Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you know that the 2014 FIFA World Cup is in full swing. One of the world’s most popular sporting events, this year’s edition has been better than ever – dramatic finishes, upsets from less-heralded teams and a record total of 136 goals scored! As the group stage ends and the knockout stage beckons, we have all been treated to a sumptuous treat of footballing wonder in Brazil.

Even the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT), considered a relative minnow in the large pond of international soccer, has over-delivered. The team advanced out of the group stage for the second tournament in a row, exciting its vast horde of fans and continuing the ascent of soccer among mainstream audiences here in America.

Through all the thrilling outcomes and wondrous goals, the World Cup – and the USMNT – has also taught us a thing or two about sales and business. Here are 6 sales management lessons from the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

1) It ain’t over till its over!

Soccer is a sport built for dramatic finishes, something the Americans experienced in heartbreaking fashion. After taking a late lead in their second group game against Portugal – an unlikely result that would’ve seen them with a guaranteed spot in the knockout stage – they gave up an equalizing goal on literally the last play of the game, at the 94th minute. They would then have to sweat out the results of the third game of the group stage before officially booking their spot for the next round.

The moral of the story? It ain’t over until it’s really over! Think about the resilience of the Portuguese side to keep pushing forward and attacking, desperate to get a result from the game. As a Sales VP, you must preach the importance of “playing to the final whistle.” Just because a deal looks headed toward Closed-Won doesn’t mean a thing until the contracts have been officially signed. On the flip side, an opportunity that looks all but over can always be resuscitated at the last minute.

Sales management takeaway: Don’t ever quit or let up; always play to the final whistle.

2) Historical performance is a great indicator of future results

Prior to this edition, there had been 6 World Cups – held every four years – hosted by South or Central American nations. No European team had ever won when the tournament was hosted in these types of humid conditions. When filling out your 2014 World Cup bracket for your office pool, leaning heavily on South and Central American nations would have demonstrated your prowess for forecasting accurately. To wit:

  • Of the 9 South / Central American teams that qualified for the tournament, 7 advanced out of the group stage to the knockout stage.

  • Of the 13 European teams that qualified for the tournament, only 6 advanced.

  • Some of the European powerhouses that have already been knocked out include Spain (ranked #1 by FIFA), Portugal (#4), Italy (#9) and England (#10).

History suggested that this World Cup would be won by a South American side, while European sides would perform badly. Picking Brazil or Argentina to win – while ignoring traditional European powerhouses like the aforementioned 4, Germany and France – would have put your bracket in good shape.

Sales forecasting accuracy is also bolstered by looking to historical sales metrics. One of the keys to forecasting accurately is to apply historical conversion rates at each of your sales funnel stages to the open opportunities in your current sales pipeline. A historical probability, run through a regression analysis and combined with today’s opportunities, will give you a good idea of what your sales results will look like in the near future.

Sales management takeaway: Look to historical stats to forecast the future more accurately.

3) Embrace technology; it can make your job A LOT easier

 FIFA, as a governing body, has traditionally been resistant to change and innovation, especially when it comes to technology. After much haranguing and arm-twisting, logic finally won out. Debuting at Brazil for the first time in a World Cup was the use of goal-line technology, to definitively answer whether the ball crossed the goal-line, and if the player scored or not. The technology already came into play, when France’s Karim Benzema had a shot ruled “No goal” – upon review, the goal-line technology confirmed that it was, in fact, a goal.

Sales managers should know all about technology. Having the right sales tools and software in place can make their jobs – and their sales reps’ lives – much easier and more efficient. CRM software, sales analytics, email management, content curation, prospect research, contract e-signatures and social selling technologies should all be part of a rep’s and sales manager’s toolbox.

Sales management takeaway: Implement the right technological tools and software to make your job easier and more efficient.

4) Put your team in a position to succeed

Tactics and adjustments to your opponent matter a great deal when it comes to soccer. After struggling with a 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders in a diamond formation, two strikers) against Ghana, the USMNT switched to a 4-2-3-1 against a stronger Portugal side. The thinking was that this new formation provided width, allowing the USMNT to attack on the wings. More importantly, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann saw a potential weakness on the right flank – Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo played on that side, and tracking back on defense wasn’t his strong suit. As this heat map (via LIVSports.in) of USA possession in that game demonstrates, the team focused much of its attack on this flank.

As a Sales VP or sales manager, it is so critical for you to put your reps in a position to succeed and best take advantage of their talents. Inbound sales reps should focus only on that area, while outbound prospecting reps focus only on cold-calling and lead generation. Reps who are more comfortable working on fewer-but-larger opportunities should only work those, while newer reps should handle smaller accounts. Know your reps’ strong suits and weak points, and then put them in the right position tactically and strategically to succeed, where they can help the team.

Sales management takeaway: Know your team’s traits, and assign reps to roles where they can succeed.

5) Set realistic and achievable expectations

Prior to the start of the tournament, USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann caused a bit of a stir when he was quoted in The New York Times saying:

We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win this tournament. Realistically, it is not possible.

- Jurgen Klinsmann

That quote was immediately met with backlash. “That’s un-American,” the masses cried, accusing the German-born Klinsmann of having a defeatist attitude. The American sporting spirit insists that we can win any event we enter; otherwise, what’s the point of even trying?

Cooler heads saw what Klinsmann was doing. He was taking the pressure of performing off his players, while having an eye on the bigger picture – laying a solid foundation, gaining experience and building a program that can realistically win World Cups in the future. Of course, some suspected that he was also trying to put a chip on his players’ shoulders; nothing drives motivation more than someone telling you you can’t do something.

Sales managers should approach quota-setting in the same manner, using sales metrics to set realistic and achievable ones. Giving your reps unreachable quotas will only cause unnecessary stress, discouragement and a loss of morale. When you set achievable quotas, not only will your reps have a chance to hit them, but if they surpass them, the positive feelings across the whole team will be invaluable.

Sales management takeaway: Set goals that, while aggressive, are also achievable and realistic.

6) Celebrate wins with your team

If Mexican manager Miguel Herrera isn’t afraid to let loose with his team – while wearing a suit on the pitch, no less – then surely you can too!

After all, you’ve worked hard together to get to these wins. With your leadership and strategy, and with your reps’ hard work, you’ve come together to achieve something great.

Sales management takeaway: Go ahead and give yourselves a pat on the back – you deserve it!

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