Summer is an exciting season for NFL football fans. That’s right—preseason and NFL training camp! While preseason games and the weeks of summer practice may lack the excitement of Super Bowl Sunday, it’s still a promising time of year for fans, who can look ahead to the season with optimism and watch new talent develop.
Everything seems possible during training camp; you never know which underdog team or which underrated players might emerge to shock the league in the fall.
I’m a big NFL football fan (go Patriots!) and I’ve realized there are some surprising similarities between NFL training camp and running a team of B2B salespeople. Perhaps your business can find some inspiration from this year’s NFL training camp.
Evaluate and develop your talent
Obviously the first goal of NFL training camp is to “train” players—to develop and evaluate talent to decide which players are going to make the cut for the regular season roster. NFL teams are some of the most competitive work environments on Earth, as dozens of athletes who are at the top of their career field fight to make the team.
In the same way, your sales team needs to be a competitive environment. It shouldn’t be ruthlessly competitive or physically risky like playing in the NFL, of course. But you should have a way to identify who are the top performers on your sales team, who are the supportive role players, who are the “rookies” or new talent who need some mentoring and development, and other positions.
There’s no one right answer for what makes a superstar sales performer. Different characteristics can lead to success at different organizations and company cultures. Your sales team needs to be a place where people can have their performance clearly defined, measured, ranked, and constantly pushed to improve.
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Compete hard, but put the team first
NFL training camp is also a time for teamwork. Those hot summer days of practicing in full pads are where teams develop a sense of culture and identity, where position players like the defensive backs or the offensive line develop their own little tribes within the team. The best NFL coaches manage to create a team culture where—even though everyone is fighting hard to earn and retain their own jobs—people are also motivated to do the right thing for the team and fight hard for their teammates. It can be a difficult balancing act, and not every team manages to pull it off.
In the same way, your sales team needs to encourage people to be top individual performers, but also team players who support each other’s success. Remind your sales people that the real competition is outside your company, not within the sales team.
Minimize drama and distractions
Every year during NFL training camp, HBO chooses one team to go behind the scenes and film for a realty TV documentary series called Hard Knocks. This show is often wildly entertaining, but I’m surprised that an NFL head coach would allow TV cameras behind the scenes during such an important part of the season. NFL coaches hate drama and are always trying to avoid distractions from the media. They want players to focus on doing their jobs and getting better at their skill set.
In the modern era of social media and 24/7 connectivity, it can be hard for business executives to maintain a sense of focus and all-in commitment among their team members. Even if you’re not an NFL head coach, you might wonder if your people are having their attention pulled in too many directions by the nonstop bombardment of digital media. Some companies have started to implement “email bans” or communication blackouts to help people unwind during weekends and vacation so they can come back to work feeling refreshed. Other companies like to hold occasional offsite retreats with phones off to have the old-fashioned feeling of getting everyone in the same room to collaborate and build better working relationships.
Don’t be afraid to be creative finding some occasional escapes from technology. Despite all the great things that technology can do for salespeople, too much of it can also be a bad thing.
Being in B2B sales is a competitive, exciting, and dynamic line of work—just like the NFL , but without the pressure of 75,000 screaming fans and the pain of getting tackled by a 300-pound defensive lineman. Hopefully these tips from NFL training camp can help you manage your sales team, and get your team on track for bigger results in your next “season” of selling!