Sales teams should go on the offensive to seal deals

Business Brain

Could the book Sacred Hoops by US basketball coach Phil Jackson have insights for business?

John O'Gorman

Tony Griffin, a former All Star Hurler, cycled across Canada, helped raise several hundred thousand euro for a cancer trust and works with young people to reach their full potential through his Soar foundation.

When he recommended reading Sacred Hoops by US basketball coach Phil Jackson, I was wondering what application the book might have for accelerating sales team performance. But Jackson's story on what it takes to win holds huge insight for sales teams.


If you are a leader of a sales team/bid team and looking to maximise performance levels, the book is worth a read.

Working with teams who are chasing deals around the world has taught us the value of keeping an open mind, being curious and suspending well-held beliefs to help unlock that extra bit of potential in the team/bid process.

One can't but be curious about Jackson's observation on a team's success.

Half-way through his book, I wondered if we re-frame how we look at the key deals we are trying to win using some of Jackson's philosophy of offence.

To borrow a quote from the book - "each game is a riddle, there are no text book answers". Jackson highlighted the power of offence as a framework for his team's success.


Adapting the offensive role to key deals and selling provides seven possible ways to reframe the chances of deal success:

* 1. The offence must penetrate defence.

Has the bid team penetrated the buying process and is it aligned to the business decision?

* 2. The offence must involve the whole court game. Has the sales team involved the whole cross-functional buying team?

* 3. The offence must provide space.

Does the sales team provide the space required through the buying process?

* 4. The offence must ensure movement with the ball. Naturally the focus of the salesperson is on closing, but even while closing may be some way off, the focus should be on advancing to the next step.

What will it take for deal movement in conjunction with the buyer?

* 5. The offence must provide a re-bounding positioning. Experience tells us things rarely completely turn out as we expect - perhaps there is a change in personnel in the buying organisation, or a change in priorities.

The sales team/bid team must be ready for the re-bound. Is the team ready to support any rebound from the buyer?

* 6. The offence must give the opportunity for the ball to pass freely.

Is the deal team ensuring that the deal can pass freely internally and externally (navigating the buying decision and risk management checks on both sides)?

* 7. The offence must leverage individual skills to beat the competition.

Is the team leveraging and adapting skills to beat the competition and justify investment decisions?


The second question that struck me was if B2B selling is really like basketball or indeed Formula 1 racing? Both these sports involve "interweaving of key team members at full speed to the point where they think and move as one unit".

Should big deal teams not involve the interweaving of key team members at full speed to the point where they think and move as one unit with a buying team (also cross-functional and multidisciplinary)?


To maximise sales performance levels in teams selling complex solutions, maybe the focus should shift to the interweaving of the key team players into a cohesive unit and to the constant monitoring of, and feedback loop from, the seven types of offensive strategies noted above.

Each deal is a riddle, there are indeed no text book answers in high-value complex buying and selling.

Food for thought.

John O'Gorman is a director of the ASG Group.