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How to “Sabanize” Your Sales

Nick Saban

College football is now in full swing, and last year’s national champion, Alabama, again rose to the top position in the polls with their convincing win over Michigan last Saturday. (If I haven’t lost you non-football fans already, relax, this is not entirely a sports article.)

Alabama’s head coach, Nick Saban, has wonthree of the past seven national championships (one was with LSU), which is pretty remarkable. It’s hard enough to win ONE, or even have a chance to play for the title.

So what’s with Saban?

He is so respected, admired, and copied that these three national publications did feature stories on him just within the past month.

Sports Illustrated- “The Sabanization of College Football”

The Wall Street Journal- “How Saban Turned the Tide”

USA Today- “Defending champ Alabama out to avoid title hangover”

To summarize and simplify, Saban has refined a system where he recruits the best players, physically and mentally for their positions, and then trains them in his process. Of course there are many more details, but you can read them in the articles if you are interested. I’m going to share just one aspect of the mental side of his program that we all can relate to. Saban calls it avoiding “success flu.”

Success flu essentially is losing the passion, drive and hunger that led to a success, after the success. It’s as, or more common in sales as it is in sports. Here’s how Saban recently dealt with it.

After the National Championship game this past January, just two HOURS after winning, a friend urged him to cut loose and enjoy the victory. He said, “I am enjoying it. But I know there is an issue or problem that is going on in our team right now that needs to be addressed.” He was already working on the next season.

What he was referring to was the fear that the returning team members for 2012 would get complacent after winning. He had seen it before with other teams he had coached. He nipped that in the bud by having a meeting with his returning players just two days later, and said

“This team is not the national championship team. Some of you guys played on that team. … Nobody can take away what you did, but are you going to focus on what you did or about what you are going to do?”


The Application to Sales

Let’s apply this to sales. Either you have had the success flu, or know someone who has. We all enjoy our successes, but as we know, if you let up on the gas, your momentum quickly can stop, meaning lower activity, productivity and results.

So, what to do?

Like all motivation, ultimately it is up to the individual. You must have the mindset of a self-reliant producer, understanding that your success is your responsibility, just as is your failure. And it involves work. Saban says,

“You have to pay the price for success up front. Everybody wants to do it. Not everybody is willing to do what they have to do to do it.”

OK, so you are that person. That’s why you’re in sales, right? Sure. But human nature often kicks in and we get a touch of that flu, and need some prescriptions to get us back to great health.
1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. When we are comfortable, we are relaxing. If we are relaxing, we are not being proactive. A manager told me years ago that when you coast, you are always moving downhill. And you pick up speed. Ultimately you crash. The way around that is to enjoy your victories, sure, but have your sights set on your next target.

Nationally recognized sales management and leadership expert Danita Bye say you need to tap deep into your latent talents to find that competitive edge. She suggests stretching your comfort zone every day by doing something you thought was beyond your capabilities; it may mean talking to someone you feel uncomfortable with. When you feel your heart start to race, do it anyway. When your mouth goes dry, do it anyway. When you feel the heat and start sweating, do it anyway.

2. Practice Kaizen
This is the Japanese concept of continuous improvement or “change for the better.” Never think that you’ve got it right.

I often shake my head when I’m doing sales training with an organization and I’m warned about the grizzled veteran who has been there for 30 years and might not be open-minded. The old adage is true: attendance does not always equate to experience and expertise. Often it is just presence, doing the same thing over and over, stuck in the sales version of Groundhog Day. The best sales reps I have ever been associated with, regardless of tenure, are tinkerers. They are always looking for a better way, a new idea. It might just be a slight tweak, but small levers can move huge objects.

In 2005 Steve Jobs said “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” That day, Jobs announced the killing of the popular iPod Mini, but released the iPod Nano that day, which became even more successful.

3. Avoid the “Good Enough” Mentality
Strive for superiority and excellence, not adequacy. Real achievers are not satisfied with just getting by, they EXPECT to be at the top and realize that “good enough” will not get them there. And it doesn’t need to take that much more effort. A few extra calls, a bit more time doing the research, adding a few key points to a proposal, another run through of a presentation before delivering it… all things within our capabilities, if we refuse to settle for mediocrity.

I did a four-minute audio tip on “Good Enough Never Is for Sales Superstars” and it resides in my Smart Calling Online archives. I’ve arranged it soyou can access it free. (Note: sometimes, with some browsers there is a glitch that asks for your username and password… if so, wait a day, or try another computer.)

So there you have it… ways to “Sabanize” your own sales performance. I look forward to hearing about your own championships.

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