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From “the ball is in our court” to “down to the wire,” sports  metaphors have long been a part of office language. That’s  because the collaborative and competitive nature of business, and in particular, sales, is similar to sports. To be a successful sales person requires a competitive personality, along with motivation and self-confidence.

And all of these attributes are required to be a successful sportsperson.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review revealed several things that all top-performing sales organizations have in common. The results provided an insight into the type of corporate culture that leads to good sales results – a culture very similar to that in top-performing sports teams.

As we celebrate week two of the American football season, here's a look at four things all successful sales teams have in common, and how they are surprisingly similar to what it takes to succeed in sports.

  1. Sales people at successful organizations rate the quality of their companies highly.

Whether or not sales people are proud of where they work has an impact on how successful the organization is. While this is arguably a chicken and egg situation, there had to be at least some people who felt passionate about the sales organization to lead the team to success in the first place.

Harvard Business Review found that twice as many sales people and sales leaders at high-performing sales organizations rated their organization as excellent, compared to average and underperforming respondents.

Similar to a sports environment, team morale is essential. If you have confidence in the company you work for, you have greater confidence in yourself and in your team as a whole.

  1. High-performing sales organizations have structured processes

There are those who love structure and those who don’t, but according to Harvard Business Review research, structured sales processes are something successful organizations have in common.

Half of study participants at high-performing sales organizations described their sales processes as closely monitored, strictly enforced or automated, compared to 28 percent from under-performing organizations.

The difference between high-performing and underperforming sales organizations is made even clearer by the fact that 48 percent of participants from under-performing organizations said that their organization had either a non-existent or informally structured process.

The same applies to sports – you simply can’t have every member of the team doing their own thing or things would end in chaos.

  1. High-performing sales organizations are not afraid to aim high

The team at the top of the league is not there by accident. They’re No. 1 because second or third wasn’t good enough.

The same principle applies to sales teams. Competitive people always want to up their game. It’s a motivation that keeps driving them forward.

According to the Harvard Business Review, 75 percent of high-performing sales organizations raised their 2014 annual quotas more than 10 percent over 2013 quotas. Only 25 percent of average sales organizations raised quotas this high and just 17 percent of under-performing sales organizations.

What’s more, annual quotas remained the same or decreased for 65 percent of under-performing sales organizations.

  1. High-performing sales organizations are quick to fire poor performers

If you were drafted to the New York Giants, but then dropped ball after ball and never scored a touchdown, do you think you’d be in the team for very long?

Under-performing sports people don’t last long in top teams, but neither do poor sales people in leading sales organizations.

The better a sales organization is, the quicker they are to fire a poor performer. Nearly 20 percent of high-performing sales organizations would fire an under-performing salesperson after just one quarter. Whereas only 2 percent of average organizations and 5 percent of under-performing organizations would do the same.

What’s more, 78 percent of high-performing sales organizations would fire a poor performer within a year, compared with 63 percent of average and 52 percent of under-performing sales organizations.

As with sports, there’s a huge amount of pressure in sales. If you fail to meet your revenue targets, you not only fail personally, but you let the whole team down.

Similar to sports teams, top sales teams are driven by their competitive nature, a clear plan, unshakable confidence and accountability for their own success or failure. Just like an athlete may always be trying to beat their personal best, a good sales person is always striving to improve their performance.

For more on this topic, read NewVoiceMedia’s white paper, Global growth: sales development best practice.

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About Tim Pickard

Tim joined NewVoiceMedia in July 2011 with over 20 years' experience as a leader in the IT industry. He served as VP and board member of RSA Security's international business for seven years where he ran marketing in EMEA, Asia Pacific and Japan. He spent two years as Chief Marketing Officer for SaaS/Cloud-based email management provider Mimecast.

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