Winning Teams Need a Rallying Cry

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Last summer, it was easy to get drawn into the incredible drama of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.  And with all this winning and losing, it was impossible for me as a sales coach to resist the chance to draw parallels to effective selling. My focus here is on the importance of a shared mission among winning teams.

The attached article from the New York Times, published August 14, 2016, recounts the story of the USA women’s eight-person rowing team, which was struggling in their final race with a medal on the line.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/sports/olympics/rowing-united-states-womens-eight.html?_r=0

“This is the U.S. Women’s Eight” cried the coxswain halfway through the grueling race.  Those words triggered the athletes’ strong sense of the history and purpose of USA women’s rowing.  They recovered in the second half of the race and won the gold medal.

The late Dr. J. Richard Hackman, who had been a leading researcher on high performing teams and professor of social and organizational psychology at Harvard University, would probably have said that the coxswain’s cry formed a “compelling direction” for the USA team.  When a leader’s direction is clear and engaging, and offers an invitation, it energizes and unifies a team behind a shared purpose.  In the case of the 2016 USA Women’s eight boat, the compelling direction was to focus on their contributions to a winning legacy rather their burning lungs and muscles.

What’s the parallel to selling?

In high-stakes B2B sales meetings, salespeople often have to band together with others — senior managers, subject matter experts, technology specialists, external partners — to win the sale.  For the salesperson, meeting sales goals and earning financial incentives are “clear” and “engaging.”  But can the same be said for his or her co-selling partners?  Without a compelling direction, the selling posse can look like one eager player surrounded by several indifferent ones.  And in a competitive pursuit, that could be enough to lose the deal.

So what would Dr. Hackman’s “compelling direction” look like in a sales meeting?  Think about a larger purpose that would serve as a rallying cry to your colleagues.  Consider the following three questions:

  1. What would winning this business mean to your organization?
  2. What would winning mean for your organization’s efforts to build a brand in a new geographical market, vertical or discipline?
  3. What would losing mean to your organization’s efforts?

A high-stakes meeting should feel like the stakes are, well, high.  And not just to you, but to everyone on your team, and to the client.  Setting and repeating a compelling direction can be the basis for turning your group into a team, and may just be the rallying cry your team needs to elevate and win.  “This is the…

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