What Futbol teaches us about selling

I’m a pretty big Futbol fan (being Argentine, it’s in my blood) and I was watching a game tonight before setting out to write a blog post.  As I thought about Futbol and Sales Enablement it struck me that “the beautiful game” as it’s called illustrates the most fundamental strategy to successful selling: space management.

Space is the difference between good and great 

As I've said - I love Futbol but space management is a fundamental strategy in all field sports. Two teams face off against each other looking to score.  Seems simple enough but it’s not - because the team that can read the space and use it to their advantage (be it on offense or defense) tends to win. Have you seen young kids play field sports?  They all follow the ball like a swarm of bees following honey.  Each player is surrounded by others, all in a small space, and lacking the ability to really use their skills to advance.  It’s very cute (and undeniably exciting for their parents) but it doesn’t make for a successful strategy. Unfortunately many sales teams follow a similar pattern.  They direct their people to the nearest customer and follow them around like kids after the ball.  Typically there are plenty of other sales folks surrounding the same customer, all telling the same type of story.  The customer ends up annoyed and tends not to buy from anyone.  So much like the kids, it’s not a very successful strategy.

Reading and using the space
Great teams know that a successful field strategy involves using a formation that opens up the opportunity for players to split from the pack and move into space.  The formation itself is the easy part – you can pick up any number of books on different formations.  Using the space is the hard part and coaches focus on three bits of guidance. 

1 - Always be on the move 


The defense is always looking to cut off motion into space.  If they can keep the offense tied up then they can control the pace and the ball.  An offensive player who stands around makes it easy for the defender to cover more space with less energy.  The smarter player moves around constantly, seeks opportunities for space, and makes the defender chase him around. Your sales team must always be moving around looking for opportunities; otherwise your competition will set up shop and poach your customers. Many sales teams forget this, especially in challenging times.  It’s easy to get discouraged or disappointed when facing a negative sales environment.  This leads to sales associates who wait for customers to find them or chase a handful of customers around like the little leaguers.  This allows the competition to hang around in more places, execute broader reach tactics and poach your customers unchallenged. You should encourage your sales associates to always be moving, try different tactics, and make the competition guess what you’ll do next.  If the economy is challenging, try some guerilla tactics.  Have your sales associates host a “pizza and beer” night, team up with other companies, or attend a synergistic event.  Moving around creates opportunities and keeps your sales team ready to jump on chances to close new business.  As a bonus, your competition will react to your actions as opposed to the other way around.


2 - Read the field and predict the space 

If both teams are actively moving around then space is always opening and closing. Every player can look around and see where there is space right now.  But running into that space isn’t smart if everyone else is thinking the same thing.  The best players read the flow on the field and sense where space will open up so they can use it. You and your marketing team must read the customer’s needs and predict where opportunity will open up. I often run into folks who speak of the crazy luck that some individual had closing a big customer or some team had developing a new product that went bonkers.  The reality is often quite different.  Successful sales folks and teams don’t just luck into opportunity – they are moving around seeking opportunities and figuring out where to be. Keeping your eyes open for new space can be anything from big opportunities, e.g. a brand new product, to small ones, e.g. a new event to attend.  Read where your competitors are going and find the space where they’re not.  Is there a new vertical you can apply your product to?  A new scenario you haven’t marketed to that you can test?  Is there another company with a similar customer profile you can partner with?  All of those are spaces that may open up to you if you read the field and make your moves at the right time.

3 - Be where the ball will be, not where it is

This is the true magic of Futbol: is the player running to where the ball is or creating opportunity by running to where the ball will be?  Average players follow the ball.  Great players stay one step ahead of the defense and go where the ball will be, allowing their teammates to pass them the ball so they can score. Empower your sales associates to be where customers will be and get them ready to respond on the spot. Most folks who hear this would think “I attend tradeshows and events, I’m where customers are at, right?”  Wrong.  When I speak of being where the customer will be I speak about predicting the challenges your customers will face and then understanding how your product can help them.  Customer needs are always evolving and if you can predict where they’ll go then your team will be there right when the customer realizes they have a problem.

For sales managers that means:

  • Know your customer and the problems they have so you can visualize how and when they’ll need your product even before they know it.
  • Explain this to your sales force and assess their understanding (use anything from a simple multiple choice quiz to a full SCORM based LMS.)
  • Work with the marketing team to build the videos, collateral or content that the customer will need to evaluate the applicability of your product.
  • Make sure your sales force can access the sales tools and engage the customer using a mobile sales enablement solution.  Make it so they’ll never again say “I’ll get this to you when I get back to my desk / office / hotel room.”  (p.s. This is what our Kurryer product does, drop me a note if you want to know more about it!)

Wrapping up
Futbol may provide an entertaining backdrop, but don’t let that take away from the tips discussed in this blog.  Too many companies execute sales strategies that are predictable and “follow the ball” around.  If you want to be different then keep moving, read the field and be where the customer will be.  Do that and you will create new opportunities and increase your chances to succeed.