Sales strategies from the playbooks of successful sports teams 


From the Super Bowl to the sales call 

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 

As true of a statement for courage and conviction as ever there was.  

But the words of Canadian ice hockey icon Wayne Gretzky go further than just sport, as words to live by in almost any situation. In fact, there are plenty of parallels between winning sports strategies and business sales tactics. 

Sports teams are made up of talented individuals who all contribute towards collective growth and success. As Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” This idea of putting the team before any individual is just as applicable to sales teams and their long-term performance goals. 

From learning to take losses on the chin and adapting to ever-changing circumstances to establishing a winning mentality and culture, business leaders can take plenty from sports strategies as they strive to enhance sales performance. 

Teamwork makes the dream work, but individual spirit brings the dream to life 

“Pressure is a privilege” - Billie Jean King 

Teamwork and comradery can be instrumental in maintaining morale and enabling success, but it takes a certain kind of character to contribute and truly excel when it matters. Grit and determination can be the difference between success and failure, especially when the stakes are high and time is running out.  

Pressure can cause cracks in confidence and start a downward spiral, but the most resilient individuals are able to take setbacks in their stride and learn from them. Others even find an extra something in the face of added pressure, producing peak performance. 

Grit, determination and perseverance may be more obvious in sporting settings, but these traits will help reps secure leads, by pushing forward through rejections and diligently persisting with potential clients. Commitment to achieving sales goals can rub off on team members and when such dedication is displayed in front of a prospect, then conversations can become sales conversions. 

Preparation and planning 

“The more I practise the luckier I get” - Gary Player 

Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it does help sports pros operate at high levels, ready to perform on game day. From the basics to more advanced plays, consistently honing skills and repeating actions will raise the bar and ceiling for baseline output and results. From there, the best players and athletes must then perform and adapt to conditions and environments outside of their control when it counts. 

Such repetition of skills and plays is just as applicable for training sales reps as it is for sports professionals. As such, a concrete onboarding plan is the answer when it comes to learning the ropes in sales. Onboarding goes beyond basic induction and training to properly integrate starters into their new roles. Over 75% of sales reps who meet their first performance milestone have completed formal onboarding training. 

With customised sales content and comprehensive support at their disposal, sales reps have the tools they need to impress prospects and convert leads. Business leaders then get faster results from their teams with reduced ramp-up time and accelerated quota attainment.  

“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin 

Maintaining prime physical condition is often the main priority for sports professionals. But they must still listen to and learn from their wider pool of coaches. Coaches show players footage of their upcoming opponents in a bid to motivate and prepare them before a big game. Whether it is a football team facing counter-attacking or defensively-sound opposition, or a tennis player against a big server, this analysis measures how prepared sports professionals are for their next challenge. 

While not as physically demanding as sporting preparation, scouting and analysing the competition helps sales teams understand the demands of the market. Sales reps can identify any market gaps based on competition movements, altering their own pitches and strategies accordingly to better meet and surpass prospect expectation.  

Whether on the field or in the office, there is always value in respecting and learning from the competition. 


Adapting a game plan under pressure 

“We looked for matchups where we could gain an advantage and kept working every angle” – Bill Belichick 

For all the prior preparation, there is always a likelihood of mid-game mitigating circumstances throwing all planning and strategy out the window. In any line of work, teams need to identify problems and act to turn things around. 

In 2017, Super Bowl LI seemed to be over mid-way through the third quarter. Atlanta Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 with little sign of hope or reprieve for the latter. Yet the final score would suggest otherwise. The Patriots produced an incredible turnaround to take the bout to overtime, after which they emerged 34-28 winners.  

Between coach Bill Belichick’s brilliance and quarterback Tom Brady’s execution, the Patriots acted and adapted to change the course of history. Brady registered a Superbowl record 62 attempted passes, as quick plays, short breaks and unrelenting offense wore down and exploited their tiring opposition while they remained defensively resolute at the other end. 

Sporting turnarounds are rarely executed this flawlessly, but it is an extreme example of adapting under pressure to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Often enough, teams merely need to change formation or focus to counter their opponents. 

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change” - Albert Einstein 

Adaptability in B2B sales, much like in sports, is about making the right moves at the right time. It’s about being observant, responsive and resourceful. By paying close attention to the buyer journey, sales teams should be actioning their own well-planned plays. Each stage of the buyer journey calls for different kinds of sales content to engage leads and nurture them forward. 

Stage 1: Awareness

At the earliest point of the buyer journey, the prospect is looking for explanations of their problems or pain points rather than an actual solution. Appropriate content could include: 

  • Blog posts 
  • Infographics 
  • Social ads 
  • Blogs 
  • Landing pages 

Stage 2: Interest

With awareness established, prospects are now looking to longer-form content to help them with their research: 

  • Articles 
  • Guides 
  • eBooks 
  • Videos 
  • Whitepapers 

Stage 3: Consideration

Prospects have done their research, and now they’re looking for solutions. With the right content, you can persuade them that you have what they are looking for: 

  • Demos and trials 
  • Sales Presentations 
  • Battlecards 
  • Brochures 
  • Solution Briefs 
  • Case Studies 
  • Fact Sheets 
  • Webinars 

Stage 4: Decision

Crunch time has the buyer ready to commit; they just need that final push. This content must minimise hesitation and reassure them that you are the right choice: 

  • Limited-time discounts delivered via email campaigns 
  • Competitor comparison infographics 
  • No commitment trials 
  • Datasheets 
  • Deep-dive solution briefs 
  • Proposals  
  • “Why us” flyers 
  • FAQs 
  • Customer testimonials 

Just as sports professionals can turn things around in the face of overwhelming odds, sales teams too can launch plays and turn the tide. Every prospect will have their own preference when it comes to the type and intent of content, but the best rep-client relationships are forged by this understanding of needs.  

Enter the sales playbook. A personalised sales playbook can enable reps with a broad range of content to cope with any sales scenario. If they demonstrate expertise, then they may be viewed as a problem-solver for future interactions. 

The Importance of performance data analytics 

“I believe that numbers and data can significantly inform judgement. We use it to validate our intuitions” – Arsene Wenger 

In any results-driven process, preparation and performance analysis go together in a seamless cycle. While scouting and learning from opponents is short-term in scope, figuring out how to improve team performance and strategy has long-term goals in mind. Data analytics allow sports teams to assess and dissect the past to better the future. 

Modern advancements in technology enables sports teams to reap the benefits of tracking and collecting data. In football, most teams pay close attention to individual performance, both on and off the ball. From intermittent speeds to distance covered, heart rate to touches of the ball, everything is gathered and analysed with optimisation and development in mind. 

During the tough early stages of his tenure as Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag made his team atone for lack of distance covered in their 4-0 defeat to Brentford, by demanding they run the extra 13.8km in the next training session. There is nowhere to hide for underperforming elite professionals, but this data is ultimately used to motivate players and teams towards success. 

Data-driven insights are similarly valuable when exploring sales strategies, as they can actively impact sales outcomes.   

 These insights can offer startling revelations like 82% of B2B buyers feeling underwhelmed by the support they receive during the buying process. Feedback encourages self-reflection and a wider inquest as sales leaders figure out how to improve. Only 12% of sales reps are happy with their cold lead conversion, as 42% of reps lack the necessary knowledge before making sales calls. This ultimately leaves prospects uninformed.  

 Armed with this knowledge, sales teams can seek out onboarding plans and sales enablement content strategies, both of which are known to optimise productivity and enhance sales performance. Data insights may be valuable in highlighting flaws and areas for improvement, but they can also highlight the impact of a good sales strategy. At AXD, our clients report up to 50% reduction in onboarding time for new reps, saving up to £15,000 per hire. 


“Success is not an accident; success is actually a choice” – Steph Curry 

Sales leaders can learn a great deal from successful sporting strategies. Preparation through checking out the competition helps add perspective, as identifying gaps for opportunity can urge teams to strive for better.  

Maintaining group morale with talented individuals doing their part for the greater good stands teams in good stead to adapt, especially when mitigating circumstances demand such action. 

Whether a team is impressive in success, disappointing in defeat or showing fleeting periods of promise, post-match postmortems and data-driven analysis encourages improvement and growth - as much a necessity to a sales team as it is to elite sports professionals. 

Ultimately, however, sales success comes from persistence in repeatedly doing the right things until the results happen. From following a solid strategy and building a great brand to providing the best value to prospects, a never-say-die attitude has its place beyond the sports field. 

Let AXD help your sales team 

At AXD, we can help your sales team push for success. Our creative content and personalised playbook services enable reps to perform at the highest levels. Open more sales conversations. Convert more leads. Surpass sales targets. 

Book a free discovery call with our team to learn more.

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