Tis the season! Or rather the end of the basketball season… and we’re excited to facilitate a collision of worlds with a discussion about two of our favorite things: selling and basketball.
Obviously we love our sports analogies here at ASLAN, and with the Final Four tournament concluding, we wanted to unpack the many parallels between winning a game (or a championship) and winning a sales opportunity.
There are four college basketball teams in the “Final Four” which have four things in common. (That’s a lot of fours). And those four things that we’ve identified have a definite overlap with the traits that help salespeople successfully advance opportunities and win deals.
How the Buying Process is Like a Basketball Tournament
The reason that the Final Four ties in so well with sales is that it essentially follows the buying and selling process. Think about it. Customers vet multiple vendors to arrive at a final decision. They conduct research, look at a company’s marketing assets, speak to sales reps, and explore their many options when choosing a solution provider/partner.
Once buyers have gotten further along in the process, they cull down their list of potential solution providers to a final few contenders for their business.
If you make it to that point, as a salesperson, you’ve made the short list. You’re in the big tournament, you’re playing for the championship trophy.
Let’s take a look at the four teams, what they have in common, and how it applies to the world of sales.
#1 – The Fundamentals
They play using the fundamentals.
There are certain fundamentals in each sport, basic skills that are essential to playing the game and playing it well. In basketball this means dribbling, footwork, passing the ball, shooting, the list goes on.
In sales, there are also certain fundamentals that every seller relies on. At ASLAN, we believe that one specific fundamental should guide every interaction through the sales process:
Serving is selling.
It all begins with a mindset, a decision to serve your customer. Better yet, a desire to serve your customer.
The fundamental reason that someone decides to buy your solution is because you can help them. You add value. They can tell that you have made them a priority and that your goal is to guide them through the buying process in a way that helps them reach the best decision for their business.
To give a concrete example, Discovery is one such fundamental.
Discovery is about asking good questions so that you truly know and understand your customer and their needs.
Selling is not about pitching (although baseball is). Don’t lead with your solution. Don’t “show up and throw up.” Lead by asking intelligent, thoughtful questions that will uncover real needs your customer has and problems they need to solve.
When you’re conversing with a prospect and the word “if” comes out of your mouth, you probably haven’t asked enough questions. Instead, ask enough questions so that you can start your sentences with, “Because you…” This means you understand your customer’s needs well enough to share truly relevant information with them about your product or solution.
If you are a leader and you want to address a gap in performance, begin the coaching session with,
“Because you wanted to move into management…”
If you are a seller who is recommending a different approach to solving a problem, or you are trying to upsell a $200 product, start with,
“Because you communicated that you…”
It’s a more effective use of everyone’s time when you can tailor your presentation and share the most helpful and relevant information with your prospect.
If you’ve ever heard the saying, “Telling ain’t selling… asking is,” now you know what it means.
This is why Discovery is a fundamental for successful sales reps.
Advance the Sale with a Clear Next Step
Never leave a sales call without a commitment to the next step. That next step can be anything you, the sales reps, deems appropriate for that point in the sales process. It could be an appointment to demo the product, or a call with a product specialist, or it could mean sending over a proposal.
Sales reps, you should determine that next step before the call. It’s about choosing the next right step, at the right time, to move your sales cycle along.
In basketball, it’s like designing a play. The team aligns on what the right play is, for this moment of the game. For example, the goal is to get Suggs in the corner with an open three.
Play it out and then determine the next play, the next step.
Each team in the Final Four plays solid, fundamental basketball. The same goes for successful sellers. Because the truth is, the basics work. A strong, solid foundation in sales skills will take you far.
#2 – Play Your Game
While every good team plays with the fundamentals, each team has a certain way they play the game. They are known for their style of play. Some teams are fast break teams, they run and gun, get the rebound, launch it down the court. Some teams slow it down, spread out the offense. Some teams are all about defense – “the best offense is a good defense.”
Each team has a “profile” or a reputation, their “game.”
The same goes for selling. As a sales rep, you have a “game,” an approach to selling, a process for selling. Your process might involve product demos, a virtual presentation, doing an assessment, etc.
We’ve been sold to by many companies that open by walking us through their selling process, why it makes sense and how it will help us make the best decision.
As a seller, you are the subject matter expert. You sell your solution every day. The buyer does not buy your solution every day. You know the best, most effective way to approach the process and help your customer make a decision. So communicate your suggested process and tell your customer why it’s in their best interest to let you lead.
In basketball, the opponent of a fast break will try to slow the game down, to run out the clock. If the other team successfully slows the game down, that fast break team is at a disadvantage. They may lose, because that’s not “their game.”
The point is, play your game, not the competition’s game. Put yourself in the best position to serve your customer well. Ultimately, the customer gets to decide the rules of engagement, and sales reps need to defer to and support them. But oftentimes it’s you, the sales rep, that knows the best path forward and you need to, in an Other-CenteredⓇ way, help your customer see that.
We always say, “Sell your process, not your products.”
Play your game.
#3 – Act Like You’ve Been There
Don’t celebrate early.
Have you ever celebrated too early in a sales cycle? Took your eye off the ball? (Pun intended).
Customers, and people in general, don’t like giving bad news. They’ll give you an optimistic spin on things, even if they don’t intend to move across the finish line with your solution.
Don’t try to “win at all cost.” Don’t drop your price too low, or take deals that don’t fit your offering.
If you’re in the “final four,” you’re on the buyer’s short list, stay focused and keep doing your job. Serve your customer well, all the way through the end of the sale cycle and beyond. Don’t get nervous, don’t sabotage yourself. Everything that got you to where you are will help get you into the winner’s circle.
(Had enough with the sports puns?)
When closing a sale, keep going, don’t get cocky. That’s your job – you’re just doing your job. Act like you’ve been there.
#4 – It’s a Team Sport
Selling, like basketball, is a team sport. The best player/ players in the tournament don’t necessarily win – it’s the best overall team that wins.
Salespeople are part of sales teams. So, know when to take the shot and know when to pass. Know when to ask others for help.
Ask your sales team members for feedback, practice presenting to them, ask their opinions. Bring your team members into a call if necessary, you may need the input from a technical expert or an operations expert to help answer customer questions.
Don’t let pride get in your way. It takes strength to ask for help.
One final note, each of these final four teams has a great coach. Your coach, your sales manager, knows how to help you improve, to focus on the fundamentals, and play your game.
You can’t pick your coach or your sales manager, but they are an important piece of your success. Take advantage of that resource, that team member on the sidelines.
And the winner is…
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading and gotten value from this article, despite the overload of sports analogies and puns.
We’d be remiss not to give a big congratulations to the Baylor team and all their fans on the win last night.