This week is the 10th anniversary of what has become one of the most famous postgame press conferences in National Football League history. Ten years ago, New York Jets coach Herm Edwards took to the microphone to deliver the sound bite that would forever define him. Edward’s Jets were in a bad way. The season was circling the drain, and as the guy in charge, it was up to Edwards to deliver the message that would turn things around.
The line he delivered may earn him a placement in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. The Jets were 2-5, having just lost to the Cleveland Browns. A New York Times reporter asked Edwards whether he planned on having a talk with his team about not giving up on the season. To which Edwards replied with the now famous line, “HELLO? You PLAY to WIN the GAME!”
Like all fans, I’ve seen the replay of that press conference dozens of times, always appreciating the spirit, fire, and never-quit attitude of Herm Edwards. However, something I heard him say this week during an interview gave me additional appreciation of the true leadership qualities of a great coach like Edwards.
When asked to describe his mindset at that point of what had been a truly dismal season, Edwards said that he knew one thing for certain. “Here’s the thing about when you’re struggling. You don’t go out and get new players. You don’t go out and get new coaches.”
Yet that’s exactly what many sales leaders do when things are going badly for them. They replace people, salespeople and sales managers, who aren’t producing the desired results. They go out and get new players.
My own football career ended long ago following a vicious crackback block delivered by 75 lb. Jimmy Driskel during the first practice of the Sparta Township Pee Wee football league. I don’t have to be a player, though, to know that Herm Edwards understands that there is more to winning football games than the players on the roster. Edwards, like all great leaders and coaches, knows that every organization has to effectively manage four things in order to be successful:
Talent is important. However, Edwards knew that even if it were feasible to hire a new team, simply replacing the Jets players in mid-season was not going to deliver significantly improved results. Just as replacing sales people would not improve the numbers for a struggling sales force.
Edwards was right. You play to win the game. But that also means there has to be an intense focus on HOW you play the game. In the weeks following his motivational mantra, I’m sure the Jets practiced relentlessly to ensure that how they played the game translated into winning the game. Sales leaders need to keep in mind that HOW their sellers sell, their sales process, is just as important as WHO their sellers are.
I’m sure the Jets didn’t completely reorganize their players and staff. They didn’t decide that they needed more offensive linemen and fewer linebackers. Although I bet they continually assessed whether all of the parts were arranged in the optimum way. Sales leaders need to apply a similar scrutiny to ensure all of their resources are arranged in order to allow the people and process to work effectively.
With the first three in place, technology becomes the enabler. Whether during practice, training, collaboration, or performance assessment, technology is reshaping the way in which both football teams and sales organizations strive to produce superior, predictable results.
Sales leaders need to apply at least as much focus to process, structure, and technology as they do to the sales people in their organizations. Like great players on a football team lacking any one of those three elements, great sales people in organizations without them can fail.
Edward’s Jets finished the season on a 7-2 run, made the playoffs, and won their first-round game against the Indianapolis Colts. Since then, chances are good many teams mired in last place have been told, “You PLAY to WIN the GAME!”
And I’m still mad at Jimmy Driskel.