What the NFL Has Taught Me About Building Top Sales Teams

 In Sales

Sales teams are always hustling to close out the year by smashing quotas and sending a few to the President’s Club, just as college football teams are doing the same in the hopes of a great bowl game. As both a sales and sports enthusiast, I find the parallels extremely interesting.

Christian McCaffery made waves a few years ago when he decided to forego the last few games at Stanford to prepare himself for the NFL draft. It’s considered crazy now to risk injury staying in an inconsequential bowl game. Instead, players head out to personal trainers and coaches to prepare for teams at the NFL combine.

Our top salespeople always work with career coaches and resume writers to prepare for their next big career move. Most of the time our advice determines the upcoming years of our clients, and beyond.

“Welcome to Opening Day of the National Football League!” 

When year-end is upon us, the moves we make determine our next year. 

Gil Brandt introduced the supercomputer to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s for draft evaluations, and changed the game forever. Although the league laughed, the technology helped them build a dynasty. Before that, draft preparation relied on calling college coaches and asked them who they thought is worthy of playing on Sundays. There is a story of the Chicago Bears in the 50s using their first draft pick on a player who looked good in a photo, only to find out he couldn’t play worth a lick when he showed up to camp.

Sales recruiting has taken a similar route, although a lot still relies on the old school eye test method. Resume scoring system and pre-hire assessments can help save you much time and evaluate talent better. But at the end of the day, it can only mitigate risk so much. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and hand your card to the commissioner. The computer system has helped both NFL and sales talent scouting. But you’re doomed if you rely too heavily on the computer or the eye test. A hybrid of both tech and eye test is probably your best bet.

Every year has some NFL prospect that you never heard of that breaks the combine, only to find out when they bring him to camp that you got a great athlete, but a horrible player. I believe it was Bill Parcells who said “I don’t care how fast a player can run, if they don’t know what direction they need to run.”

When art meets science

It needs to be art meets science. Use your pre-hire assessments to help you get a feel for the candidate, and use it to help you when conducting the interview. Keep in mind to not use these results alone as the deciding factor. Look at the numbers, but watch some game tape in the form of a job interview to see if the candidate can play the role you need them to play.

Also, many NFL GMs will play it safe by drafting players from the big programs when instead, they would often be better off getting an A player from a B brand. Late-round picks end up being the stars ala, Tom Brady. Maybe a player put up crazy good numbers because of the system around him, and was surrounded by players who made him look better than he was.

Andre Ware, the Heisman Trophy winner for Houston, years ago, put up video game numbers in the run and shoot offense only to fizzle out in the NFL. Tom Brady played in a “3 yards and a cloud of dust” Big 10 offense and dropped to the 6th round. How did that turn out? 

Just as in sales, a candidate could be made to look better or worse than they are. Sometimes we get enamored with the company they come from, or maybe they fell into a prime territory, and it all came easy to them. We need to look at the candidates separate from the situation, whatever it may be. More often than not, we overlook the A-player at the B-brand who is doing a lot more with a lot less and slaying Goliath daily.

Arrange Your War Room

“If they want you to cook dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries,” Bill Parcells famously said when he coached with the Patriots. He does have a point, as his livelihood is reliant on the personnel decisions.

However, there are a plethora of reasons why the head coach isn’t solely in charge of drafting and hiring decisions. There are things such as a salary cap, and the front office has a unique vantage point on such things. Plus, it’s an arduous process, and the coach also needs to worry about the day-to-day game planning activities, to ensure wins down the line.

The one thing everyone can do is agree on the vision and get on the same page when it comes to the desired outcome. Talent Acquisition, HR, C-suite, and sales leadership all need a say in the process. When working in unison, great things will happen. If there isn’t a little contention about the sales hiring strategy, then you just aren’t doing it right.

We have seen the live look-ins at the war rooms on ESPN, and you can just read the body language, and it’s always tense. Depending on how you do with a game, you might have to invest in some garbage bags, ski goggles, and cheap champagne for the triumphant celebration.

Put Your Talent in the Position to Win

You did your scouting and picked your talent, and now what? The real work starts.

A good coach will implement a system, and then work to find the right talent to fill specific roles. An elite coach evaluates the ability around her or him and puts their team in the best position to win, and will build the system around the talent they have.

Don Shula was the last coach to have an undefeated season with his run attack of the late 70s. He abandoned his run-first offense when gunslinging Dan Marino dropped to him in the 80s and brought them to a Super Bowl soon after. Bill Belichick has a system where everyone does their job but adjusts the team strategy based on the talent he has at any given season.

We need to coach up our talent and put them in a position to win based on their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. I had a client a few years back who suffered a two-year drought of missed goals, and the turnover rate on the sales team was horrible. The manta was: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

On closer inspection, we found they were hiring great salespeople, and some with multiple President Club awards under their belt. The problem was that they were hiring transactional sales professionals. The role was better suited for a consultative approach, and they never gave them the tools or training to make that transition if that were even possible.

Great teams have a great culture

Tom Brady is the most decorated QB of all time, but would you sign him and then have him run the triple option? Anyone watching Tom’s combine tape running the 40-yard dash knows the answer to that. Great teams put talent in positions that will accentuate their abilities, and don’t force a square peg into a round hole.

Great teams also have a culture of winning. A lousy system with the wrong players/hires can turn a company culture sour in a matter of weeks. Once it goes, it seems like it gets embedded into the DNA of the organization. Still, it’s not impossible to turn things around. I have seen both sports teams and organizations do it.

Vince Lombardi was a masterful coach and a legendary motivator. He also went to great lengths to find out how to coach each player, knowing exactly what might motivate one, won’t motivate another. He knew that motivation wasn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario, and could quickly alienate most of the locker room, which can turn into a horrible on-field product.

Following the footsteps of Vince Lombardi, my client implemented DISC to gauge the culture and gave people in leadership positions the tools to help find the best ways to motivate each individual team member and communicate with them.


Between great scouting, leveraging the talent’s strengths, and optimizing the company culture, our client cut turnover by 65% and increased profits by 37% within a year. They are well on their way now, creating a strong employer brand that will attract the top candidates in the space. Winning attracts winners.

If you’re in need of excellent leadership and sales skills, our team is ready to coach you to become one of the best in your field. Here at Roos Advisors, we are committed to accompanying you on your professional self-development journey, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions whatsoever.

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