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In this post, we’re going to take a look at how football coaching is so close and relevant when it comes to sales leadership. There’s a benefit to having a great coach, whether it’s on the field or in the boardroom.

There are actually a number of reasons that these two seemingly disparate ideas are connected. Whether it’s on the field or in the conference room, a coach’s job is to lead a group of individuals and align them with a common goal, with a common mission and common execution. In either case, it’s all about setting up systems and programs that can really empower people to maximize their potential.

Here are some things to keep in mind when putting a strategy in place or setting up a sales coaching program!

The Importance of Fundamentals and Repetition!

First, don’t assume results! Create an environment for learning, and create another environment for performing. If you don’t clearly define the scenario, it’s all just practice. Consider creating a situation where you have one meeting solely for practicing sales techniques so you can repeat it often to build confidence and repeat the process so that it becomes comfortable.

“It’s that repetition, repetition, repetition that can make an average salesperson a great salesperson.” – Rick Lambert, B2B Sales Performance Coach

The Benefit of Real-World Practice

Constant training isn’t going to match the experience that comes from using what you learn in the real world. All of a sudden, you’ve got resistance, you’ve got different elements that you need to use your training to react to. You can introduce concepts in a meeting room, and practice them, but continuously applying them in the real world is how you gain the experience necessary to excel.

Measure the Right Things!

There are so many different ways to measure sales. There’s a formula, “performance is potential minus interference.” Think about it, we have no control over our performance, or over our given potential. However, by minimizing interference, both performance and potential go up! Often, we don’t measure the right things. It’s about more than stats. Measure things that are within your control to empower your team.

Whether on the field or in business, coaching is more than sharing techniques, it’s multi-faceted. It’s not only education, but it’s creating the environments, creating the connection, and giving your team the tools to execute.

Check out our latest SMARKETING Show, Football Coaching Strategies for Sales Leaders, where Rick Lambert chats with State Champion Football coach Eric Stavola about winning strategies you can use to lead your team to victory on the field or in the boardroom. Listen to the podcast here.

Watch Eric Stavola and Rick Lambert on The SMARKETING SHOW

Full transcription:

Rick Lambert: (00:17) Hello. Welcome to the SMARKETING Show. I’ve got a great guest on today. I’ve watched this guy on LinkedIn many, many times, and as a former athlete, if you can’t tell by my physique, Eric, I’m a big sports guy and I listened to you talk about how football coaching is so close and relevant when it comes to sales, leadership, or leadership in general. And I wanted to have you come on and talk about your experiences. As a winning football coach, you took a team in Indiana from five and five. Next year, you went to state championships and the year after you won. So you clearly have a good formula for success. Welcome to the SMARKETING Show, buddy.

Eric Stavola: (00:50) Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Rick Lambert: (00:52) Well, you know, you, and I could probably talk all day about, you know, the benefit of having great coaches, whether it’s on the field or in the boardroom. You know, let me ask you this. Like, you’ve got some principles. Before we get to it, why do you think coaching in football and coaching and businesses is so connected?

Eric Stavola: (01:12) I think there’s a lot of correlations. I’m surprised that people haven’t tied the knots sooner. You know, if you think about it, a coach has to lead a large amount of individuals, get them on a common goal, common mission with common execution, and then there’s sub layers to that. They have you know, assistant coaches, which is a different way, different tempo, different talk track. And then there’s actually players that come in, but it’s all about setting up systems and programs and really empowering your people to maximize their potential and there’s tools, techniques that they use that are very applicable to business. And we can get into that here shortly if you like.

Rick Lambert: (01:53) Yeah, no, I, I, look, I come from a background in hockey. You’re, you’re playing football and I, I think, you know, coaching can make an average athlete great. A great athlete, a superstar, but bad coaching can take it the reverse. So, you know, one of the things you talked about before was the importance of fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals, and, you know, in selltowin when we run sales practices, because I believe people say they can do the fundamentals, but it’s that repetition, repetition, repetition. You know, one thing you told me that I think is very relevant when it comes to coaching is you don’t practice in the locker room. Maybe you could talk to that as it relates to business and football.

Eric Stavola: (02:31) Yeah. I mean, don’t assume results. And so often than not, we, get in a meeting, we get in an environment and we don’t create an environment for learning. And if you think about it, I always ask any leader, hey, tell me an environment that you created for learning and an environment that you created for performing. And if you can’t clearly define that, then you’re always basically practicing you know, on your clients in essence. And so I think that getting outside of your normal, you know, routine, maybe even structured just one meeting solely for just practicing. So you can rep and repeat rep and repeat. I mean, if you’re not comfortable, something I hear all the time, right? People are not comfortable talking in front of a camera. Okay. How often are you doing it every day I promise you, if you start doing it every day, every day, rep and repeat rep and repeat, you’ll become very good at, at, you know, doing whatever it is that you’re moving forward. It’s just fundamental knowledge. And so the concept there is don’t assume results. We don’t play the game in the locker room, you know, mimic game-like positions, game-like atmospheres in other aspects and other environments.

Rick Lambert: (03:39) You know, in hockey I can remember in the dressing rooms, coaches would go over formation for power play breakouts, etc. But to your point, once you get on the ice or on the field, like all of a sudden you’ve got resistance, you’ve got different elements and it’s so important to do it as opposed to just talk about it. And I think you know, I go back to, you know, our events. I don’t run sales training events because I think it’s a little disrespectful candidly, to a lot of salespeople. I run what we call sales practices because I challenge them and say, okay, look, it, we’re just going to do fundamentals, say, objection handling, how you would deliver a prospecting talk track, etc. And people wince, but you know what, until they actually start to do it, they don’t realize, you know what, I’m not that good at it. And that repetition that comes from football, I mean, you guys must run play after play after play to make sure they’ve got it.

Eric Stavola: (04:31) What you just said there I think it’s so critical. I almost think of like, first there’s a level of introduction, right? You can introduce things in a meeting room or through, you know, talking about it. And so often than not people think that’s done – hey, I told you about it. But if you don’t give an environment to apply what they have just been introduced to and then continuously do it so they can master it, you know, I think that you’re just telling you’re not educating and kind of leading through that process. And I think that’s what’s really important about coaching. It’s multifaceted. It’s not only education, it’s creating the environments, it’s creating the connection, and it’s also giving tools to execute accordingly.

Rick Lambert: (05:16) No, look, I think you and I, you know, differ from some that think, you know, I told them and they can do it. I remember I took over a sales team that was five and five at best. And you know, we had mature sellers, a mixed bag of nuts if I can call it that on the program. But anyway, objection handling. So what I did was I wrote the objections on on the back of playing cards. I said, okay, guys, what are the top 10 we get? We wrote them down. Every meeting, every Tuesday morning meeting, I deal out the cards, they flip it over, they wouldn’t know the objection and they’d have to respond to it, but it was that basic repetition to the point where I knew they could do it. Anyway. I just think so many principles cross over. And what about this, like you know, measurement? Today, you know, there’s so many different ways to measure sales or business. And I’m sure when it comes to coaching, you’ve got, you know, different measurement philosophies. Like you talk a lot about measuring the right things. What do you mean by that?

Eric Stavola: (06:13) Yeah. I mean, there’s a formula that I’ve used forever. There was a psychologist. He said that performance is potential minus interference. And so if you think about that, we have no control over our performance. We have no control over our, you know, given potential. And everyone will argue with that. But if you think about it, Rick, if we minimize our interferences, then yes, your potential goes up and then your performance goes up. And too often than not, we don’t measure what’s interfering. And so by empowering people, measuring things that were within your control, then it really empowers the user. It makes it very obvious and they get hungry for that. Give you a great example. Too often than not in football, we would just measure results. We would measure stats, you know, how many tackles, how many, you know interceptions, you can go back through the gamut, but they didn’t have control over that.

Eric Stavola: (07:04) So for me, it’s about, you know, measure. Did they get aligned right? Did they do the right assignment? Do they do the right technique? And you could create this environment in business and especially in sales, by you know, everything that there’s some fundamental things that move forward. So by walking an individual through, I always just say like, Hey, did you listen to the customer? Did you establish a level of trust? Did you teach them, educate them on something? Did you show a level of vulnerability? If you walk through kind of those four aspects and start measuring where you are it’s very empowering and you start to see a transformation, not only in the salespeople that you’re coaching or the people that you’re leading, but in the organization from culture and ultimately results.

Rick Lambert: (07:49) Yeah. Like, you know, I work with a lot of different salespeople and, you know, some of them complain about they’ve become CRM jockeys you know, fine. I’ll fill out the reports. You’re laughing, you’ve heard this too right? But, you know, I’ll fill out the reports to fill out the report. So they check the boxes in the activities. But I remember, you and I were talking off camera and how you would really not just measure what the athletes were doing, but you would actually post I think the results too, and share those with the team.

Eric Stavola: (08:21) Yeah. I mean, I think competing is a great environment, but competing with the aspect, not to compare, but competing with the aspect to create and to grow. And so when people are empowered to the results that are within their control, change the stats. So for me the story I told you very quickly was I used to post these stats and there was a huge line. But then I said, look, your playing is going to be directly resulted to this. And honestly, Rick, it was just a simple if your job and did everything right, you got a one. if you just, if the play was a way, and it really wasn’t about you, but you still did everything right you just got a zero. It just kinda nothing day. And then if, if you just, you know, made a mental error or something that could have been fixed, it was a negative one.

Eric Stavola: (09:12) And, and so at the end of the day, players would either have like, you know, for the game of 15 points, 20 points, but then I would directly correlate playing results to that. And that was very empowering for the players. And you just started to see that, wait a minute. Now my direct actions are not based on opinion are not based on, on something that I can make an excuse that’s not within my control. And when you start taking accountability and people start doing that as well, that’s ultimately where you start seeing, you know, big success from that standpoint. I know it seems trivial, but it’s being very intentional, very specific, but goes back to the topic of measuring the right things. And to me, the right things are about what is, what can we directly improve on what do we have control over? And I think by creating an environment around that and teaching what that is, you know, it’s, it’s very specific.

Eric Stavola: (10:09) One, one last point. I asked so many reps today in sales, all right, what’s the one thing you have to do today to be successful and, you know make contacts or, or, you know, make a lot of calls and, and either they don’t know, or, they are not specific. And, and, and to me, I think that’s unacceptable. You need to know exactly what’s going on. You know, so like in that example, Hey, make five, you know, client engagements. But define the client engagement, not by like, you know, talking to someone in the traditional sense, it could be responding and LinkedIn genuinely not fake of you know, I send a message, they received the message, it’s it, you know, we’d go back and forth about any topic by the way. And that’s an engagement. And I just think if you have five of those, every single day, it’s going to start building and building and add to that.

Eric Stavola: (11:02) But those are something that you can measure. And that’s something to not only give direction, but crystal clear clarity to people that you’re leading or coaching. And that leads to a very healthy culture, but also an exciting culture because people feel like, wait a minute, I can do this. I can get this moving forward in football. You know, would you measure players on every play? Yes. Yeah. That’s important. That’s important. I mean, think about it. How many people that you’re either leading or you come in contact with. I mean, do they even know that you’re thinking about that? And I know that sounds maybe, you know, but it’s, it’s really specific and too often than not, we think that one-on-ones are, are acceptable. So you have a structured, formal thing that you have do to kind of go through this, that, to me, you know, the, the most empowering leaders I had and the ones I would run through a wall for both the coach and an in, in, in business, they would just randomly call, hey, checking in on you.

Eric Stavola: (12:08) And it’s first about you, right? They, they, you know how to emotionally connect, but then once they’ve earned the right, because of that, then they can really speak truth. Tell us what we need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear. And too often than not, we’re not invested enough as leaders. And I just call it selfish leadership. And I’ll lead in this pack right here, because you know, human nature is you get caught up in, in your day and, and that’s unacceptable. Your most important meeting ever is going to be developing your team or, you know, your team meetings. It’s about connecting with your people each and every day, but it’s about truly caring for them at an individual basis. There’s a saying, people don’t care what you know, and so they know how much you care and it’s true. I mean, it’s absolutely true. And if you can connect from that standpoint, then you start to understand more of the interferences, Rick, to maximize the performance.

Rick Lambert: (13:03) Well, look, I, you know, I can tell you you know, I was fortunate to get a hockey scholarship to an NCAA division one school. And you know, I can tell you that the coaches growing up as a, as a Canadian athlete than playing at the NCAA level, like if you got an average coach, you tend to have an average team. Now no coach has won a game that I’ve been on a team, but the players, when they buy in to a coach and the coach believes in them, there’s a connection. You know, there’s an old saying when I was doing work with Ingram Micro, we were doing some leadership coaching programs. I used to say that, you know, managers light a fire underneath. Leaders light a fire inside. And to your point about connecting with the athlete or in business, I think a lot of leaders are just chasing the numbers and they forget that they need the people on board, you know, back to, you know, grading people on each play.

Rick Lambert: (14:00) When we run sales, training events, Eric, what we do is we basically break a sales call down into different kind of, you know, be the snap of the ball. Okay. How the ball’s taken, sorry, I’m butchering your, your football talk probably, but like, how do you actually open the call? Like literally, what are you doing to the rapport phase? What are your initial questions you’re going to ask? And surprisingly people just think, oh, I’m just going to, you know, and so we focus there because the beginning of the play, the way it’s done can really set you up for success or disaster. And the last thing, you know, you told me before you were posting results, which I thought was really good. Cause a guy told me one time an MBA program, apparently true, that when you post results and stack rank people based on a common metric and you post them publicly, you’ll get no less than 30% more buy-in from the group in terms of, you know, looking at that stuff. But again, it’s going to be to your point, you’ve gotta be measuring the right things. What about this? You, you had another really good point that I think is relevant and that is don’t coach during the game. What do you mean by that?

Eric Stavola: (15:06) Yeah. And you’ll get argued on this, a lot of coaches, but to me during the game that’s all the work and efforts that you’ve done leading up to that. During the game, it’s about making sure that people are in the right mindset, comfortable. And, and sure, you’re just trying to minimize any interferences that may come up on that. Either, you know, lack of belief making them feel more comfortable and too often than not, I see in business that there’s been, no there’s been no coaching done prior to the happening. And so, as you’re in maybe working a deal or you’re in the moment that’s when you want to coach. And I think, honestly, that’s when you should be sitting back and looking at the rewards that you just had. Now, I will say this, I have empathy for leaders today because we have to move faster and that’s part of coaching, right?

Eric Stavola: (16:00) I’ve always said that that coaching is not education. Meaning the end result of learning the end result of teaching is learning. And the end result of coaching is performance. And, I think there’s a big difference in that end result. And so now leaders have to move faster, they’re getting hit in a different environment. And so you almost have to take some of those coaching techniques and, implement it, but we assume leadership translates to coaching. And I think that we have to have more empathy for leaders to arm them with the right tools, to arm them with the right cadence and coaching, so to speak. So they can then, you know, go out and execute and perform with their people. And I, you know, I have empathy from that standpoint, but coaching during the game is really around, you know, I’ll give you a great example.

Eric Stavola: (16:51) Why aren’t we recording film? You look at any good football team. They really take time to watch film. It’s not about playing in the game. It’s about watching film and, and think about this, you know, any, game film, right? The game could last like three hours, but the actual playing time is about, honestly, if you factor everything in about 15 minutes. But we spend the entire practice, we don’t even go out in the field watching the film, because that is such eye awakening to the players to actually see them performing. So today, why don’t we record calls? Customers are more than ever to be happy about that, to just kind of, you know, record and listen in, and then watch that. And then let’s coach around that. But too often than not, we’re reactive in nature either after something’s happened or in the moment versus truly creating that learning environment and moving forward. So that’s what I mean by don’t don’t coach during the game.

Rick Lambert: (17:44) More, then I think the technology’s there you know, there’s platforms that you with AI, you can pick up if someone says certain words, et cetera. And I just think you’re right, it’s an under utilized tool, recording calls. You know, let me ask you this if I may, as we wrap up, what do you think are maybe some core skills that a football coach would have that a business leader could absolutely use in their bag?

Eric Stavola: (18:13) So they have multiple tools and they understand how to create different environments for different cadences. So they take advantage. Any good coach takes advantage of organizing, first thing. And I was humbled because I was a really bad head coach to begin with because I didn’t master this. I knew all the coaching techniques and everything else, but first off own your calendar. So, and don’t own it by the day, don’t own it by the week 90 day intervals. So in 90 days, everything’s planned out because this is, you know, you are setting the tempo for the organization or the people you’re coaching. And then in that area create a different environment. So practice for us was two hours, but we would break things down into like five minutes. So if you’re doing a meeting, make sure that it’s very structured and, you know, still allowing for authenticity and openness, but you know, structuring that.

Eric Stavola: (19:12) So maximizing your time and then tools. But like, I think like, like a CRM to me, people would talk about, like, if you ask, hey, what sort of tools do you use in your business? And people typically go to systems or technologies, but I think by applying things differently, they become a tool. Like, you know I laugh because we have these, you know, presentations, but I mean, there’s a conversation around that. So just even in your content, have a conversation deck, have a learning deck, you know, and then be able to go out and have that. So by just creating you know, owning your calendar, learning about tools is critical. And then the last piece is you know, really empowering the people below you. A head coach is only as good as their staff and your staff shouldn’t mimic you, your staff should challenge you. And too often than not, you know, we don’t have the right staff around us to be truly effective with the amount of work we have to do with that.

Rick Lambert: (20:16) Yeah. You know, I couldn’t agree more of the assistant coaches have to come with a different cartoon character than the head coach. And that’s what makes great teams champions. And, you know, you’ve obviously led a championship team, just looking at your shoulders there. You probably played on a few, but hey, you and I could talk, I’m sure all day about sports and business. There’s a direct connection I would argue to the end on that. Thank you very much for sharing your insights today buddy. And for those of you that aren’t following Eric on LinkedIn, highly recommended, he’ll come at you. He’s got all kinds of great concepts that I think if nothing else make me think. And I think you will be rewarded if you follow the guy on LinkedIn. Anyway, thanks for joining us today, buddy. Or so I say, thanks for joining us coach!

Eric Stavola: (21:00) Thank you. Take care. Thanks everyone. Appreciate your time.

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