The Axioms of Selling Blog

08 Nov by Rick Smith, CEO

What if I told you I have been thinking about getting into better shape? You’d probably say, “Go for it, Rick – nothing can hold you back!” Great; but what if I said to reach my goal, all I’m going to do is eat Tofu?

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As account managers, at some point, we’ve all felt like Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to an eternal punishment of rolling a massive boulder up a large hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom just as he neared the top.

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For the past 20 years I’ve been fortunate to talk to hundreds of sales leaders about their team and their organization’s performance.  Almost universally when I ask, what is the #1 reason your sales leaders don’t coach more often the response is “they don’t have time to properly prepare.”  This exact response happened again just this morning in a call with a VP of Sales from a leading HCM Analytics provider.

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We’re a couple of weeks into the 4th quarter ( our fiscal year is also the calendar year).  And in the 4th quarter almost every sales leader I know (including me) is frantically, and singularly, focused on doing whatever it takes to hit their number.  Their adrenaline is in overdrive and there is this unrelenting drive to finish strong and finish successfully.  

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About a week ago I read a report stating the average tenure of a VP of Sales has been decreasing about 1 ¼ month per year for the last 7 years and now sits at just 19 months. As I sit here writing this post just two days before the end of the quarter (it’s been good so far) and honestly just realized I accepted the role as VP of Sales for Axiom in March 2017 (do the math).  I can definitely relate to the challenge!

A VP of Sales is, of course, a lot like being the head coach of any performance profession in sports or the performing arts. They are tasked with delivering results fast and predictably while building a great culture and developing a strong core of leaders with salespeople who consistently outsell their competition. Just do it in 19 months or less which is certainly aggressive but not unrealistic since the old adage is true: it’s easier to replace the head coach than it is to replace all the players.

While you could rightly debate if that’s a fair adage, there are a lot of very prominent examples of head coaches who’ve made a career out of turning around under-performing teams. Regardless of if you’re a fan or not, it’s hard not to respect what great head coaches such as Nick Saban in college football, Pat Riley in the NBA, Bill Belichek in the NFL, and Sir Alex Ferguson from the EPL due to consistently, and quickly, out-perform their peers.

So what lessons can a VP of Sales take from these examples? I believe there are at least 4 commonalities that separate the high performing head coach from others.


1. They Put their System in place. Their system is defined in three ways:

Their Principles – this defines the fundamental, universal, and non-negotiable truths they expect from everyone in their sales organization. Adhering to these principles gets people recognized and rewarded. Not adhering to these principles results in immediate, and sometimes very public, negative consequences.

One very successful VP of Sales I know laid down the law in her 1st 90 days that they would not win business or build relationships by frivolous spending on entertainment or gifts. She believed if they couldn’t build relationships and create value with their customers on their own merit, wining and dining them to make up for it was pointless. Those who didn’t abide by this principle either changed or found another place to work.

Their Process – Great head coached have a crystal clear and measurable definition for “what good looks like”. They have quantifiable and verifiable expectations for how their team’s practice (learn), how their managers conduct pipeline & forecast reviews, how they should prepare for customer meetings, and how they should execute their sales process.

But great coaches don’t try to over-engineer or overly control the process otherwise it comes across as something their team will comply to do, but won’t commit to doing it. Hall of Fame Football Head Coach Bill Parcells would even have his team practice how he wanted them to line up for the national anthem as he knew it set the tone for playing together with efficiency and preventing the chaos that often comes from ad-hoc processes.


Their Playbook – high-forming head coaches know a critical driver to sales productivity and effectiveness is to get everyone doing their part to execute the sales plays. They ensure there is a common language for pipeline management, creating/pursuing/winning sales opportunities, and the tools (like CRM) are in place to reduce complexity not add an administrative burden.

2. They invest in developing their leaders.

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