Ah, football season. The sun is spending less and less time overhead, the leaves are turning different shades of orange and brown, and “cool” fronts (or what passes for cool fronts in southeast Texas) are lumbering their way south to give us respite from the oppressive summer heat. Football season also brings us that gridiron institution that rewards us for making it through the first work day of the week: Monday Night Football.
This past Monday’s match-up saw the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos taking on the Toilet Bowl-bound Oakland Raiders. ‘Match-up’ might be too strong a term for this episode; it was a match-up like an armless man boxing an in-his-prime Mike Tyson is a match-up. He sliced the black and silver’s defense like a master surgeon performing a routine appendectomy. Manning and his receivers worked together like Duane Allman and Dicky Betts trading licks and locking into a shared vibe during a live performance of “Whipping Post” back in the day.
Peyton Manning. You remember him, right? The NFL’s and the Indianapolis Colts’ #1 draft pick from the University of Tennessee back in the 1998 draft? Arguably the best quarterback of the last 20 years and one of the all-time greats? The guy who is that rare breed that never stops learning, never stops trying to improve himself, and never stops enjoying what he does?
During the aforementioned Monday Night Football contest, a one-on-one interview with Manning was broadcast. He credited his success to his family, coaches, friends, and the cast around him on the field, past and present. On the field and off the field, he’s a leader. So how does he prepare himself for each contest? He does what he’s always done: He mixes it up and he keeps it fun.
- Fancy footwork
Manning uses a particular drill to hone his footwork and to keep his football instincts sharp while his focus remains on what’s happening in the field of play. Snaking in an out of what looks like foam speed bumps, Manning averts his gaze to an imaginary play developing down field. His attention is up and out, not down. This drill may seem a bit silly to some, but tell that to Peyton and he’ll point to his four MVP awards and his Super Bowl ring. (And since he’s a nice guy, he’ll let you slink away without further shame.) In sales, you must be able to do three things: sell, sell, and think on your feet. Focus on what’s happening in the bigger picture in front of you, not what is happening in the background.
- Stay in the pocket under pressure
When you’re the most marked man on the field, you better have the trust and the support of your teammates around you, particularly the five bulls on the offensive line. As quarterback, Peyton has 11 guys gunning to ruin his day on every play. Blocks must be executed, holes opened, passes caught— all while several wrecking balls have you as the building they are dying to take down. Manning has absolute confidence in those around him. He knows they have his back, just as he has theirs. How? He never takes a practice off. He never misses a meeting. He never gives less than his all on every play, from a 3rd and Forever to a kneel down. He leads by example because, when it comes down to it, he has to be able to depend on others to help him do his job. And when you see a guy busting his ass day in and day out, you can’t help but want to go to war with them. During my time as a sales manager, this was crucial. I had to focus on the task at hand and eliminate the peripheral stuff. I had to be there for my sales team, encouraging them, coaching them, and celebrating with them. I had to show them that I was willing to do whatever it took for the team to succeed. After all, if I don’t have their backs, why should they have mine?
- Change Up
Having a game plan is great; it helps you focus on what you need to do to complete a task. But in life, as in football, sometimes you have to deviate from the x’s and o’s you drew up during the week leading up to the big game. Manning is famous for his ability to change a play at the line of scrimmage or simply call an audible to change the play up. He might as well be the offensive coordinator for his team. And why not? He has mastered the art of situational play calling based on what the defense is showing— his conversion rates after calling an audible are legendary. The guy knows the playbook, but he also knows how to use it. He knows, as you should, that one has to be willing to adapt to an ever-changing climate. If something isn’t working or if you notice something could be done better, change your play. Call an audible.
Many a writer has made football an analogy for life, with its highs and lows, touchdowns and knockdowns, and endless learning and preparation. Sales and football also seem to be inextricably linked in many ways as well. Football is a grueling, winner-take-all battle; sales is a cutthroat exercise in forming partnerships and winning over clients. Some games you blow out your opponent, some games you’re on the wrong end of the final box score tally. But with the right focus and the right preparation, you and your team can hold court in your profession and maybe even achieve the equivalent accolades of one future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback named Peyton Manning— and have a little fun along the way, too.
You can re-visit all of the basics by viewing my Sales 101 blog.