5 ways to coach your sales staff like a winning sports team

Lance Tyson
Lance Tyson

Check in with Lance Tyson on any given day, and he may be coming from a meeting with an up-and-coming sports franchise, leading a training session for a professional football team or creating a highly personalized training workshop for team leaders.

All of these people – whether it is coaches, players or the associated staff – all have something in common, Tyson says. They are selling something for a living. That begs the question: What do sports have to do with selling?

Finding the right coach or mentor is essential to becoming a leader in the sales field, Tyson believes. And there are five ways that you can learn from sports teams, great coaches and legendary sports figures in your effort to be a better salesperson, says Tyson, president and CEO of Tyson Group and author of “Selling is an Away Game: Close Business and Compete in a Complex World.”

Salespeople are not born that way – they have to be built, nurtured and developed over time, Tyson says. That is why sports is a great comparison, he notes, because every year a coach like Michigan State University’s Tom Izzo has to rebuild a team and sell himself. About 25 percent of the team graduates annually, so that’s a lot of rebuilding and investing, Tyson notes.

“The team has to buy into Izzo when they join – that’s what makes it a crew,” Tyson says. “Izzo tailors how he motivates to each individual. He knows what is important to them. … Or consider a guy like Chris Granger (group president, sports and entertainment for Ilitch Holdings Inc.). People know that he believes in them and he’s going to invest in them. That’s the key to a great team or a great sales team.”

Tyson’s sales training, coaching and consulting company is listed among SellingPower’s Top 20 sales training companies of 2018. Among its clients are many professional sports teams such as the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. He conducts over 100 workshops annually in areas such as performance management, leadership, sales, sales management, customer service, negotiations and team building.

According to Tyson, the attributes required to drive success in sales and sports are similar: encouraging a positive attitude, motivating, presenting a clear strategy, insisting on dedication and breeding consistent winning habits.

—Identify weaknesses. Tyson says sales leaders must keep their eyes and ears open to find areas that need improvement. This information may come from a customer or vendor, a performance review, or observations from a colleague. “Regardless of the source, always assess different opportunities for coaching and improvement,” Tyson says.

—Establish desired results. This requires a leader to describe to salespeople the gap between what they are currently doing and what they should be doing. “Associate an identifiable action with all the steps in between,” Tyson says. “When you outline the process up front, your team member can envision well-defined results.”

—Provide resources. For the coaching process to be successful, you must clear away obstructions and make the appropriate resources available: time, money, equipment, training, upper management buy-in and support, Tyson says. “Most importantly, your salespeople must commit to the process and want to achieve the results,” he says.

—Practice, practice, and observe implementation. Better results require new behavior, Tyson says, which won’t come overnight. “Once you have the resources in place and you’ve explained and demonstrated the desired skill, it’s time for the team member to implement it,” he says. “They must sharpen the behavior with the help of a coach. Practice allows the coach to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement while witnessing the skill in real-time.”

—Use effective follow-up. Many training sessions have gone for naught when there was no follow-up and new ways toward success were forgotten. “Remember as a sales leader that your goal is to effect a behavioral change,” Tyson says. “Coaching is a process, and it never really ends. The next step is follow-up – at regular intervals to review results. And when your salespeople reach goals, take time to acknowledge and celebrate it.”