Five ways sales is like quarterbacking a no huddle offense

For those who are not American football fans, please forgive the metaphor. I hope you’ll see that it fits and I’ll look forward to hearing other comparisons from you.

The key difference with the no huddle offense is that the play calling moves from coach to quarterback. Rather than plays being sent in from coaches, the offense forgoes the huddle, goes right to the line of scrimmage where the quarterback calls the play with a combination of voice and hand signals. The coach expects the quarterback to decide what the best next play is based on his real-time assessment of the team’s strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses. In sales this is like the manager empowering the sales person to decide the best next action. Some examples:

VISABILITY – Being seen in the right way by the right people at the right time. There are many ways to be visible to prospective customers. Events, meetings, correspondence, etc., are some of the standard ways. Creative sales people come up with unique and timely ways to be visible. The sales person has to know the most about the decision maker which puts them in the position of choosing the best next actions. A key prospect was into sailing and HP was a sponsor of the Americas Cup. I got him a private showing of the boat which led to a meeting I had been pursuing for months.

CREDABILITY – Having relevant, superior knowledge and success. Every customer determines the credibility of a seller differently. Some customers want experience while others value the seller’s ability to assess needs and create unique solutions. Some customers want to be guided while others want to steer. The sales person has to know the traits of the decision maker so they can decide what represents credibility to that customer. When selling to Boeing I had in depth knowledge of why Boeing IT wanted to move to UNIX. I became more knowledgeable than plant managers around the company. They started using me for information to feed their IT planning.

VIABILITY – Offering a solution that fits both needs and readiness. Can the customer really benefit from our product? Can the customer implement the products and services we’re selling? Are we selling more than they need? Are we giving them enough tools to make a difference? Will the customer want to repeat their experience with us after we’re done? The sales person has to make the call on whether our solution fits the customer. I once declined a million dollar sale because I knew it was overkill. That one action resulted in repeat and reference business that was 10 times the original million.

CAPABILITY – Delivering what the customer bought. In B2B selling most offerings require support during installation and use. The capability of support teams is a key consideration for both the buyer and the seller. For instance, if the customer is new to the product being sold, training is a critical capability for seller and buyer. If the customer is highly experienced with the offering, support and repair will be more important to emphasize. In demonstrating a production system to Boeing we simulated a production line with model airplanes to show how smoothly and easily our system worked. We were able to do the demonstration in a fun way that kept the customer’s interest. That was a huge win for us.

RELIABILITY – Being accountable “when” the unexpected happens. Customers will have unexpected experiences whether from product complexities or product failures. No matter the cause, our reliability is measured as much by how we respond as how the product performs. This is when decision makers learn if we’re reliable. At HP we had an issue where our computer terminals transmitted a frequency that caused wing cranes to move unexpectedly. We were in their factory at 5:13am waking up product managers in Cupertino. We stayed until 8:25pm when the problem was fixed. The plant manager told me later that he saw us as a partner from that day on leading to lots of repeat and reference business.

Empowering the sales person to make the call on the best next action facilitates more targeted, creative solutions because the sales person is the closest to the customer just as a quarterback is closest to the play on the field. Certainly the sales person considers suggestions from managers just as quarterbacks do from coaches but in the end, it’s the sales person’s call. The sales person is the quarterback.

©2013 Rick Wong – The Five Abilities™ LLC


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