Are You Playing Your Game Or Someone Else’s?

Anyone who has been involved in competitive athletics at any level knows you have to play your own game. Once you start playing the opponents game, you probably lose. If by some strange chance you win, it’s after slogging it out for a very long time and it takes everything out of you.

Likewise in sales, we maximize our ability to win–and bring great value to our customers by playing our own game. But there are huge numbers of things that threaten to throw us off our game. Sometimes, we get off our game, without even recognizing it until we are well entrenched in defense and responding–not leading.

Here some ways it might happen:

We don’t have a game plan in the first place. This is, by far, the most frequent case. Cold calling a prospect with “I don’t know or care about what you do, but would you be interested in buying my product,” going through 100′s of mindless calls a day is no game plan. We need to develop a game plan. This means targeting the right prospects, researching them, identifying opportunities to engage them in ways that are meaningful to them, executing those prospecting calls with precision.

Choosing the “event” we want to compete in. In many sports, the athletes and teams choose their events. They know they can’t possibly compete and win every event. They pick and choose those events that are best suited for them. At this moment, the Australian Open is underway—there are a number of the top players who have chosen not to enter this event–it’s not their event. The Tour Down Under is coming up (avid bicyclists will know this), it attracts many top cyclists, but not all–it’s not their event. Too often, we compete in the wrong events–someone will win, but we won’t. We are most effective competing in our sweet spot and not getting distracted or tempted to compete outside our sweet spot’ Too often, we don’t know our sweet spot, so we waste our time and energy competing in everything–diminishing our chances to win everywhere–including in our sweet spot.

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When we are in the right game, not having a plan. We know how we win. We can examine the things we have done consistently in the past that cause us to win. We know what’s caused us to lose. We know the steps we have to take that maximize our ability to win and best align us with the way that our customers buy. This is called the sales process. The sales process is the starting point in developing our strategies to win this particular deal. We need to have a plan, based on the process, execute it, adapt it has the deal progresses. We have to be purposeful, knowing that each step we take is in the right direction, creates the most value, and has the highest impact. Absent this, we get lost, we wander, we waste our time and our customers’ time.

We’re playing the competitor’s game. This is a sure strategy for losing. If you are caught in this and can’t change it, the only thing to do is lose as fast as possible, spending our time on opportunities we can win. Sometimes, we start with our game plan, but get sucked into responding to the competitor, pretty soon they’re controlling the “field.” We have to always be aware of the competition. We have to have strategies that enable us to beat the competitor. We know the competitor–if they are playing their game will try to divert us from our game, but we have to resist this. We have to keep our focus with the customer–creating value with everything we do, constantly demonstrating our superiority, keep the customer focused on what we can do for her. Let the competitor play their own game (The little secret is–most of the people you will compete with, probably don’t have a game plan and will probably be responding to you.).

We get pissed off and react. These are things that can divert us from our game plan. Sometimes they are temporary diversions, we get back on track. Sometimes they are devastating, our knee jerk reactions get put us into a death spiral that we can’t escape. We see this with professional athletes all the time. A good friend, one of the best sales professionals I’ve ever encountered is dealing with that right now. He encountered some resistance in a situation. The situation is unimportant–the resistance was actually meaningless and stupid. But he got angered and started to respond. That started a back and forth battle that did nothing to reinforce what my friend was trying to achieve, distracted him from the goal, and brought him down to the same level as the person who was resisting. Since then, he’s obsessed with this person–he’s forgotten his game, his objective and wants to prove the other person wrong. It’s become personal and meaningless to everyone else around.

This happens to all of us. A customer raises a meaningless objection, we get angry, all of a sudden that objection becomes the center of everything we do. Sometimes, we try to prove the customer wrong—a sure death sign. It may happen outside a deal–something happens within our company. A new policy, someone not responding to us, a colleague may have done something. We get distracted, annoyed.

Yesterday, I almost succumbed to this myself. I’m in the process of buying a new car (yes, I’m taking good notes, this experience will be the source of several blog posts). I defined my requirements to a couple sales people, one started pushing back in a certain way–we all know how they do this. I started to respond–I was dashing off an angry email saying he had to listen to my requirements. I was just about to hit send, when I realized he was sucking me into his game. In a way, he had “hooked me,” but he was taking me a direction that would cost me more than I wanted to spend. Fortunately, I realized that in my anger, I was starting to play his game. I deleted the email and sent another, simply stating, “Clearly, we are not communicating. It’s probably best that I go somewhere else.” I got his attention, he is now responding to what I want.

We think the customer is the opponent. Probably the single worst thing we can do. We are not playing against the customer! We are not playing a win lose game! We need to earn the right to be on the customer’s team. We’re there to help them achieve their goals and to demonstrate–in every exchange–that we are superior to every alternative. Ultimately, we’re helping the customer play their game in the best way possible.

My niece’s boyfriend is a professional baseball player. He’s about to go off to spring training. Every year, he knows he has to compete to earn his spot on the team. He knows what he has to do, he focuses on executing the things that earn him his spot. He doesn’t treat his coaches or the general managers as his opponent–he demonstrates he’s the best player for that position. He wants to show the coaches that he can help the team win more games!

Do you have a game plan? Are you executing it?

Are you playing in the right “events?”

Are you playing your game or someone else’s?

Are you earning the right to be on your customer’s team, helping them play their game?

Are you demonstrating how you can help your customer win more of their games?

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