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Attack and Defend: Coaching Your Sales Team to a Win

While sports analogies abound in business, soccer provides rather direct lessons for sales teams. The basics of attack and defend are core to coaching soccer and should be core to coaching sales reps.

In 1967, the English Football Association (the British governing body of soccer) issued a guide outlining the five rules for attacking and defending on the soccer field. These recommendations are still used today to help coaches focus teams on the goals and objectives that matter during a game.

Attack  Attacking involves actions that move the ball toward the goal:

  • determining if it’s possible to score

  • supporting the other team members to increase the likelihood of a goal

  • remaining flexible so actions cannot be predicted by the competitor

  • spreading out to take up as much of the field as possible

  • improvising to allow team members to express themselves

Defend Defending seeks to keep the competition from scoring with the intent of gaining control of the ball:

  • slowing down a competitor

  • providing the right amount of defense around the ball

  • maintaining strength all over the field (not just where the ball is)

  • focusing in order to prevent mistakes

  • remaining patient and composed under pressure

Attack and Defend for the Sales Team The Raymond Corporation had a goal of regaining market share from its top competitor. To do this, we helped them develop both attack and defend strategies focused on its competition. Each member of the enterprise sales team identified attack and defend accounts.

The attack accounts are business the company doesn’t currently have. By being strategic, reps more quickly identify whether it’s possible to win the business or not. It also includes coaching to support the rep in pursuing the accounts. It is an educated, step-by-step approach that provides accountability between a sales manager and a sales rep. Beyond helping secure new business, it also helps reps identify when to move on from pursuing an opportunity.

The defend accounts include customers the reps are most committed to keeping. By creating defend strategies, the sales team considers the value of individual accounts. At times, it also means pursuing relationships at higher levels at existing customers. Dave Kella (Consulting Principal at DSG) describes what this looks like at Raymond, “This is fundamentally what we're continuing to work on. Their culture had been one of talking to warehouse managers, but we felt there was real opportunity to talk with the people who ran distribution centers and were focused on the overall cost and efficiency of materials handling.”

The results of the discipline around attack and defend has been positive for Raymond as described by Tim Combs (EVP, Sales & Marketing Division), “For last fiscal year, we did have record revenue, record market share and record profitability. I think that we can attribute much of that success to the fact that the sales force did respond to the initiative, they did implement the practices that we brought to them, there was more accountability in the day to day sales activities that took place.”

Which accounts have you failed to win due to a lack of discipline and coaching? How are you defending your current accounts?


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