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Sales Lessons for Today ... From Yesterday
Sales Lessons for Today ... From Yesterday

February 1980; Winter Olympics; Lake Placid.  Do you remember the big event that took place at these games?  A bunch of amateur hockey players — average age, twenty-one  — came together as the USA team and beat the USSR in the semi-finals. (The Soviet hockey team had been unbeaten in the Olympics for twenty years.) The USA team went on to win the gold against Finland in the final. As Al Michaels, the TV commentator yelled at the end of the game: “Do you believe in MIRACLES?!”


What lessons does this event have for us in sales?  (To get the all the lessons, rent a copy of the movie Miracle.)  Visualize the “UNBEATABLE” Soviets as the economy in which we are all selling today. Our task is to sell more in a lousy economy than we did in a great economy: mission impossible. We’re up against every obstacle imaginable: our own negative beliefs, naysayers, nobody has money, nobody’s spending money; it’s enough to make a grown man cry. But when the legendary coach of that Olympic hockey team, Herb Brooks, faced what was considered his mission impossible, instead of caving in, he made a plan to beat the USSR, and his plan has lessons for us today.


In a nutshell, Herb Brooks’s approach seems to have been:  Change beliefs to change behavior to change results. Miracle starts with Brooks telling the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association Committee that to beat the Russians, the USA had to change the way it plays hockey. His idea is met with much disdain and heckling. Nonetheless, Brooks was right.  He changed the game considerably, but not without much pain and discomfort on the part of his players. Lesson ONE: If you want to sell in today’s economy, you might have to change the way you sell. That’s bad news for most of us because by nature, people do not like to change. Whatever worked for you in 2007 might not work today. It might be a case of change-or-die, so start by changing your belief system.


During one session when Brooks is showing his team some films of the Soviet team in action he makes the following observations:

  • The main weapon of this team is intimidation; they know they’re going to win.
  • Nobody has ever worked hard enough to beat the Soviets; boys, we are going to work hard enough.
  • The NHL won’t change their game, we will (the NHL All Stars had just lost to this Soviet team).
  • Everybody else is afraid of these guys, we won’t be afraid of them


Are you intimidated by the economic situation?  It’s hard not to be.  During my Navy days, rough seas intimidated me. But I knew that fair weather never made a good sailor. Rough seas are uncomfortable, but not unbearable. This economy is tough but not unbeatable.


Are we willing to work hard enough and change our game to adjust to the realities of 2009?  A few of us are, most of us are not.  Those that do not will probably get eaten up by the economic BEAR.  Brooks’s comments to his team are timely advice for those of us selling today.


One more subtle lesson in Miracle: Brooks repeatedly takes his team to the breaking point to build up their leg muscles. He knows that the Soviets always out-skate their opponents in the third period because of their superior conditioning. He tells his team over and over: The legs feed the wolf…the legs feed the wolf. In sales, behavior feeds the wolf. Our prospecting behavior is probably the one thing that can save us today. No more sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Few of us really enjoy prospecting, but salespeople always seem to be telling me, “If I could only get in front of more people, I could sell more.” The person that controls how many people we all get in front of is looking back at each of us from the mirror. Want to feed the sales wolf?  Do the sales behaviors.


At the end of Miracle, Brooks says, “Three years after Lake Placid, the USA started using professional athletes in the Olympics, they called them Dream Teams. I thought it was strange that these teams never seemed to achieve the dream.”  You don’t need to be an All-Star to beat this economy. Just watch Miracle and heed Brooks’s advice to his group of amateur hockey players. They changed their beliefs, then changed their behavior, then changed the outcome. So can we.


Copyright Sandler Training 2009.


Brad McDonald is President of Sandler Training of Norfolk.  He can be reached at 227-9996

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