January 5, 2015

Two Powerful Sales Team Leadership Success Tips from Jim Harbaugh

Happy New Year to you and your sales team! If you are feeling anything like I am, you are raring to get after it. Last week we took our traditional brief after-Christmas vacation, and while we were away I dove deep into goal setting for 2015. I got so excited about my plans and the possibilities that lie ahead that I had a hard time staying in vacation mode.

But I did interrupt both my business planning and my family time to tune into the University of Michigan press conference welcoming Jim Harbaugh as the new head football coach. In full disclosure, I’m much more of an NFL fan than a college football guy, but I have so many clients and friends who are rabid college fans that I pay enough attention to at least be able to contribute to a conversation on the topic.

To me, this press conference and Harbaugh’s introduction was about much more than college football. It’s a big story about a big guy with a big personality and an incredible track record for turning around teams. Harbaugh took over as coach of the University of San Diego and led them to two Division I-AA championships in three years. Then at Stanford he inherited a team that just completed a 1-11 season. That’s right, one win and eleven losses. A few years later they finished with a 12-1 record ranked #4 in the nation. Harbaugh moved on to take over the reigns of  the San Francisco 49ers as they were coming off an abysmal 6-10 season. Would you like to guess what he helped accomplish there? How about three straight trips to the NFC Championship game and one Super Bowl appearance!

You don’t need to be a consultant or a football fan to understand that Harbaugh knows a thing or two about winning and that he probably has a pretty darn good handle on how to turn around a losing team. So, along with getting caught up in all the hype surrounding his hiring, I was also curious to hear what he’d say during the press conference figuring I’d glean a great leadership nugget or two. And Harbaugh did not disappoint. Aside from doing everything right during the press conference, he delivered an incredibly profound answer to a simple question. A reporter mentioned the success he had turning around organizations and asked how he would get Michigan football winning again. And then Harbaugh provided this powerful response that all of us in business, particularly in sales leadership, should take to heart:

“We are going to start winning at our first team meeting and then at our first practice.”

There you have it – right from the mouth of a highly successful executive and turnaround specialist who happens to be in the football industry. I was struck by the simplicity and the clarity of his answer. It took all of five seconds to articulate, yet I’ve been thinking about it for days. Can I challenge you to think about it, too?

  • What is the tone in your sales team meetings? And specifically, what tone will you set in your first meeting of 2015? Do your meetings practically and emotionally prepare the sales team to win?
  • How are you maximizing the impact of your sales meetings?
  • Do your people leave sales meetings with more energy than when they walked in? Do they have more clarity? Are they better equipped to do their job?
  • What about practice? Do you or your salespeople “practice” selling and work to improve your skills?
  • Do you strategize and then truly practice before going face-to-face (or phone-to-phone or screen-to-screen) with a live prospect? Or are you making it up as you go and “practicing” during the actual game (call/meeting/webinar)?
  • Are you sharpening your sword by studying the trade – reading sales books and blogs?
  • Do you have a sales playbook (or process)? How proficient are you/your team at running the plays?
  • If an outsider observed your sales team meetings and practice sessions would they conclude that you are indeed preparing to win and fostering a winning culture?

I look forward to seeing if/how Jim Harbaugh does it again at Michigan. And if this post causes you to take another look at how you’re doing sales team meetings or creating a culture of winning on your team, please write me; I’d love to hear about it.

Coming Soon: I’ve been kicking around a post on managing difficult A-Players that is sure to offend the folks in the politically correct “salespeople should be rule following choir boy team-players” crowd. Stay tuned to see why I think you may actually want a Marshawn Lynch on your sales team.