The New England Patriots just cemented their legacy as one of the greatest football teams of all time by winning Super Bowl 49.  They overcame major adversity during the course of the NFL regular season and playoffs to achieve this goal.  As a lifelong sales professional and unabashed sports fan, I followed the Patriots all season and observed some great lessons that all sales teams could derive benefit from.

  • Great teams need equally strong Coaches and QBs– Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the most successful Head Coach-QB tandem in the history of the NFL.  They have won more total games than any other combination of Coach-QB tandem and tied for the most championships (accomplished during the salary cap era, hint- it’s much harder!).  VPs of Sales can develop the best sales strategies in the world, and they are only as good as the QBs (sales reps) executing those plays out in the field with your prospects and customers.  In short, they both have to be on the same page to win.  Sound sales strategy plus strong field sales execution equals success.
  • It takes an entire team to win in a highly competitive league– In the NFL, there are 32 teams vying for one Championship trophy.  Each team has a roster of 53 players and a salary cap of $133M annually to spend on those players.  Each team individually makes the decisions as to how they construct their team (i.e., players on the roster and salary decisions).  There are three (3) phases to the game: Offense, Defense and Special Teams. On enterprise sale teams, there are sales development/inside sales, outside sales, sales engineers, professional services and customer services personnel that all contribute to make up the team.  Everyone needs to execute well in order to win a new customer/deal when selling to Fortune 1000 companies (i.e., the enterprise).  You simply can’t afford any weak links.
  • Do your job – Bill Belichick’s favorite mantra is “Do your job”.   His coaching philosophy is predicated upon the fact that every player that is on the field needs to know their responsibilities and do their job.  When you get in trouble and make costly mistakes is when you try to do too much in a game and forget to do your core job.   The same applies in sales.  Every time a sales team tries to take a short cut, it will bite you in the ass. Discovery is the foundation of successful enterprise selling and great sales teams refuse to compromise that part of their sales process.  Mediocre sales teams are always looking to cut corners and take short cuts.  Not surprisingly, they miss key things due to their lack of adherence to a quality discovery process and tend to get blind sided at the end of the game.  Why? They didn’t do their job and they lose the deal.
  • Coach up the 53rd player on the roster like it’s Tom Brady – Perhaps the best storyline in the Patriots Super Bowl win this year was Malcolm Butler.  He was an undrafted rookie free agent out of the perennial NFL draft powerhouse West Alabama College (just kidding). He was working at Popeye’s chicken 4 years ago but never gave up on his dream of playing in the NFL.  The Patriots saw something in him and signed him to their practice squad.  He earned his way on to the regular season roster by studying, practicing hard and showing the coaching staff that he listened and learned what they were teaching him.  The week before the Super Bowl during practice, Bill Belichick stopped practice to show him that he made a mistake on a play that the Seattle Seahawks ran a lot of on film.  Namely the three wide receiver set on the right.  What happened in the seminal moment of the game?  Malcolm Butler recognized the Seahawks offensive formation through the coaching, jumped the route and made the interception that won the Super Bowl for the Patriots!!!  Too many sales coaches focus only on their top sales performers.  While it’s great to hang out with your Tom Brady’s, it’s arguably much more important to spend time and coach up your 53rd player on the roster.   Why do most sales teams struggle with the 80/20 rule?  Because the sales coaches don’t invest enough time and coach up their newer sales reps and middle performing sales reps.
  • Consistency and sustained success – The Patriots have a system and a framework for competing and winning every year in the NFL.  It’s tough to argue with their success in the Belichick-Brady era: 6 Super Bowl appearances, 4 Super Bowl wins, 12 AFC East Championships in 14 years, etc.  They draft and mold players that buy into “the Patriot Way”.   They are certainly not perfect (see Aaron Hernandez), but recognize their mistakes and remedy them quickly.  Most sales teams tend to have spiky performances, often referred to as the roller coaster ride.  One quarter is boom, the next is bust.  It makes forecasting your business very hard to do.  You don’t know what to expect from quarter to quarter or year to year. Great sales organizations perform at consistently high levels.  They forecast accurately because they execute well and have clear visibility into their sales pipelines and business.  They are Patriot like in the way they approach every quarter and year.
  • Excuses are not allowed – Injuries are a major part of the NFL and professional football. Star players are lost for the season or hampered by injury, which impacts their performance on the field.  Great teams like the Patriots, never make excuses.  They simply go out every week and try to win every game despite any injuries on their team.  Exhibit A: In the first game of the 2008 season, Tom Brady was lost for the season due to a major knee injury. Matt Cassel took over as quarterback for the Patriots.  He hadn’t started a football game since he was a senior in high school.  He led the Patriots to an 11-5 record in the regular season and they narrowly missed the playoffs, due only to a highly competitive division and conference that year.  There was a collective sigh of relief because they would’ve been the team that no one wanted to play in the playoffs.  In the final game of the season, they blew out the Arizona Cardinals 47-7 and the Cardinals went on to the Super Bowl that year.   Marginal sales teams always make excuses.  Our product has major holes in it.  Our marketing is lame and no one knows about us.  Senior management doesn’t know how hard it is out there.  The economy is weak.  These sales teams and sales players would never last on the Patriots because excuses simply are not tolerated!