Take it from LeBron and Kareem, a “back to the basics” mentality can make you and your team winners.

“Back to basics” has become such a time-worn phrase it almost seems worn out. Almost but not quite. The fundamental things still apply in sports and in business. Even for the very best performers.

Lebron James, who just surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader this month, has learned that lesson. And so has Kareem. They joined each other on the floor to celebrate after LeBron broke the record Kareem had held longer than LeBron has been alive: 39 years versus 38.

LeBron revisited the basics after losing the 2015 NBA championship to the San Francisco Warriors. Usually in the off-season, he worked on specific issues in his play. But this time he broke his game “all the way down to the basics” and started over. As he told Cleveland.com he was “just trying to hone my skills, getting back to . . . the fundamentals of the game.” He believed that if he could do that “not only will I get better, my team will improve.” The next season the Cavs beat the Warriors to become NBA champs.

As a UCLA freshman Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) and his teammates beat the varsity in the opening scrimmage. Interesting, but not necessarily remarkable. Except that the UCLA varsity was a two-years-running national NCAA champion and the odds-on favorite for a three-peat. And that would be without any of the much-heralded freshmen. (NCAA rules didn’t allow freshmen to play varsity.)

In his book, Coach Wooden and Me, Kareem tells the story of his first practice at UCLA. Possibly the strongest basketball recruiting class in the school’s history waited to hear from the coach of the decade. “We all leaned forward waiting to tattoo his wisdom on our brains,” Kareem recalled. “Good afternoon gentlemen,” Coach Wooden began. “Today we are going to learn how to put on our sneakers and socks correctly.”

Though the words seemed laughable, Coach Wooden wasn’t joking, and we doubt anyone cracked a smile. The message was nothing if not serious—and practical. Basics matter. Fundamentals count. That’s always true in sports. And, really, always in business, too, especially in day-to-day selling

Entrepreneurs Reveal Their Basics in Podcast

Celebrating its first anniversary this month, a video podcast focuses on basic lessons to be learned, too, not about sports but about entrepreneurship. “Twist of Fate: A Small Business Podcast” features entrepreneurs talking about the fateful moment they were inspired to launch a business and to make it successful every day. Driving the interviews is Douglas Younger III, founder and CEO of the marketing company 3steps4ward and a Productive Strategies client. Catch “Twist of Fate” on Spotify (and other platforms) or at 3steps4ward.com.

Discovery is key. Knowing first how to discover whether a prospect will get more value out of the product or service you’re selling than the price you’re charging. And, second, going beyond educating a prospect (that’s what marketing is supposed to do) to persuading that what you’re offering is the solution. That’s where the selling “magic” happens. Which really isn’t magic, by the way, but training and process. Educating is critical but persuading is what helps prospects understand the “three persuasions” they must accept: They have a problem, they know they can’t solve it themselves, and your solution is the best solution.

Our consultative selling course, FOCIS®, teaches the fundamentals of selling that persuade—and the next levels, too. It also helps develop a customized sales process for you, your company, and your industry. And, just as Coach Wooden changed behaviors in basketball for the better, FOCIS® changes behaviors in selling for the better.

Coach Wooden knew the value of teaching the basics. Kareem knew the value of learning the basics. LeBron knew the value of revisiting the basics. And even though the lesson may be a cliche, it has power. Witness other great leaders always talking about the value of learning the basics: For example, U.S. Retired Navy Admiral, William McRaven, formerly a Navy Seal and then Chancellor of the University of Texas, focused a graduation speech on changing the world by making your bed.*

Business schools reward difficult, complex behavior…but simple behavior is more effective.
–Warren Buffet

Sometimes, it’s not just the message that’s simple. The approach is, too.

From day one, Alcoa’s Paul O’Neill talked about safety—and only safety. At a news conference introducing him as president, he answered every question, no matter the topic, with same message: Moving from the worst safety record in the aluminum business to the best was paramount to leaving a bottom-of-the-barrel bottom line behind. What is your projection for earnings? “We won’t have good earnings until we improve our safety record.” The simplicity and relentless repetition—“safety first, last, and always”—sent a clear signal to all stakeholders, including front-line workers, managers, executives, board members, shareholders, and the market itself.

Did that simple focus work? When O’Neill left 12 years later, the company’s market value had increased to $27.5 billion from $3 billion, net income to $1.48 billion from $200 million.

Coach Wooden was also sending a simple, consistent message. Even better, he was making it easy to understand its importance. Putting on socks and sneakers incorrectly can create blisters. Blisters lead to players not being ready to play. Players not ready to play aren’t ready to win. The team suffers. A simple, catchy name also helps: “Tug and Snug” reduces the odds of blisters and downtime.

Another lesson that rings true in business is that learning fundamentals (and putting them to work) takes process and practice: Do it right, do it right every time. It wasn’t what those stellar freshmen expected to hear from their stellar coach, and it wasn’t why they turned down hundreds of other coaches to play for him. But it was what they got. It was also one reason they went on to win three national championships themselves.

We make the same points in our popular FOCIS® Selling course, where we teach consultative selling skills and an effective process to put them to work. You can wing it on sales calls, or you can plan them so they are customized within a system that ensures the most success over time. And you can practice. We create sales processes for our clients just as Coach Wooden created basketball processes for his players.

It is not a daily increase [that matters most], but a daily decrease. Hack away at the non-essentials.
–Bruce Lee

Coach Wooden preached a “basics” philosophy, too: You can’t control the outcome of any game, but you can control your preparation. A corollary is that winning every game in the short term is not the goal. But if you do your best to prepare and execute what you learn, you will win more games (and sales) than your share over the long term as well as your share of rewards. Simple, right?

No business developer completely controls winning new business. The prospect may decide not to go forward for reasons you’ll never know and that have nothing to do with you or your product. Maybe your competitor offered something you just couldn’t. Internal politics might have gotten in the way. No control there. But you can always control how well you prepare.

To learn more about how to improve your business development through consultative sales training and process development, just get in touch with us. We also support three other skills and processes critical to top-line growth: lead generation and appointment setting, marketing and marketing communications, and sales and marketing alignment. Contact us at 847-446-0008, Ext. 1, or pkrone@productivestrategies.com.

It’s simple: We want to hear about your challenges and to offer our thoughts.

*The Make-Your-Bed Speech, 2014 University of Texas commencement, Austin. Admiral McRaven also wrote a book about the value of fundamentals: Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World.


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