The fundamental things apply in basketball, bed-making, and becoming the safest company in America.

In 1965, Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and his fellow freshmen at UCLA beat the varsity in the opening scrimmage. Interesting, to be sure, 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. The NCAA rules change to allow freshmen to play varsity took seven more years.

In his book, Coach Wooden and Me, Jabbar tells the story of his first practice at UCLA. Possibly the strongest basketball recruiting class in the school’s history sat on the bench and waited to hear from the coach of the decade, the coach they all came to California to play for. (As Lew Alcindor, Jabbar moved 3,000 miles, from New York City.) “We all leaned forward waiting to tattoo his wisdom on our brains,” Jabbar 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 much of 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, especially in day-to-day selling. Knowing how to discover whether a prospect will get more value out of the product you’re selling than the price you’re charging. Going beyond educating a prospect (that’s a big part of what marketing is supposed to do) to persuading that your product 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 a prospect understand that they have a problem, that they can’t solve it themselves, and that your company is the one they must choose to solve it.

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. 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, former Navy Seal and Chancellor of the University of Texas, U.S. Retired Navy Admiral, William McRaven, and his graduation speech about 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 far 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.

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 with confidence or not being ready to play at all. That hurts the team. One key lesson with a catchy name was also simple: “Tug and Snug” reduces the odds of blisters and downtime.

Another lesson that rings true in business and life is that learning fundamentals (and implementing them) 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 class, 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 that 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

There are many other lessons in the book, some that also parallel our teaching. Here’s one more.

Coach Wooden preached a philosophy, too: You can’t control the outcome of any game, but you can control your preparation for and execution of every game. 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 (or sales) than your share over the long term as well as your share of rewards.

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. 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. Check with us at 847-446-0008, Ext. 1, or pkrone@productivestrategies.comWe’re happy 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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