Fable Friday: Do you really like to play basketball? A sales management tip

At an NBA post-game reception in the early 70’s, a fan approached NY Knicks star Bill Bradley and asked, “Do you really like to play basketball?”  Bradley replied that he liked it more than anything else he had ever done.

The fan went on to explain his question.  He had played the trumpet all through college and was pretty good.  His band toured and made good money, but after college when he had the opportunity to make records and stick with it, he opted instead for law school. His thinking was that the music business would not be a safe, predictable way of life.

Bradley asked him if he liked being a lawyer today and the fan replied, “It’s good, but it’s nothing like playing the trumpet.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedYou can find that story here, but now let’s fast forward to February, 1984.  I took my 11-year old son to Madison Square Garden for a Knicks-Nets game because they were going to retire Bradley’s number 24.  I was a huge fan of the Princeton alum, Rhodes Scholar and at that time U.S. Senator from New Jersey and I wanted to hear his speech.

He didn’t disappoint, as he began by recounting the above story, then added to it with these words I’ll paraphrase from so long ago:  “And now today I’m long retired from basketball and serve instead as a U.S. Senator. I love my job and I’m proud to represent the people of New Jersey.  But no matter how much I love it, I have to tell you tonight that it is nothing like hitting a jump shot from the corner in Madison Square Garden in front of 19,000 screaming fans.”

And of course the place erupted in cheers that lasted for a few minutes.  They raised his uniform shirt to the rafters, and Bradley dedicated it to his sister.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I’m sharing this story with you today for an important reason if you are a sales manager.  After years in the consulting business of sales, sales management and training, I have learned that no matter how hard the sales manager works, no matter how good a coach he is, no matter how dedicated or smart she is, there are always going to be people on the sales team who really don’t love to play basketball.  And when you as a sales manager realize this, there is little you can do to motivate them.

Great sales managers protect their teams by helping those who really don’t like to play basketball find some other game they do like to play, and move them off their own basketball team.

I realize this may sound harsh, as I write so often here about coaching, leading, sound management principles and love for your employees, but consider the good you do when you remove a sales team member who just doesn’t like to sell.

Your team will respect you for not keeping someone who won’t produce, and that improves morale.  You can devote your energies to successful people and outcomes, rather than fruitless remedial activities. And best of all, you’ll help the non-player get started to find the game he does love.

Ask yourself if you have a sales team member who really doesn’t like to play basketball.  You probably do.  Now what are you going to do?

Think Like Your Customer