Five Ways to Model Your Sales Leadership After Pete Carroll

Henry Schuck

The Seattle Seahawks’ stellar season, which culminated with yesterday’s 43-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos in Sunday’s Super Bowl, left me pondering some interesting parallels between what top NFL coaches like Pete Carroll and highly successful sales executives do to ensure victory on the field of battle.

Because we’re based in the state of Washington, we’ve kept an especially keen eye on Carroll’s run to the title. He was able to create a culture of winning throughout his career, at USC and now with the Seahawks. Passionate leaders like him love to win and they are able to convey that desire to their team.

Carroll follows a disciplined regimen that keys on the fundamentals and helps guarantee results: practice, practice, practice; watch tape of the competitors (and yourselves); coach the different squads; make adjustments; inspire and fire up the team; go out and win.

Here are five ways to model your sales leadership after Pete Carroll:

Practice, practice, practice. Carroll is a zealot on the importance of practice, and makes the sessions as much like a real game as possible. He pipes in crowd noises on the PA system, he invites fans, he stops for TV time outs, and he insists that his team practices better than any other football squad in the world. As a sales leader, if you don’t have your reps role playing and practicing against your own team, the only way for them to get experience is to practice against a live prospect – and that’s just dumb. No coach lets his team go into battle against a live opponent without practicing ad nauseam. You need to be constantly role playing, having reps practice their pitches and their sales demos to others on the team and to managers. 

Play great defense. Just like Carroll’s Seahawks, you need to know your competitor’s “offensive squad” like the back of your hand. Through gathering sales intelligence, you have to live, sleep and breathe their strengths, their weaknesses, their go-to-market strategy and their value proposition. Based on all this knowledge, you need to determine how they plan to come at you and be ready with the killer counter-strike.

Use data to drive performance. NFL coaches obsess over numbers and stats. For instance, how an offense operates in the red zone is vastly different from how they move the ball from deep in their own territory, and data on opposing teams and players – including tendencies – helps guide the decision process. In the same way, a sales organization needs to use data to determine its strategy. If you have a rep that has trouble converting opportunities in the late stages, it signifies a much different problem than that of a rep that has difficulty transitioning cold prospects to opportunities. Use your CRM religiously so that you can go in and make adjustments where they will pay off the most; otherwise you’re just guessing.

Make adjustments in real time. Top NFL coaches have learned how to be more efficient and more agile than their opponents. They continually check stats and make on-field observations to exploit weaknesses in the defense and offense, and then adjust their game and make player substitutions as the situation dictates. As a sales leader you need to be constantly in tune with your team, making changes as needs and demands evolve. For instance, this could mean moving someone from sales to account management, or developing a process for ensuring that marketing is passing the right leads to the right reps.

Keep the troops motivated and  passionate. Carroll is great at firing up his team, sharing the vision, the goal and the passion, getting them to buy into it, then having them run out onto the field and mow the other guys down.

On the sales side, this happens both at the beginning of the “season” – like sale kickoffs – as well as in ongoing meetings and events. Many times sales leaders get bogged down with day-to-day operations and forget to be diligent about patting players on the back when they perform. You can use motivational tactics like playing a rep’s favorite song over the PA each time they close a certain-sized deal, or using a constantly updated leaderboard that everyone can see.

OK, so the performance of your sales team won’t be broadcast to a global TV audience, and people won’t be organizing house parties and cooking chili as they watch the reps strut their stuff. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a thing or two from Carroll’s handling of the Seahawks as you look to up your game and march down the field to victory!

Henry Schuck is co-founder and CEO of sales intelligence and data firm DiscoverOrg. He can be reached at