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  • March 16, 2012

5 Fundamental Sales Lessons from March Madness History

March Madness is here, that time of year when 64 college basketball teams battle it out for the NCAA Division I Championship in April. It’s hard to think of a tournament that features as much competitiveness, sweat and, yes, tears.

But it turns out there are some big lessons for sales from some of the greatest moments in March Madness history. After all, selling is competitive. Here I take a look at some of the best March Madness milestones and the 5 C’s of championship selling they provide.

The odds were stacked against the Villanova University Wildcats when they squared off in the 1985 NCAA championship game against the returning champs, the Georgetown University Hoyas. Georgetown was favored to win by 10 points, and had beaten Villanova twice during the season. But Villanova came in with confidence, hitting 22 of 28 shots – a scoring rate of 78.6% -- in the second half of the game, bringing home the championship.

The reason Villanova was able to pull off an upset because they had confidence, in their performance and in their ability to understand their opponent. For sales teams to win deals, they need the same confidence. And the best way to get that confidence is by gathering intelligence.

Aberdeen Research’s Peter Ostrow revealed in a webinar that “Best in Class” companies deploying sales intelligence tools saw a 28.4% average year-over-year increase in revenue and 14.6% increase in sales reps making quota. Obviously sales intelligence breeds confidence. And with confidence you can take on giants. After all, Villanova proved that it doesn’t matter if you’re the 8th ranked team if you win the big game.

It’s been 36 years since an undefeated team played in the NCAA Championship. But back in ’76, coached by the incomparable Bobby Knight, the Indiana University Hoosiers were the unbeaten team matched up against the Michigan University Wolverines. The Hoosiers kept the streak going, beating Michigan 86-68.

To go undefeated you need conviction. And the same is true for sales. I tell my team that they shouldn’t pick up the phone and call a prospect if they don’t have the conviction that they can sell. If there’s hesitation, I encourage them to investigate what moves that prospect. We use Prospect Profiler to see how a lead has engaged over time and the behaviors they’ve shown. With that kind of knowledge in place it’s easier to feel that conviction that you can, and will, win.


If you believed the pundits, the Duke University Blue Devils were destined to lose to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the 1991 in the semi-finals. After all, UNLV had crushed opponents with an average margin of victory of 27.3 points per game. But Duke pulled it out and went on to win the Championship.

What brought them through then, and even now, is the relentless curiosity of Coach Mike Krzyewski. As he puts it, “I try to see each new season as a new challenge because I have a new team to work with, new opponents to encounter, and often new ideas and theories to try.”

Sales reps need to have the same curiosity when it comes to engaging leads. Sales enablement tools can help the salesperson can dig beneath the surface, unearthing nuances about the buyer's journey and matching relevant content. With heightened curiosity salespeople can use provocative strategies with prospects and position deeper knowledge of prospects known interests as the prospects own ideas through the practice of inception.

The Florida University Gators became the first team in NCAA Basketball history to win back-to-back championships with the same starting five players. They took the title in 2006, and again in 2007. What propelled them to such success?

In short, they figured out what worked and kept doing it.

This kind of continuity is important for sales and marketing, too. By connecting marketing automation to a CRM system, it’s far simpler to track the performance of various sales and marketing strategies, identify the high performers and cut what doesn’t work. You need insight to establish continuity. But once continuity is in place, it’s easier to duplicate success.

I’d argue there’s one team in March Madness history that’s defined consistency:  The UCLA Bruins. From 1964-1975, the team won 10 NCAA Championships. They went undefeated four times. Four times!

The key to their consistency was the ability to know what works, but also make adjustments on the fly. In basketball, as well as business, you want a strategy for success, but you don’t want to be married to anyone tactic.

In sales and marketing, co-dynamic lead scoring allows this same kind of flexibility. Trust me, as a sales guy, I don’t want to work on leads who either don’t have the authority to buy or aren’t far along enough in their education. Lead scoring makes it possible for my marketing friends to prioritize leads based on fit – who they are – and engagement – what they’ve done. But I expect marketing to make adjustments to their scoring when needed. This way, sales can expect a consistent set of ready-to-talk leads, and not get bogged down with tire-kickers.

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