March Sales Madness

Here in the United States, the month of March is known as “March Madness” as the NCAA college basketball tournament takes place. There have been crazy upsets, last second shots made and incredible comebacks. It’s called March “Madness” for a reason.

Now we’re down to the Sweet 16 (16 teams remaining out of 68). What lessons have we learned that we can apply to sales?

Talent wins.  Of the 16 remaining teams, all four teams seeded number one and two of the second seeds remain.  Six of the consensus top eight teams are still playing.  Fifteen of the remaining sixteen teams play in major conferences. At the end of the day, even with all the “madness,” talent wins, especially when the most capable players have good coaching. For those of you who are owners or who run a sales team, you are the head coach of your team. As such, you know that consistent, long-tern sales success is very unlikely without having the right people who are capable on your team.  And one can always become more capable.

But talent doesn’t always win. The best team doesn’t always win. The better team that day wins. Michigan State was a two seed and a popular pick to win the tournament. That didn’t matter as they had a bad day and 15th seeded Middle Tennessee played great and won the game. Who’s the “Michigan State” you have to sell against or are you Michigan State? Know that on any given day, anything can happen. In tournament basketball they say that every possession counts. In sales, everything you do counts. Are you taking off possessions? Not playing full out?

The game isn’t over until the horn sounds. On Sunday night, Texas A&M was down 12 with 34 seconds to play against the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). UNI had dominated the first 39 minutes of a 40 minute game. Unfortunately, they turned the ball over four times in the last 34 seconds and Texas A&M came back to tie the game in regulation and win in overtime. Texas A&M is the more talented team and, to their credit, they never gave up. In sales, the deal isn’t won or lost until the paperwork is signed and the money deposited. Are you thinking you have the deal won? Or lost? Play full-out until the clock strikes zero.

You have to make the tournament to have a chance to win it. Every March there is outrage on why some teams were chosen to play in the tournament while other deserving teams were left out. The regular season counts. You have to make it in to have the chance to win, to pull off an upset. In sales, you can’t win an opportunity that you’re not in on or, even worse, don’t even know about.  Be clear that I’m not advocating “playing” every opportunity. I’m advocating that I, as the sales person/sales leader, get to choose whether I play or not. I don’t get to make that choice if I’m not aware of the opportunity.

Good teams and good players handle adversity. In the course of a highly competitive game, adversity will come. The other team will make a run, there will be a bad call against you, shots you normally make will miss. Oklahoma, a two seed, was winning handily against Virginia Commonwealth (VCU). Until they weren’t. VCU turned up their game and waves of adversity washed over Oklahoma. In sales, we face forms of adversity on an almost daily basis. The “hot” prospect stops returning calls. The deal you thought for sure would close by month end gets pushed. Your big deal doesn’t get financed. You don’t feel like prospecting but know that you should. The question is, how do we handle it? Good teams, coaches and players don’t panic when adversity hits. They are resilient, they adapt, and they hang in there while the waves are crashing. They know that “this too shall pass” and keep on playing hard, doing what they need to do. Oklahoma hung in there and won the game.

The prognosticators are usually wrong. The so-called “experts” on all the shows often make predictions that are wrong- hello Michigan State. For each of us, the loudest, most persistent prognosticator, the so-called expert, is the voice in our head. The question is: what story is this voice telling you? Is the story “I’m not good enough”?  I can’t prospect on Mondays because everyone is busy starting their week? No one buys in the summer or over the holidays? I have this deal lost? Or won? What is the prognosticator in your head shouting at you? Is it true? How do you know? The coaches and players on Middle Tennessee State obviously paid no mind to all the experts who said they would lose to Michigan State. What are the so-called experts in your life, including the voice in your head, telling you? Is it true? How do you know?

If you’ve been watching the games or the highlights, what lessons have you learned that you can apply to sales?