March brings March Madness. March Madness is the college basketball tournament where the 64 teams battle to find out who is the best college basketball team of the season.

While you are watching your team this year, I would like you to learn a lesson that every basketball coach has had to learn. The easiest way to learn this lesson is to do a little analysis. I would like you to count the number of times where the game is tight, one team is on the free-throw line, and the coach makes a substitution – himself.

Yes, count the number of times the coach doesn’t trust the player he has been coaching all season and puts himself on the line to make that winning shot.

I can already tell you the number: zero.

During a game, the coach can rant, rave, coach, and cajole but he cannot play the game. He has to trust that the athletes that he has coached all season will take his instruction, remember the skills that they have practiced, and execute those plays as they were taught.

This doesn’t happen in sales. It is almost commonplace for the coach (the sales manager) to step in and drive the conversation. He puts his athlete, whom he has been coaching perhaps for years, on the bench. 

So, let’s explore what would happen if suddenly you were required to stay on the sidelines while you watched your salespeople sell and it was impossible for you to take over the sale.

First, you would need to become a much better communicator of the behaviors that you want to see from your salespeople. You would quickly discover that vague concepts like “digging deeper” and “doing your homework” doesn’t really get you predictable results on the playing field. You would notice that your team performed much better if you got really specific about the behaviors you wanted to see. The specific question you want them to ask the client. The specific way you want a proposal to read.

And as you become clearer and clearer in describing the behaviors you want from your sales team, you would almost certainly become much more inclined to want to observe those behaviors in practice. So there would likely be a dramatic increase in time spent rehearsing. The sales meetings would probably start looking like team practices. The one-on-one meetings would probably become individual clinics.

And what do you figure would be the content of the practices? I’ll bet you there would be a constant review of the fundamentals.

The late Dean Smith would practice the last two minutes of a game over and over and over. He would set up a scenario in which the team was nine points down and they had two minutes to turn the game around. With every practice, his team became more and more competent in the fundamental mechanics of winning.

Imagine a salesperson who goes out to make a presentation to a client. When she gets there, the client says, “Oh, that project we talked about is no longer our top priority.” Does she know what to do? Salespeople who haven’t practiced the fundamental process of selling may not know how to pivot. They may not know that the appropriate response is to put aside the presentation they brought and begin a needs analysis. Fundamental behaviors can be practiced in the office over and over again.

And that brings us to the importance of the coach actually watching the game.

I have a feeling that the more coaches went out to actually watch their salespeople sell, the more those salespeople would be treated as individuals. Since the manager would not be allowed to step in and finish the sale in his style, he would need to get used to appreciating that every one of his salespeople sells differently. The coaches would get to see their players practice their craft in real-time. They would be able to observe what each seller does well and where they each need skill development before the next game.

Salespeople would also learn right away that once the game begins, that is to say, once they are in front of their clients, the sale is on them. Well-intentioned managers who take over a sales call are doing a great disservice to their salespeople by not allowing them to experience their own crisis.

First of all, as far as I know, no one has died from losing a sale.

And, yes, it is true that the good ones, the talented ones, will be crushed if they lose a big sale. But then they will dust themselves off and say to themselves, that will never happen to me again. And what will ensue will be a much more competent and confident seller, which ultimately grows the business.

There must be a dozen other ways in which both managers and salespeople would benefit from having really clear lines of demarcation between the job of the manager and the job of the salesperson. Why not explore them with your team?

If you want to have some fun with it, you could take the team to watch a basketball practice or maybe invite a local coach to speak at a sales meeting and then participate in the discussion.

Whatever you decide to do, we hope you will tell us about it.