“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

If you’ve worked in or with sales teams for any amount of time, it’s likely you’ve heard your fair share of sports metaphors — Hail Mary, slam dunk, MVP, knock it out of the park, level the playing field, and so on. The reason sales speak is so rife with sports terminology is because there is a natural relationship between sports and sales. There’s competition, practice, wins and losses, team leaders, and coaches.

In fact, the role of a sales leader is much like that of a coach. Both players and sales people know what they are supposed to do but may not always know how best to do it or how to improve — which is where coaching comes in. So it makes sense that sales enablement fits easily into the world of sports, and vice versa. 

NBA Legend Alvin Gentry recently sat down with Bigtincan CMO Rusty Bishop to discuss coaching strategies for sales and sports leaders, including game plans, mistakes coaches make, training and practice, and how to coach individuals.

Read on to see what Coach Gentry had to say. 

Training strategies sales leaders can learn from sports coaches

Coach Gentry’s coaching strategies for sales leaders:

On identifying your best leaders

“Your best player is not always your best leader. I don’t think you can choose a leader. That’s why very few teams in the NBA vote on captains. I think you know who the captain of the team is, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be your best player. But leaders will just step forward. You don’t have to select the leader — they select themselves.”

On playbooks and game plans

“The number one mistake in athletics and corporate America is when someone says that they treat all of their players or all of their sales reps the same. Anyone knows that if you even have two kids, you don’t treat them exactly the same. There’s different personalities so you have to think about how to treat people, which requires getting to know them personally.

In the NBA you have to know their skill levels and you have to know what you’re working with before you start putting together a playbook or a game plan. So you have to understand individuals in the group before you try to speak to them collectively. You have to break them down one by one based on personality, skill level, and what they can bring to the team. Then you can start building a game plan or a playbook.”

On misuse of time

“Just because you’re in the office for 10 hours, that doesn’t mean you’ve been very effective. There’s some guys that feel like they need to be in the office from seven in the morning to eight at night. But the question is, what are you accomplishing in those 11, 12, 13 hours that you’re in the office? There’s a guy that may be in his office for three hours that’s getting more done.

So I think it’s about what you’re accomplishing in that timeframe, and not necessarily the hours that you spend, but your effectiveness and what you’re trying to get accomplished in that particular time. So it looks impressive to have long hours, but the work that you get done is more important than the time that you spend in the office.”

On worrying about the competition

“Larry Brown is a Hall of Fame coach, and I think he’s probably the best coach I’ve ever worked for from a standpoint of adjustment and strategy.

One of the things that he was adamant about is that when we put together game plans and we showed highlights of film from the other team, he never wanted to have any clips on there where they were always making shots. He didn’t want to convey a feeling that ‘there’s no way we can beat this team. They make every single shot so we can’t beat this.’ He just didn’t want clips that were showing the other teams where they were making all the shots. Because the competition may be good, but they’re not perfect.”

On how sales managers should teach and train

“In corporate America as well as the coaching profession in general, how teachers deliver the message is very important. So, as a manager and as a coach, you want to try to make things as simple as you possibly can, but to the point where the rep or the player can get what you’re trying to deliver.”

On getting to the root cause of issues when training and coaching individuals

“The first thing you have to do is speak to them to let them know that there is a problem. I think the one mistake that a lot of leaders make is that they leave little problems alone until they develop into big ones. It’s much easier to deal with a small problem and eliminate it — don’t wait until it’s this gigantic problem and now it’s really tough to eliminate.

Let’s look at it from the standpoint of somebody struggling in a situation like free throw shooting. If there’s a guy that you feel should be a good free throw shooter and he’s struggling from the line, I think the first thing you do is you look at technique. And if that’s fine, then you have to go to the mental part of it. And that’s where it gets a little tricky.

It also helps to be positive. So you would make this situation with free throws a positive situation where you say, ‘Let’s just walk to the line and let’s shoot and let’s see how you handle that.’ And then after that you can say, ‘It’s no different when we get into the basketball arena where it has 15,000 people. You’re still 50 feet away and the basket is still 10 feet up.’ So let’s eliminate everything except the technique and try to see if that situation works tovtry to find the root of the problem. But if it’s not technique, then it’s obviously the mental part that you have to try to get through.” coaching strategies for sales leaders from basketball

On standard progression for improvement

[Continuing the free throw training example] “If it’s a technique situation, we will start by shooting five-foot shots, and then we would move back maybe another two feet. Then we will move back further in a natural progression until we get to the foul line. And then we would talk about shooting it the exact same way we shot it from five feet — he just has to put a little more legs and a little more arms into it. So we’re going to keep the same technique, the correct technique, and then you have to believe in it.

I tell everyone that we’re all novice golfers and it’s great to take lessons and everything but when you get back actually on the course again, you revert back to that nasty old arm swing that you have. But you have to be able to trust the teaching and trust the swing and swing the correct way and eventually I think it is like free throw shooting. If you shoot it the correct way. Eventually you’re going to make a lot more than you miss.”

On assessing strengths and weaknesses

“To be a great salesman and to be a great coach, the communication part is imperative. You have to be able to communicate with your sales force. You have to be able to communicate with your team, which is basically the coach’s sales force. And you have to seek out individuals and find out what makes them tick, what inspires them, what makes them work hard, what makes them be able to complete a three-point shot when you actually need it most.

I think it’s the same thing when you talk about a sales force. At what stage can you help this guy close a deal? What do you know about him, that you can talk to him along the lines of, I think that’s great, but I think you need to probably add this to your presentation. It’s the same thing with basketball. You’re a great ball handler, now you have to be able to finish at the basket. So let’s work on finishing the basket, because you’re already pretty good at the ball handling part.”

On coaching the uncoachable

“You have to establish right from the start that no one’s bigger than the team. You’re going to be treated well, but you’re not going to be treated to the point where you may be able to emotionally hijack your team. And the more you communicate with them, the easier it is to find that common area where you can utilize their skills and make them accept what you’re trying to do.

If you have the number one salesman in your company, and he’s a little bit of a pain in the you know what, I don’t think you just fire him right away. I think you find a way to work with them and deal with them and see if you can come to a common ground.”

On traits of great coaches

“Being productive in the time that you’re out there and avoiding verbal overload. Sometimes leaders can actually talk too much. And I think players would prefer to be corrected along the way while they actually do the drill or try to run a play. I think they want to be involved with the action of it before just standing there listening to it.

That’s why I love Larry Brown so much. We did a lot of things, but we corrected along the way rather than sit there and talk all the time. He would put them out there. He said they can’t learn unless they’re actually doing it.

So I would imagine in the sales force it would be the same thing. You have to put a guy out there and then you can see his mistakes, then you correct the mistake along the way. I think that it would be very important that you observe and then you correct.”

How pro sports organizations use sales enablement strategies 

There are many coaching strategies sales leaders can take away from sports training, but what can sports organizations take away from sales enablement?

Bigtincan and Bigtincan brands like Brainshark have been working to enable multiple sports organizations for many years. The Sacramento Kings’ sales teams use the Engagement Hub to connect with customers faster and more effectively. Other teams like the Eagles, Red Sox, and Cowboys use Brainshark to train customer-facing arena staff. (Bigtincan even shares our Dallas HQ with the Cowboys).

Bigtincan’s professional sports clients use sales enablement principles like: 

  • Microlearning courses and curriculums
  • Remote and hybrid learning
  • Training for brand consistency among customer-facing teams
  • Efficient onboarding 
  • Quick and easy learning content creation

Since sports arenas don’t often have a huge corporate or training staff aside from a few video creators, sales enablement platforms like Bigtincan and Brainshark allow anyone on their team to create training videos quickly with images, clips, PowerPoints, and voice overs.

Everyone from gameday park staff, to the concierge, food service, and security are trained using microlearning courses and curriculums to deliver the exceptional, on-brand experiences fans expect. The best part is they can train remotely on their own schedule, alleviating the pain of trying to schedule in-person training for thousands of gameday staff members in different functions. Having a remote training option also allows sports organizations to be prepared for future interruptions to live events.

 

sales enablement for pro sports organizations

Common training topics for gameday staff include: 

  • Club culture
  • Uniform and break room etiquette
  • How to assist guests with disabilities
  • General HR info

Years of experience working with sports teams means Bigtincan and Brainshark can offer quick implementation and turnaround of training content using tried and tested templates and processes. In fact, a new team signed with Bigtincan on Feb 28, 2022 and had their arena staff training program up and running on April 1, 2022. If you’d like to learn how Bigtincan can help your organization level the playing field, contact our team.

 

What really ties professional sports and sales enablement together is an attitude. Coach Gentry summed it up best when he said, “Never stop learning.”  

Coach Gentry also recommended the following charities:

Alzheimer’s Association

Boys and Girls Clubs

Shriners Hospitals for Children