No set formula for sales success

The Premiership season kicked-off on Friday and I was in a thoughtful mood. To be fair I’d had three pints and, as many will testify, this is often the catalyst to meaningful, deep, intelligent, conscious, lucid thinking.


So anyway, I’m watching the match and I start to ponder how the outcome all footballers seek is the same – they must assist in and/or score goals to help their team win – but the formula for each individual player’s success can be different (i.e. what works for one player to achieve their goal may not work for another).


Then my mind wandered to sales people and sales teams, and how this also rings true. They’re often an eclectic mix of characters and personalities, yet they’re all pointing their (varying degrees of) energy towards the same goal – makes sales/hit target – but that outcome can be achieved in several ways.


In football, no one style or behaviour of player is out-and-out proven to be better than another. Look at Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both phenomenal footballers, both completely different in mentality, size, physique, style, personality…


Fourth pint now, and I can’t shake this theme from my head: there is no single formula for success. Alternative approaches can make it work. In sales, just as in sport, you play to your strengths.


I take another sip, and then start matching sales people I know to their footballing profiles. And this is when it all started to get a bit vague and messy but, alas, I questioned whether, when hiring sales people, could we identify which footballer they are (while remembering that there’s no set formula for success and a team needs a mix of talent, flair and work rate…)?


So, here’s the line-up. Can you spot any in your sales team?


Kylian Mbappe 

The earnest but brilliant apprentice destined for great things. Intelligent with a great work ethic, they’re willing to do anything to help the team. Great to have in the camp but, ultimately, unless you can keep them progressing you’ve probably only got them for a year or so before they move on the better things.


Romelu Lukaku

The fighter. Ferociously driven because, to them, being successful – winning – comes from a deeper place (read Lukaku’s personal story here). Hugely resilient, hard work married to a thick skin means that they will always give 100% no matter what external pressure is placed on them. Sure there’ll be dry spells but you’d always back them to score because they won’t stop making the runs and taking the shots.


Dimitar Berbatov 

The smart but bone idle one. They drift around the office doing less than other reps, you check their activity on the CRM and emails/call stats are down against their peers, yet they always hit or exceed targets, their intelligence meaning they’ve figured out another route to make sales that requires less effort and activity, but it works. Few others can do it. But don’t touch them. Leave them alone to get on with it. They may frustrate their peers at times, but ultimately they’ll respect their numbers.


Jan Molby

You look at these and, well, they just don’t look like sales people. They shouldn’t fit in. It shouldn’t work. But they teach you, because you’ve clearly forgotten, never to judge a book by its cover when they consistently hit target and do this.


Paul Gascoigne

The fragile, emotional one. Capable of remarkable skill, dexterity and brilliance, but they need a empathetic manager to keep their arm around them if you want them at their best. A confidence player, when they’re in a good place, mentally, they’re unstoppable, but every now and again you should expect a wobble.


Eric Cantona

The borderline psychopath. They say genius and madness are closely linked, well, this person is the personification of that sentiment. Nuts, clearly, and you have keep one eye on them at all times because you’re terrified they might explode and do something stupid. Yet the counterbalance is a gift that few others have to secure the biggest deals just when you need them. Because of that, you simply can’t fire them!


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

The studious one. Quiet, but friendly and universally loved, they sit on the sidelines analysing everything, taking it all in but saving their energy before, 15 minutes from the close of play, they come on and score a hat-trick.


Mark Noble

The workhorse. What these lack in outright talent they make up for in work rate. Sure, they’re never going to smash their target but they won’t stop dialling until they’ve used up every. Last. Drop. Of energy. Every single day. They don’t take all their holiday entitlement and they’re never off sick, cut them in half and they’ll bleed your brand. You need a couple of these to set the tone, set a benchmark for activity levels and advocacy. Sadly they’ll never be the superstar, but that’s not their style anyway. When they do land a deal, though, everyone in the team is delighted for them.


George Best

The player. They were out late last night, and the night before, and the night before that. They look knackered at 9am, that’s on the extremely rare occasion they get to work on time. You suspect they’re probably snorting coke at lunchtime and they spend most of their day checking their hair in the bathrooms mirror or trying to pull Rebecca on the front desk. Yet you can’t get rid of them because their exceptional flirting skills make them superb sales people.


Ruud Gullit

The player manager. It takes a certain person to play, manage, and lead a team so these are a rare breed. Self-aware, driven, and capable of leadership through action, if you get one, they’re well worth hanging on to.


Mario Balotelli/Ravel Morrison

The one you gave a chance too, who showed real signs of promise. Who definitely had the ability but lacked the application. It hurts because you know they’re dripping with talent but, alas, you have to let them go before they set fire to a desk, start a fight at the Christmas party, or bang their head on the side of a swimming pool?!?


Charlie Adams

The one that’s thick as a plank but, somehow, and often with a little bit of help, they can muddle through and find a way to achieve a level of mediocrity that prevents them getting dropped. If you keep them within a narrow remit with lots of structure and support they can be useful. They’re cheap too, but performance is limited.


Paul Scholes

The one that’s calm and assured. Humble, they put a shift in every day, and you can rely on them to hit target. Every time. There’s a fiery edge to them, particularly is they get frustrated, but the consistency and reliability far outweighs these few moments.


Okay, that’s my list compiled. I have to do some proper work now. Would love your thoughts and feedback: can you add to the list with your own players, and who’d be first name on your team sheet?


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Originally published 12th August 2018