just inside the end zone, tying the game, which the 49ers went on to win in the final seconds.

Dubbed “The Catch ” by fans and sports journalists, the play went down as one of the greatest moments in football history.

But was it a last-minute, unplanned and desperate “Hail Mary” attempt?

Not at all, thanks to meticulous preparation with his team by 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. Montana’s “Plan B” had been planned out and practiced well in advance of that historic moment when his team so desperately needed it to succeed.

And therein lies one of several lessons we can learn from this legendary coach that apply to building a winning sales team.

Letting Talent Run

In sports and in business today, individualism rules.

The challenge for leading a sales team is that some of your most talented people will also be the most independent.

Successful coaches and sales managers realize it takes a thoughtful approach to the art and skill of communication, as well as how you develop your team. They recognize the uniqueness of each individual and provide them with the latitude to perform at their best.

And, as legendary Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

After all, if they’re closing deals and bringing in sales, why get hung up on making them conform to an arbitrary and regimented set of behaviors?

Committing to Your People

The most successful sales teams we see in our coaching and consulting practice today, are those that demonstrate a high level of commitment to their people.

They create a sense of belonging.

They are constantly providing opportunities for professional development. And they become known for this culture of support for their sales professionals.

In one instance, after (with our help, we must admit) the sales team at a particular homebuilder we work with had a terrific year, we noticed that at the year-end company meeting, a sense of admiration for the sales department, where it really seemed to be a “happening” group to the rest of the company.

Valued recognition like this happens when management demonstrates a serious and consistent commitment to develop their sales professionals.

Ego as Obstacle

So, why don’t more sales team leaders take a winning approach?

As business leaders, we must recognize how ego plays into our performance. Developing a winning sales team requires us to sidestep ego so team members can communicate without fear. If they hold back to avoid ridicule in the event their ideas are off base, or aren’t in line with yours, you and your whole team could miss out on potentially valuable feedback and innovative ideas.

We’ve seen where a manager or owner will feel threatened by new ideas. They don’t want to be upstaged. Not only that, they may have come to believe in a “my way or the highway” approach to management that shuts down any kind of creative approach. This is no way to win.

Breakthroughs happen when creative communication flows freely. And that’s how winning teams are built.

Never Count Out Your B-Players

You never know where a sale or season of great sales could spring from.

Of course, you need to cultivate your top sales people. But don’t forget, even the best players were rookies at one point.

It was Joe Montana’s “second choice” that gave the 49ers their game-winning play. Had head coach Bill Walsh not anticipated that Plan A sometimes doesn’t work out, and had his Plan B player positioned for the catch, the game — and football history — would have had an entirely different, and far less exciting climax.

Developing your “B Team” gives you that depth of bench that you often see in the best teams — both in sports and in selling.

The Winning Edge

In today’s challenging business climate, yesterday’s tactics and strategies could leave you in the dust of a smarter, more ambitious competitor.

Developing a winning sales team is mission critical to your company’s growth and survival. And sometimes all it takes is one key play to create hall-of-fame level success for you and your team.

At Sales Solve Everything, we’re committed to your success as our track record demonstrates.

For help developing the full potential of your sales team, give us a call at 888-738-4020 or check out our New Home Sales School to learn more about truly releasing your team’s potential.

Note: Several of the concepts developed in this article are based on an interview with National Football League Hall of Fame Coach Bill Walsh by the Harvard Business Review.