Comparing Sports And Sales

December 9, 2004
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Matt Smith makes a few points to members of Excellence Alliance. The keynote speaker at the association’s annual fall meeting kept his audience alert, as he pounded on tables and demanded answers from the crowd.
LAS VEGAS - In the eyes of Matt Smith, there are - and always have been - abundant similarities between selling and sports.

"We believe one can harness some of the concepts in play in a sports organization very successfully when applying them to a contracting company, or any company," said Smith, the keynote speaker at Excellence Alliance Inc.'s (EAI's) 8th Annual Fall Meeting.

"Your view of these activities in your business may be all that is in need of changing in order to do so."

Smith, of The Contractor's Friend, certainly gave attending members plenty to consider, as did all of the speakers, including Al Levi of Appleseed Business, and Dennis Laughlin of Arzel Zoning.

Smith, however, was the only one who pounded on tables and demanded answers from seated listeners. He talked about the importance of coaching, while acting as if he were one in a locker room at halftime.

"It is true that with respect to sports and selling, productivity really amounts to one of two things: competition or creation," said Smith. "It is also true that in selling, as in sports, there are undeniable numbers that describe the happenings in any given time frame or contest.

"At a minimum, both disciplines keep a statistical record that we could accurately describe as a scoreboard. After all, the sales results is the game in a sales-focused company."

Rules To Follow

Smith wanted to know if attendees were coaching sales techniques at all. His definition of coaching was "to instruct, direct, or prompt as a coach."

"Sales cannot be a dirty word," he said. "We all need to agree that selling is our game. If we simply choose to accept that this is our game, we do not come close to approaching what athletes spiritually feel for their sport."

At a minimum, Smith said there are three attributes that need to be acquired or honed in the process of becoming a coach: objectivity, anthem, and persistence.

"To be objective is to have actual power over your decisions," he said. "The enemy of objectivity is emotion. Even ‘good' emotions can cloud our judgment."

By anthem, Smith meant having a consistent message that frames the "hallowed ground" of your company or personal outlook.

"Develop a theme, such as, ‘We will be the best,'" he said. "Create a rabid interest in selling in the same ways a coach creates rabid interest in winning. What are you truly relentless about?"

Keep repeating the theme over and over to the troops, he said.

"It has been said that nothing in this world can take the place of persistence," said Smith. "Your people should not have to wonder whether you will or will not follow up, whether you were or were not serious about the latest directive. They should know you will not forget, drop, or change your mind in mid-course."

In his estimation, respect is fostered through consistent follow-through. "No matter how emphatically you threaten, no threat will ever take the place of a non-emphatic follow-through," he said.

"Those who fear power fear one who consistently follows through. Those who respect power respect one that consistently follows through."

Either way, he said, your responsibility is to be diligent in doing exactly what you say you'll do.

"It is a fundamental tenet of coaching to stick to the subject at hand."

Enemies Of Performance

Turning his attention to performance, he named three universal enemies of it: dirt, division, and presumption.

"I cannot think of one example, one discipline, one situation that suggests that dirt is a beneficial element," he said. "It is the primary enemy of performance of any sort."

Smith said it is mandatory to have clean trucks, office, appearance, etc. Image, he said, is everything. "I remember I came to one place and it appeared clean, but here was a dead mouse by the cooler," he said. "The owner presumed all was clean, but it was not. Inspect what you expect."

Smith could not say enough about the need for training. In his estimation, it is the same as practice for athletes.

"We could easily deduce that the need for training of a first-class nature is not merely desired, it is absolutely mandatory," he said. "How else do we produce a person with the skills to succeed in a flat-rate PHC company?"

While one attendee asked about on-the-job training, Smith had a quick answer.

"On-the-job training is synonymous with no training at all," he responded. "Did you ever see a football tackle training on the job?"

When a company is organized with each of its employees contributing, that is a condition that never happens by accident, he stressed.

"It is like a tug-of-war," he said. "One is either pulling for us, or against us. Even if one isn't pulling at all in any direction, that lack of effort actually creates opposition through increased resistance."

Playbook Required

Smith wanted to know if a professional sports team could survive by fielding a team without a playbook or some sort of philosophy for winning. Not one in the crowd thought it was possible.

"Yet, what are we doing?" he asked, pounding a table. "Are you fielding a team without a playbook? If you are, shame on you."

In the contracting world, all involved have to know the game plan and be a part of it, he said.

"The football team has an advantage over most of you," he said. "Your people don't voluntarily organize meetings and discussions regarding how they will make their sales goals. At least a football team can draw plays in the dirt."

Concluding, Smith said a great sales coach must have an "undeniable sense of purpose," must enjoy what he is doing, must be a strong personal example, and have competence.

He then listed several lessons from the sports world that could be adopted into the sales coaching world.

The list included "two-a-days," meaning formal training in the morning and at the day's conclusion; a playbook, meaning having a formal training book; and "to the victor go the spoils," meaning one should offer compensation for a job well done.

"We must go beyond ‘admitting' our sales personality and, instead, be both assured of our ethics and proud of our sales results," he said.

Mike Workman (left) of Mechanical Systems of Dayton Inc. (Dayton, Ohio) accepts the Commercial Member of the Year award from EAI CEO and president Don Schmitt.

Sidebar: EAI Bestows Awards

The two-day meeting was capped with an awards dinner. Those honored were:

  • Commercial Member of the Year - Mechanical Systems of Dayton Inc. (Dayton, Ohio).

  • Residential Member of the Year - R.N. Smith Sheet Metal Shop Inc. (Lancaster, Ohio).

  • Shining Star - C & G Heating and Air Conditioning (Torrington, Conn.) and Service of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio).

  • Manufacturer of the Year - York International Corp.

  • Distributor of the Year - Baker Distributing Co.

    Pat Smith (left) of R.N. Smith Sheet Metal Shop Inc. (Lancaster, Ohio) accepts the Residential Member of the Year award from Don Schmitt.
  • Business Services Provider of the Year - Arzel Zoning Technology.

    Beginning a new tradition, EAI also recognized those contractors that have been members for five years or more, which included 31 companies. Those with representatives in attendance were: Cropp-Metcalfe Heating & Air Conditioning (Fairfax, Va.); Oliver Heating & Cooling (Morton, Pa.); Beaver Brothers Inc. (Salisbury, N.C.); Mechanical Service Company Inc. (Virginia Beach, Va.); TD Industries (Dallas); Bruner Corporation (Hilliard, Ohio); Peaden Air Conditioning Inc. (Panama City, Fla.); Rodehniser Plumbing & Heating Inc. (Holliston, Mass.); and Temperature Service Company Inc. (Elk Grove Village, Ill.).

    - Mark Skaer

    Publication date: 12/13/2004

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