5 things teams sports taught me about sales management

I love playing sport. Barring all other life commitments I’d love to play a sport every night of the week! Last year I moved from being a player on my hockey team into the role of captain/coach. I should note at this point that my team did NOT win our competition, in fact we did not even place all that well.. We did have a great season that was enjoyed by all with many small victories along the way.

In my working life I head up the Australia New Zealand arm of a network security company. Sales managers very often use sports metaphors to communicate ideas and plans with the sales team and I’m no exception but this year I found myself using sales management tools on my hockey team!


Team sports and sales have a lot in common, here’s five things worth thinking about:

1. Have a plan. Know when to stick to the plan and when to get a new plan.


Every team team you come against will have it’s own unique strengths and weaknesses. Some teams play strong offence, some great defence, some have just one great scorer and others rely on a strong goalie. In every game, the team that understands their own strengths and weaknesses and how that lines up against the competition, will have a real advantage. I see sales people every day that roll out the same pitch no matter who they are meeting and who the competition is. You might win occasionally like that, but not in the long run. The ones who consistently win are the team with a plan. Sometimes, when you are up against what seems like an unbeatable opponent, your plan is what gives you hope and keeps you in the game.The key in these situations is to stick with a plan that you KNOW has worked before. What happens when the other guy switches brings in that semi-pro goalie? or when that OTHER tech company enters the race? you change the plan!

When I am working on a proposal for a big customer without a written plan it somehow never feels real. I’m surprised if we are successful. When things go wrong I’m never really sure what happened. if I have a plan it grounds me and keeps me focussed. I can immediately see what’s missing and what I need to do next. in the event that i don’t win (you won’t ALWAYS win!) the plan is something I can look back on and refine and use again next time. it’s also something I can show to my boss who is certainly going to want to know what happened. I’ve never been abused for losing a deal I had a plan for, but I HAVE been in the poo many times for having no plan!

2. Know what success looks like. Visualise it.


You want to make a plan because you know that’s a key to winning right? But what should the plan look like? The key is to start with a good hard look at a WIN. WooHoo! You WON! Now really seriously ask yourself this question, “Why did we win?” in order to be able to repeat you success you need to know how it happened? Who was the competition? What were their strengths and weaknesses? How did we capitalize on the weaknesses and neutralize the strengths? Awesome. Now write this down, because this is the start of your plan.

This season we had some real ups and downs. At one stage, my team was on a three game losing streak. everyone was miserable and our usual pre-game locker room chatter was full of negativity. Before each game I always try to have a simple three point plan. Focus on this attack, neutralise that strength and exploit this weakness but this week I felt like we weren’t in the right frame of mind for this. Instead I asked for complete silence. I asked each person to imagine a time in the season when they had personally done something great, their favourite shooting technique, their go-to move that always got results. in other words, to VISUALISE success. it really sounds a little corny and honestly in a room full of tough assed hockey players, I wasn’t sure if they’d laugh me out of there.

3 minutes later we took to the ice and had one of the most convincing victories of the season. it’s not something that would have worked every week, but in that time and place it’s what we needed to win.

3. Negative feedback just doesn’t work


One of our strongest players this season was a guy called Michael. He plays in defence and when he is feeling it, he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve seen defending our zone. The trouble is, when he’s not feeling it really hurts us as a team. Michael likes to take chances occasionally and during one of our early games he saw a chance, stuck his head down and really went for it. The trouble was, it didn’t work. he dropped the puck, we had no defence and the opposition scored in the blink of eye. Hockey’s like that. it’s a fast game and can really punish you for a little mistake.

No-one felt it more than Michael did. You should have seen the look on his face when he skated to the bench. That didn’t stop the whole team unloading on him. We poured abuse all over this guy and not surprisingly, the rest of his night went from bad to worse.

It’s easy to criticise someone else and give in to the negative spiral that comes along with it. For Michael, it was one mistake that started a torrent of abuse that didn’t end even after the game was done. I did a lot of thinking about that game and how Michael reacted.

Next game I started a new tradition. Here’s what I think: I think that when someone screws up (and we all do), mostly they already know it. if you’re like me, you are YOUR OWN WORST CRITIC. As you skate to the bench (or come in from a tragic sales call) you already know how bad you screwed up. You really don’t need everyone reminding you of it. So from that game on, when some-one messed up bad, we stood up and gave them a huge cheer, a big glove-to-glove fist bump and a pat on the back and yelled, “Don’t worry about man, you’ll SMASH them next time!”

The difference? it didn’t stop us making mistakes but it did stop the negative spiral. it stopped one crappy play from turning into an entirely crappy game.

Sales is EXACTLY the same. One quarter we were having a tough time of it. one of my most senior sales guys cut 30% from his forecast just a few days before quarter end. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. How would i tell my boss? How could I not look like a fool? Would I get fired? I took all of that anxiety and without waiting a second to calm down, I got on the phone and just unloaded on this guy. Fire and Brimstone and wrath of god type stuff. Guess what happened? We missed by EVEN more that the forecast. By going all negative i undermined his confidence, freaked him out and made him run scared to all his clients. All those potential sales sensed the fear and got cold feet of their own.

I learned that most people know when they’ve screwed up. They don’t need a heavy-handed reminder. You have to deal with it, but it’s almost ALWAYS better to do that with positive reinforcement not negativity. Even a performance management plan can be made into a positive experience. As a manager or coach, I think you’ve got to always have your people’s back and always be rooting for them to win. they won’t always win, but they stand a much better chance with someone cheering them on!

4. Team spirit


One of the things I love about hockey is the player’s point system. You score a goal, you get a point. You HELP score a goal you also get a point. What’s the difference between the two points? NOTHING. An assist is just as valuable an action as scoring a goal!

I’ve played a lot of different team sports over the years and worked for a lot of different companies. There’s usually a super star wherever you go. That one person who everyone looks at and can tell they are in a class of their own. The thing is, it’s not always that team with the super star that wins.

Jack Welch was famously successful at big business management. Discussing types of people and who  to keep and who to let go Welch put people into 4 categories. There are:

  1. High Achievers who fit with the company direction
  2. High Achievers who DON’T fit with the company direction
  3. Poor Achievers who fit with the company
  4. Poor Achievers who DON’T fit with the company direction.

When asked who was highest priority for attention Welch’s ideas are surprising to many. He says, your first order of attention is to cut #2 FAST. The problem with these guys are that they seem to be doing very well. They are high achievers but the problem is that they are not a good fit for the team. Because they are successful, people will follow them, and as a bad fit they will all end up going in the wrong direction! The rest need nothing urgent. #1 is doing well, give them more support, #3 need some help and training and #4 might need to go but at least no-one is going to follow their lead.

5. Keep at it


One of the hardest things a team can do is pick themselves up,dust themselves off and try again without losing heart. To me, persistence is the most valuable asset any sportsperson or sales person can have. You’ve just got to keep plugging away.

I’ve seen great players simply worn down by a guy who just won’t give up, who just keeps skating and skating until he’s ready to drop. Similarly I’ve seen sales people with the same ethic. Losing is tough. Rejection is hard. But for those that can just keep going there’s almost always a second chance. Our business relies heavily on software maintenance renewals. After the first year of usage, we contact our customers to make sure all is well and invite them to renew their subscription with us. There are always a few who don’t renew. Some tell us very bluntly that they’ve gone with a competitors offering. it’s never an easy thing to hear.

This year. we started re-connecting with our old customers who hadn’t renewed. In most cases, up to a year had gone by since we last spoke and they had been given a chance to see what their new offering was like. GUESS WHAT?? A very high percentage of those customers are coming back! it’s the old grass in greener, didn’t know how good I had it mentality. Some people just see the rest before they know how good they had it. I find it hard not to take rejection personally but I try to always be persistent. It doesn’t always have a happy ending but every once in a while is enough to keep me going.

You got any others I might have missed?

The 7 Types of Bears Hockey Players:

I love the high action hockey blog. The 7 types of men’s league players cracked me up. If you haven’t seen it, you should take a look here:Image

It inspired me to write my own version for the Sydney Bears. 

The 7 Types of Bears Hockey Players:



  1. The Pre-Game Deuce Dropper


Doesn’t matter what night your game is scheduled or even what time, but right before the game this guy’s gotta squeeze out a dookie. Too bad for you if you’re playing at Penrith where the toilet is right in the change room because now you’re gonna have to live with the smelly consequences.. but don’t worry, because the nervous pooper locked the door behind him and now no-one else could get in anyway! (not that you’d want to)

2.     The Late comer


Despite being a club member for a million years and knowing the exact location of EVERY rink in Sydney, this guy still manages to show up late EVERY GODDAM Game! Somehow he has a superhero sixth sense and can tell that exact moment when you’ve finally accepted that he’s not gonna make it, re-shuffled all the lines for that night and that’s when he swaggers in.. either that or 30 seconds into the first period when you really WANT to bench the guy but you can’t because you are so bloody tired.

3.     The Training Nazi


We know it’s not the NHL which means although we want to WIN, we still just want to scrimmage every Tuesday night instead of doing drills. This guy is forcing you to do BS drills every week no matter what. Don’t wanna do drills? HOW ABOUT MORE SUICIDES? No Scrimmage for you! Come back, 1 year.. Just because he’s making you a better hockey player doesn’t make you hate him any less.

4.     The Training Nazi’s Bitch

Every once in a thousand training sessions, the training Nazi will soften up and say “Who wants to scrimmage?” And this douche canoe will pipe up from behind and say “No coach, I vote for more drills”

It’s only a matter of time before this guy is found dead in a dumpster, strangled with a smelly old hockey jockstrap. If you recognise the photo – I’M JUST MESSING WITH YOU.


5.     The Hero

You’ve been out of hockey for 10 years so you go to D-League and train up for a while and then find a place in a Div4 team, maybe even Div3 or Div2. Then you see this guy that really should be playing 1 or even 2 divisions higher, but just likes to be better than everyone so he plays a division down. He sledges you all like little bitches, but don’t worry, when you move up a division, he’ll still be there enjoying kicking ass. Know any Bears like this???


6.     The Manager Man


This guy might not even play hockey but he sorts through all the shitty organisation crap and club paperwork like some sort of admin ninja. He’s the reason you get to play each week without having to fill out 7 forms beforehand. He handles the stupid association politics, updates your useless stats and makes sure the game sheet isn’t used by the Deuce Dropper to wipe his ass. You don’t know WHY anyone would put up with this shit, but pray he doesn’t quit because otherwise it’s all YOU!!

This one’s especially for Herbie, Jim, Borjo and Rumps!

7.  The Thug


He’s a black hole for penalty minutes. The association know his name and save a mail slot for the 3 apology letters he will have to write just to keep playing this season. He’s the reason you might not be allowed to play in the finals. Reasons he might throw a punch:

  • Someone put a shitty check on him
  • Someone put a legal check on him
  • Someone put a check on anyone else
  • Someone winked at him
  • Someone stood too close to him
  • Someone’s stick touched the puck

He shits you to tears but for some reason you can’t bring yourself to drop him from the team.. I think you know who I mean!

Got any others??


Life on Mars

The news this week reports a theory which has recently emerged that some of the key components for life on earth may have originated on Mars. The short short version is this: We think life began around 3.5 Billion years ago. We think that life (RNA anyway) could only have been created in the presence of highly oxidized molybdenum and boron which apparently weren’t around on earth at the time. Guess where they WERE around? MARS

Read the whole theory here…  



What if life DID exist on Mars long before even the seeds of life on earth began to germinate?  What if, like the legends of Rapa Nui, a civilisation of pre-human Martians outgrew their planet’s ability to sustain their own bloated existence. What if the Martians used up all their resources and became the ultimate victims of their own evolutionary success. What if hiding deep under all those red rocks there are giant monolithic clues to the doomed Martian society waiting to be found?



Is it?… let’s say it happened.. Let’s say that a Martian civilisation grew much like life on Earth is growing now. The Pre-Humans dominated and bred and within a few thousand years their sheer numbers started to put on strain on their planet’s ability to sustain them. They try austerity, population control but at a global level it’s just not possible to get a single political consensus. Eventually, as resources become scarcer and scarcer, conflict emerges and becomes all out world war. What weapons do the Martians possess? Even if they only lasted as long as people on Earth have NOW, odds are they could make the same military advances we have.. And after the war.. after all is blown apart on Mars, the atmosphere destroyed, the climate wiped out, the water all but gone.. all that remains are the basic chemical building blocks of life carried to Earth on a meteorite…

Then 3.5 BILLION years later, the surface of Mars contains no trace that life ever existed at all, and life evolved from those Martian specks has become the human race. The dominant species begins the same self destructive story…unless somehow we evolve beyond our very own nature…

The legend of Rapa Nui has always fascinated me. It’s a lesson that we seem to be failing to learn. Many people think the Easter island story is a metaphor for the whole of Earth.. maybe the real metaphor is Mars.


Why the Big Bang Theory is so funny – or The Frasier Principle

I went to see the Adam Sandler movie Jack and Jill with my kids last night. I loved Happy Gilmore (probably because I’m a hockey player who sucks at golf) and I thought Billy Madison was ok but  lately I have had very mixed feelings about Adam Sandler’s movies. Jack and Jill was almost universally panned by critics and that’s really no surprise. Critics HATE Adam Sandler. Yet sitting in the movie last night I got a different sense of things. The audience were totally cracking up. I don’t mean the usual snickering and chuckling you get in a comedy movie, I’m talking embarrassingly loud guffaws of laughter. The review sites tell a similar story – Critics HATE it, audience like it (well a lot MORE than the critics did anyway)

OK, so Jack & Jill probably won’t get a mention at this year’s Oscars outside Billy Crystal’s comedy monologue taking the mickey. For some reason, I really want to give Adam Sandler some credit. You see, it’s the not the material he works with it’s just the way he presents it.

This is the point of today’s Blog entry – Fart Jokes are ok, but only if the audience believes that you don’t have to be a stupid little kid to find them funny. I call this the Frasier principle.

I’m not very smart BUT I wish I was very smart. Sometimes I read books written by smart people and I feel smarter. Sometimes I listen to smart people talk and I feel smarter. MOSTLY when smart people say simple things I nod along and think, hey I must be as smart as them because I totally GET THIS!

So let’s create a TV show based on this principle. First, we need our two leading characters: the Crane brothers. They are both Medical and Psychiatric doctors, “well-to-do, with upper class and intellectual tastes and a pompous, uptight demeanor. Frasier is something of an epicure, and enjoys the finer things in life, such as wine, good food, and expensive tailoring. Well versed in the realm of literature, frequently alluding to literary legends such as Shakespeare, Edmund Burke, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, O Henry, and Lord Tennyson, among others. Aficionados of the arts, including opera, classical music, theatre, and antiquities, and possessing some esoteric and obscure interests, such as Mongolian throat singing and African artifacts. Frasier’s favourite colour is “arctic silver”, an option for a new model of BMW, which is well-established throughout the series as being his automobile brand of choice, while his brother Niles preferred Mercedes Benz. His large ego, coupled with his Harvard and Oxford education, make him extremely confident in the advice he gives on his radio show (where he comes across as much calmer and more thoughtful than in his personal life.” (from Wikipedia)

I’ve got to say, both the Cran’s are people that would irritate and annoy me were they real people.

So how do characters that irritate and annoy work so well? There are a lot of reasons this show works. There is a great cast of much more REAL characters that give the viewing audience a chance to identify and relate to the two brothers. But more than this, there is the humour of the show.

Wrapped up in refined taste and perfect intonation, surrounded by a fabulous vocabulary referencing fine art and literature is what are essentially a long list of Adam Sandler jokes. Funniest moments in the show include such highbrow topics as prank phone calls, guys running around with no pants and what is basically a load of slapstick. Here’s high brow at it’s best with Frasier in shorty shorts in a gay bar.

So, we watch Frasier and because they are smart and we think they are funny, it must be because we are so smart, right?

The Big Bang Theory employs the same principle. These are very smart guys, they talk about the origins of the universe and what the outcome of the latest CERN LHC experiment will prove. However, at it’s core The Big Bang Theory is mostly the lowest low brow there is.

How Low Brow? Charlie Sheen, funny lisps and at least 2 TWO poo jokes funny.

I know all that sounds like a reason to hate the show, but I think it’s awesome anyway. Of course that’s mostly because of all the geeky stuff that gets thrust into the face of the masses. Comics, Video Games, Science and RPGs to name a few..

What’s the moral of the story? There is none. Unless your name is Adam Sandler. Sandler could take all that comedy gold and dress it up a little smarter to score both a huge ratings hit and critical acclaim. YES it’s really that simple. I hear you thinking, “as a viewing public, we’re not that stupid!” and yet the same principle can be applied almost anywhere.

I’d also like to tip my hat to actors who decide that looking smart makes all the difference. Take Tango and Cash – do we buy Sly Stallone as a bookish, intellectual type because he wears a waistcoat and HUGE 80’s glasses??? – We sure do!

Facebook status update saves lucky schoolboy from fatal stabbing

April 11, 2011 8.07am

A Sydney based teenager is lucky to be alive this morning and he has the Social Networking site Facebook to thank.  For the past 3 months, Matt Grey 13, has been the victim of a long term campaign of school bullying and harassment. The teenage boy from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs was travelling on the school bus  on Friday morning when he was approached by a gang of youths armed with knives, a small pistol and what appeared to a witness to be a M109 howitzer. Grey, who was listening to music on his iPhone 4 was unable to hear the threats of his would be assailants. The threatening youths became enraged when Grey ‘laughed out loud’ at a video of cats posted as a friends FaceBook status update.

As the situation escalated another teenage boy, a friend of Grey’s posted a facebook status update which included the picture below. The caption read, “Matt Grey feeling Blue”

 The youths, who were able to view the image largely because of the iPhone 4 dazzling retina graphics and wide viewing angle, were immediately overcome with grief and remorse.
Grey commented to thedevlin news; “Since the cat incident, we’ve become like total BFFs. The guys have barely stabbed me at all this week.
Lawyers for Mark Zuckerburg  were unavailable for comment on Friday afternoon.

Newest Military Secrets – the HORROR!

“At my signal, unleash hell”

A quote from the movie, Gladiator.

I personally think it is also 5 words spoken regularly by employees at your local kids ‘FUNLAND’ each morning. I have an image of a group of pimple faced teenagers lined up and shuffling their feet nervously. At the glass doors before them is the chaotic horde of children waiting to be let inside.. the skinny guy in front of the entrance to the ballpit looks crazy with fear as his eyes dart back and forth scanning the room for another exit. It is only the steady gaze of the world weary, middle age, franchisee that keeps the troops together. Before panic can set in, she raises her hand in a defiant salute, “At my signal, unleash hell”. The doors burst open and the terrified teens try to control the raging, primal force that is contained in 2-5 year old kids..

Help! Help! This child is attacking my shark!

Help! Help! This child is attacking my shark!

My idea is that it’s high time the Military made use of this unbelievable power.

Kids are natural weapons. The military’s most unbreakable equipment will easily be smashed by a 6 Year Old boy. It’s really just a combination of determination and time.

By far the most devastating of Military applications would be children as biological weapons. This weekend I have been nursing my 5 year old girl through a common virus. She was upset and crampy, had a headache and threw up a lot. During this time, she would not leave my side. She clung on to me like super-glued Velcro! Her little 5 Year old immune system has since beaten the virus and she is happy and healthy again. There was, however, an unfortunate side effect. While the Virus was travelling through her system, something (THE WEAPON!) inside her, transformed this cute little bug into some sort of super freaky MEGA-BUG! Now while she is happily laughing and playing (with no desire to come near at all) the rest of us poor bastards are coughing and spluttering and barely able to hold a dry cracker down…

Of course I guess there is the possibility that I’m just a big wimp when it comes to dealing with any illness…

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