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What World Cup Soccer Can Teach Today’s Sales Pros

By: Jeff Hoffman

OK…I admit it.  I actually watched the World Cup.

I won’t pretend to know anything about soccer.  In fact, before the series began, I wasn’t sure I even I LIKED it. But with little brewing in the Boston sports scene this summer, I too succumbed to “World Cup Fever.” Aside from our eliminating loss to Belgium, I enjoyed it more than expected. So much so that I became glued to the TV and started working my schedule around game times. As Germany emerged victorious and I started to come down from my World Cup buzz, I realized that some of the strategies players used to win were surprisingly familiar. These themes have not only bolstered my interest in understanding this new American love of all things soccer, but they have also highlighted an important idea. That no matter what game you are playing, there are some universal truths when it comes to winning.

Here are three key concepts that are important to consider when playing to win. 

1. I keep getting older, but they stay the same age.

“Nobody watches soccer!” That was my quick response to anyone who asked me about my plans for the US World Cup matches.  And when I said “nobody,” I apparently meant “only 22 million Americans.”  Whoops.  Like when my grandfather said, “This ‘Rock n Roll’ thing is just a fad,” I instantly sounded old, irrelevant, and WRONG.  I may not prefer soccer to hockey, but millions of others disagree – even my own son was telling me the time of the Netherlands – Costa Rica match.

The other day, an old sales buddy of mine joked that he thought Twitter was a waste of time. “Who the hell cares that I am stuck in Cape traffic, or that I enjoyed my breakfast this morning?” he laughed.

It is so easy to stay in the lane we know, while youth (and youthful opportunity) passes us by. I prefer to try to stay relevant as long as humanly possible – and to do what Dr. Stephen Covey recommended: “Seek to understand.”

Embracing the Twittersphere may seem daunting to many of us “old” bag-carrying pros, but the evidence is pretty clear that those who have braved the perils of this new social world are clearly ahead of the pack.  Try easing yourself into social selling with some of the tips in my social selling Blog.

2. Know the rules.

I was on a JetBlue flight during the Belgium match.  When the game went into extra time with a tied score of 0-0, our entire flight was gripped to their backseat TVs.  When Belgium finally scored in overtime, I (like many others on the flight) switched it off. It was only when I continued to hear the gasps and cheers coming from others on the plane that I switched back to discover that the game was still going on.  HUH? Apparently extra time isn’t “sudden death,” like all other sport played in the USA.  (Admit it:  you thought the game was over too.)  I almost missed the rest of the match!

We spend so much time establishing value, positioning our products against competitors, and closing for power, we often forget to spend time asking our prospect about their procurement process. What paperwork do they require from a new vendor?  What are the sign-off limits of different buyers, and how do they prefer to remit payment? If you don’t know the rules of the game, you may foolishly think its over when it really isn’t.

Equally as important is respecting those rules once you’ve learned them. Why risk the red card by attempting a risky slide tackle, which may take you out of the game for good? Resist the temptation to short cut the process and stay in the game so you can score that winning goal.

3. Having a great goalie is critical.  But a goalie doesn’t score goals.

Tim Howard’s 16-save performance was not only breath-taking, it was record setting.  I held my breath with every stop, and could only exhale when the ball was safely kicked to the other side of the field. But as exhilarating as that was, I was equally disappointed with each failed attempt to bury the ball in our opponent’s net, despite several seemingly golden opportunities to score.

The science of sales demands that we consistently “block and tackle” as a foundation to victory.  Methodically handling objections, combing LinkedIn for common connections to our prospects, and the constant education of product is not only safe…it is smart.  But only playing smart is a guarantee for the silver medal.  Sometimes, you have to call around your champion to get to power. Sometimes, you have to hold the line with purchasing on a discount level.  Sometimes, you have to tell a customer: “No.” Simply put, we can’t win on defense alone.  Goal scoring requires courage.

Stay sharp, know the game and be courageous to advance your deals and achieve your goals.  And while you’re at it, stay hopeful for a USA win in Rio in 2016.

Stay in the loop.

Hoffman is an innovator and sales visionary. They deliver an authentic experience that keeps sales people engaged.”

- Bret Wilbur, Director of Sales, TriNet

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