4 Sales Ops Lessons from the NFL

July 14, 2013 at 7:00 AM

There’s no denying that in sales, talent is a key differentiator.  The same goes for pro athletes.  The majority of your “A” players are talented.  They hold themselves accountable and have the competencies required for success.  However, even the most talented will fail if they're put in the wrong environment.  Even the best NFL quarterbacks.  Today’s post is about how Sales Ops can create conditions that enable success.C  Users Patrick Seidell Pictures Aaron Rodgers GB

How well have you created conditions for sales success?  Find out by downloading the Sales Performance Conditions Scorecard here.

Ultimately, sales success is about making the number.  Many variables influence making your revenue goals.  Overall strategy, go-to-market model and product suite are essential.  So too are having the right talent, structure and head count.

However, without setting up the right performance conditions, revenue goals won’t be met.  Specific performance conditions include:

  • Sales Process: This is your playbook.  Is it aligned with the buyer, adopted in the field and reinforced by your “coaches”?
  • Territories: The field of play.  Are territories designed to maximize growth balanced with efficiency?  Are you holding back performance based on territory design and assignment?
  • Compensation: Akin to a pro athlete’s salary.  Is it competitive and geared to keep your very best?  Is it synced with your strategy and driving desired behavior?
  • Quotas: Your most important player statistic.  Are your quotas attainable and reflective of current performance and market potential?

I’ll illustrate the importance of these conditions using a sports analogy with the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers is a quarterback with the Green Bay Packers.  He’s considered by many to be one of the best NFL quarterbacks playing today.   The Packers are also one of the greatest NFL franchises ever.  With the right game plan, coaches, supporting team, trainers and equipment he’ll remain elite.

Huddle Around A Sales Process

What if Rodgers’ receivers and running backs all decide not to follow a scripted play?  That’s like having sales reps create their own sales process.  Without a huddle and playbook, you get no predictable activity, cadence or alignment.  Without a sales process, some of your “A’s” may improvise.  However, to raise performance broadly, you need an adopted and repeatable process.

Give Your “A” Players the Best “Field”

Great quarterbacks use the entire football field.  However, their real “patch” – where they maneuver the most - is the backfield.  How would Rodgers perform if his “patch” was much worse than competing quarterbacks?  If his backfield was filled with gopher holes and boulders, he would fail.  Give your very best reps the very worst sales territories and suffer the consequences.

Design territories that are efficient and take untapped opportunity into account.  To do this right you have to conduct account segmentation.  Update the analysis annually and make adjustments.  Assign the highest potential territories to your best reps.  They will thank you for it and perform.

Competitive Compensation Aligned to Strategy

Rodgers’ current total pay will average about $19 million per year.  Among the highest paid QB’s in the NFL.  Consider if Green Bay had a pay policy that capped him at $5 million.  Still a good chunk of change but he would opt out.  He would get paid more by the competition. 

If your compensation plans aren’t in line with your competition, you lose talent.  Don’t kid yourself – great sales people are like “free agents”.  They expect to get paid what they’re worth.  Benchmark the market regularly to see if you’re competitive.  Reward strong performance.

Incentive pay is a lever that must align with strategy.  Suppose Rodgers was paid an incentive every time he threw an interception.  Crazy, right?  Well, no different than paying incentives misaligned with your core strategy.   Pay sales well for results that reinforce the strategy of the company.  Align the two or you won’t get the desired behavior.

Realistic Quota Setting

Here’s one last parallel to consider regarding quota setting.  Assume Rodgers was told to double his pass completions this year to make his incentive.  In addition, if Green Bay traded all their best receivers, would Rodgers make his “quota”?  It would be totally unrealistic to expect him to double his performance.  Quotas must be attainable.  To set them appropriately requires looking at past performance and opportunity potential.

Setting the right performance conditions for your team is complex.  It requires your foresight, analysis and execution.  You need support from executive management.  It demands a team approach.  It’s much more than just making analogies to NFL football.  How well have you created the best conditions for sales success?  Use our Sales Performance Conditions Scorecard to begin your evaluation.

It’s not too early to start now in preparation for 2014.  You could wait but you run the risk of losing your “A” players.  You’ll miss the number.  Success begins with setting the right performance conditions.  Move the ball downfield.

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Topics: Territory Design, Compensation Planning, Sales Process, Sales Performance Management, Sales Operations Strategy, Quotas, sales operations

Posted by Patrick Seidell

Patrick Seidell
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