Sales Lessons from St. Peter’s Cinderella Story

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I’m heartbroken. While the rest of the country is enjoying and celebrating St. Peter’s Cinderella storybook run through the Men’s NCAA March Madness Tournament, my family is licking its wounds in utter disbelief.

Nothing against this fun team of overachievers from Jersey City, their great coach, and this amazing heartwarming story. It’s awesome. As a sports fan, underdog rooter, and overly-emotional person who’s a sucker for the human-interest story side of sports, I should be all over this. But as parents of a Purdue senior who’s a massive college hoops lover, loyal Boilermaker fan, and Paint Crew member, this one hurts. Katie and I have so enjoyed visiting Kurt at Purdue and there are barely words to describe the electric environment inside Mackey Arena. We’ve become huge fans ourselves, probably watched 30 games on TV this season and even attended the Big10 Tournament. It wasn’t just that we were thrilled for our son’s senior year experience, we were all in ourselves!

So last night hurt, and as condolences texts were coming in following Purdue’s loss, I began to reflect on the game, St. Peter’s phenomenal performance, and the thoughts for this post began percolating in my mind. 

What can we as professional sellers and sales leaders learn from this? How did St. Peter’s get past Kentucky, Murray State, and our beloved Purdue, to become the first #15 seed to advance to the Elite 8? 

How did these Peacocks beat three bigger, faster, better, more experienced teams?

1. They Played for Fun and without Fear

I watched every minute of that game. St. Peter’s played to win. They demonstrated no fear. There wasn’t a hint of being intimidated, even when up against the 7’4” Zach Edey or All-American, predicted NBA lottery pick, Jaden Ivey. They played with what felt almost like reckless abandon…like they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. While Purdue looked tight, St. Peter’s was loose. 

If you’ll permit the sales analogy, St. Peter’s played like they were selling with a full pipeline, like they didn’t need this deal. Oh, they wanted it, but they didn’t need it. And that abundance mentality showed up in spades. 

Are you selling to win, or hoping not to lose?

2. They Played to their Strengths

St. Peter’s didn’t attempt to play Purdue’s game. They played their game, and for the majority of the forty minutes, it felt like they were dictating process, as opposed to acquiescing to the opponent’s style. 

And instead of being intimidated by their opponents’ size and legacy (particularly up against legendary programs like Kentucky and Purdue), they went on the attack, maximizing their own advantages and exploiting holes in their competition.

There are amazing stories of the “David” beating the “Goliath.” In fact, I believe Malcolm Gladwell documented that in great battles throughout history, the giant (the heavily favored, supposedly unbeatable) Goliath with 10x the resources of the inferior David, only won 70% of the time. Think about that next time you’re up against a behemoth competitor and think you are going to get crushed. Play the game! Stick to your strengths and take advantage of your competition’s Achilles heel (weak points).

3. They Ignored the Naysayers 

Not only did the St. Peter’s coach and players dismiss their critics, but they also used what was being said and written about them to fuel their fire! They refused to accept the “Cinderella” moniker while also refusing to settle for getting to the Sweet 16 as a moral victory. In other words, they were not okay with just being a nice story or being content with exceeding expectations. They had their eyes on a bigger prize. 

Sales friends, maybe St. Peter’s sending three higher-ranked teams home from this tournament can be your motivation to aim higher. Maybe it’s time to stop settling for achieving quota or finishing mid-pack on the sales ranking, and instead raise your sights and the expectations you have for yourself? And if you’re already a top-producer, President’s Club winner, maybe it’s time you set even bigger stretch goals for yourself.

So, while I’m still reeling from this shocking loss, the fighter, coach, sports fan, sales guy, and writer in me realizes there is much for all of us to gain from St. Peter’s. Not sure how they’ll do against UNC in their attempt to make it to the Final Four, but this much I do know, I can’t wait to watch. Let’s Go Peacocks!

In cased you missed Episode 27, take a listen as I share my 5 Fundamental Focus Areas for a Successful Sales Attack.

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