What Can Sales Leaders Learn from the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race?

What Can Sales Leaders Learn from the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race?By Harry Maxwell (@HarryFromSales)

I wasn’t just interested in last weekend’s boat race because my hometown, Oxford, took the victory in men’s rowing. I was actually taken aback by how similar the behaviors of a successful rowing team are to supercharging sales efforts.

A sales leader is comparable to a cox. They have to be in command of the boat, as well as provide coaching, motivation and encouragement to their crew. A cox’s biggest challenge is ensuring that the team is synchronized and the boat is heading in the right direction. And interestingly enough, a disjointed sales process was the #1 concern highlighted by Sales VPs, according to Laura Stack.

With salespeople often dispersed in the field it’s critical to ensure that best practices are applied, appropriate sales processes are followed specific to the client and opportunity stage, and best-in-class execution is driven. You don’t want to be Cambridge in 1978 where an oversight in not fitting splashboards meant the boat began to take on water and eventually sunk!

Even the smallest mistake can be costly when your sales team are running the play. Something that has heightened as the buying landscape continues to change, with customers being more informed and engaging with vendors later in the procurement process. As James Cracknell said, ‘four years (of preparation for the Olympics) boils down to six minutes’, so you need to make sure you get all six of them right.

In this information age that we live in, your sellers have to be smart about competitors and able to highlight specific differentiation in features and thought leadership. To win, you have to adopt agile selling techniques and position your offering as so superior that The 1877 Dead Heat is off the cards… Nobody wants to miss out because ‘Honest John’ drifted from the finishing line and couldn’t judge the winner!

One of the unique challenges of The Boat Race is that all the successful rowers will be graduating in the near future. Training and motivating new novices is a constant, so proven and repeatable structures are deployed in order to achieve success. Sales leaders should strive for similar scalability when on-boarding new team members. Some companies think this starts and ends with a training scheme. However, according to Richardson, 79% of the learnings from a 30-day induction is forgotten afterwards.

So in rowing, coaches try to connect the sport and training to the lives of their teammates. Rowers have to live and breathe the sport in order to be successful, and it’s the same with Sales. To maximize productivity, sales leaders have to penetrate the day-to-day of their sales team. This means assimilating content, tools and resources so that salespeople can access coaching, information and reminders, in a context that’s relevant to them. Not only will this drive efficiency and more consistent customer engagements, but it will significantly reduce the average ramp time of new hires.

Where a sales leader and cox differ, however, is that the cox’s crew is sitting right in front of him. In Sales, giving direction isn’t always as easy with sales representatives distributed in the field. So to drive similar results to an effective rowing team – with best-in-class execution, ongoing support in a meaningful context, and being ready to react in competitive settings – you need to get creative. Some companies will dedicate headcount to working alongside Sales on a daily basis (even though it’s costly). Others will deploy a technology platform like SAVO. But the best, like Philips, will have both.

If you’d be interested to learn more, shoot me an email at harry.maxwell@savogroup.com – happy to talk.

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