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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?

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.


Catch me if I fall.

I took my two boys for a bushwalk in the Blue Mountains today.We went to this place called Evans lookout. There was a long, steep walk from the top of the valley down into the canyon. Lots of rocks, steep descents and hundreds of steps cut into the stone…

 At the bottom was a quiet little creek where spring water collected and flowed further into the valley. It was cool and shady because of the canopy of trees and looming cliffside.It was very serene. Very peaceful. The boys liked it a lot more than I thought they would.

The View from Evans Lookout

The View from Evans Lookout

The walk back UP however, was pretty tough. I don’t think they really knew how much harder it would be to climb back out of the valley. There was a lot of gravel and loose rocks and it was very slippery.

I told the boys to stay close together and walk up slowly. First Liam, then Jason, then me.. That way if Liam slipped, Jason could catch him, and if they both slipped, I could catch them both.

The boys said to me” But Dad, what if YOU fall too?” and I said,” Don’t worry about that, I’m your Dad and I’m not going to fall. I’ll always be here to catch you if you fall.”

And I intend to be.


I’m a MAC, and I’m a PC…

Unless you’ve living in the World WITHOUT Web you’ve probably Seen these…

That’s 15 Ads where Apple tell us how wonderful the Mac is and how terrible the PC and Windows are. Let’s be honest with each other, it’s damn compelling stuff.. Who wants to be that geeky fat guy? Nobody!

Windows devotees, naturally despise this Über cool, jeans wearing punk, with no concept of work and a closet free of neckties and blue suits..

And really there’s no arguing that Macs are WAY sexier than PCs. I use a Macbook Pro in a predominantly Windows based office and the lustful looks elicited from both geeks and newbs alike are VERY satisfying. Let’s face it, that ad is VERY compelling.  Poor old Bill Gates has been taking a pummeling from Steve Jobs’ posse and I must say that it’s funny, VERY funny when Microsoft try to out-cool Apple.

I like Jerry Seinfeld, I watched the series, every episode, and I think it’s a little sad that a man who made me laugh so much is no longer finding new and daring ways to make me laugh some more. Don’t let that make you think that Jerry’s NOT doing anything, OH He’s doing stuff! Just nothing funny… This, my friends, is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s cool ads:

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think we’re likely to see hordes of people camping on the street 72 hours before Microsoft opens it’s new Mega-Store.. Even IF Bill Gates is there personally!

In conclusion, Macs are better.. no.. wait… hang on.. Let me re-read that..

Mac’s are SEXIER. yes without doubt… but is it all about LOOKS? I’m a Mac owner, what’s my experience of really USING this computer like? Well I loved it! Until recently when I crashed.. I tried to recover, I tried VERY VERY hard but I just couldn’t.

I’m an angry computer user when things don’t go my way. I decided to write a blog entry on how frustrated the whole experience made me. In the end, I realised that there were thousands of people olut there, just like me. So I deleted my entry and posted this video instead. This guy is my new goes on for a bit, but hang in there, it’s worth the wait..

Angry Mac Dude.. stick with it, it starts slow and then he really gets going…

I do hope Steve Jobs gets well soon.

A different sort of Blog entry… What’s the moral of the Story?

This was a bedtime story I told my kids…

I was trying to create a particular message for them, but so far no-one who has read this has picked up on the message I was trying to send… Which means either I’m an idiot or you’re an idiot…

What’s it gonna be? What’s the message here?

You are here...

You are here…

The Island Castaway (no Tom Hanks)

A wealthy and powerful man began to lose his way in the world and decided to take a cruise to find himself. After 11 days at sea, there was a violent storm and the ship capsized, flinging the man into the raging sea. He survived the storm by holding on to a piece of floating debris and eventually was washed up on a small island. The island was very small and though there were enough trees with fruit, fresh water, and fish to keep the man alive, after many weeks he began to lose his will to live. He decided at this time to try to put an end to it all.

The next morning 2 strange boxes washed up on the shore. Both were locked and looked difficult to open. The man spent a full day using makeshift tools trying to open the first box. For the whole day, he could not even scratch the outside of the box and eventually as night fell, he conceded that he could not open the box.

The next day he set to work on the second box. It seemed identical to the first, but by the end of the second day, he had managed to peel away just a very small corner of the top of the box. That night he could barely sleep, he was so excited about what he might find in the box.

Three more days passed, each day the man managed to open the box just a little more. Finally, at the end of the fifth day, the man had opened a hole large enough to reach inside the box. He reached his hand inside and felt something small and square inside the box. He worked away, into the night and eventually freed the small square object, which happened to be another box, a smaller version of the first two. Since his island ordeal, the man had never felt so alive. Again that night, he barely slept, so excited about what he might find in the small box.

Another week passed, each day the man was able to open the smaller box just a little more.. Finally, he had managed to open the small box and inside was a small silver flute. In the coming months, the man taught himself slowly and carefully to play beautiful music on the flute and after 6 long months on the island he was eventually rescued by a passing fishing ship.

When the ship arrived, the fisherman helped the man aboard and they picked up the first box the man had passed over. They opened the box and inside was a radio beacon, life raft, and nautical flares. The man looked at the box and sat down, smiling to play the flute.

December 2021

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