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Playing to Win or Playing to NOT Lose? (Includes Sales Team Meeting Idea)

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I am getting ready to play my first tennis match in over a year and a half.  As I look forward to the match, I am reminded of something my father said to me during one of our matches years ago.  Something that I have thought about during every match since when I feel like I am on defense more than I’d like to be.  He looked frustrated and said “You’re not playing to win.  You’re playing to NOT lose.”  He described exactly what I was doing.  I was back running down shots, going right where he wanted me to go, just getting the ball in play to live for another point.  He was in charge, setting the pace and … having more fun than me.  During that match and countless others since then, I have had to change my mindset mid-match and play to win instead of play to NOT lose.  For me that means, charge the net, put some shots away, get on the offense, control the pace of the game and, in many of those cases (still not against my Dad…), win.  Even when I didn’t win, I walked away knowing I did everything I could and was proud of my game, effort and attitude.  There was no risk I hadn’t taken and, therefore, no “what ifs”. 

I took my Dad’s insightful observation into my sales life, too, and, man, did life get more fun.  Instead of sitting back following the process, chasing the RFP, settling for meeting with non-decision makers, wondering what the competitors were doing, giving discounts and sounding like 80% of other reps out there, I made a clear effort to “charge the net”. 

How do you know if you are playing to win or playing to not lose?

Are you:

  • Following the buying process blindly without challenging steps that don’t help your cusotmers make good decisions?
  • Meeting with people who can’t make decisions?
  • More worried about your activity report volume than the quality of your activities?
  • Spending time on RFPs that restrict your ability to sell by limiting your ability to diagnose and share solutions?
  • Constantly running off to fetch the next thing your prospective customer needs with no commitments from them (“send me a proposal”, “do an assessment”, “send me a brochure”, “come do a demo”, etc)?
  • Coming in second or third place?
  • Getting surprised late in sales cycles?

Or are you:

  • Creating opportunities by shining light on problems prospective customers didn’t know they had?
  • Challenging dysfunctional buying processes that hinder your customer from getting the best possible solution?
  • Sharing solutions your clients didn’t know existed to problems they didn’t know they had?
  • Bringing new ideas, industry expertise and innovative solutions to the table?
  • Getting full price for the value of service you provide?
  • Getting creative on negotiations?
  • Risking offending non-decision makers to get to the actual decision makers?
  • Addressing sales cycle slow downs head-on and honestly?
  • Not afraid to walk away?
  • Not afraid to say and do the right thing no matter the outcome?

It is so much more exciting to play to win.  It takes more energy and guts, but it is so worth it.  Charge the net this week!

Sales team meeting idea:

  • At your next sales team meeting, ask each team member to bring their current pipeline.
  • Ask each person to examine their pipeline for opportunities to “charge the net”.
  • Each rep should pick one deal and take a well-planned risk.  Get to decision makers, challenge a bad decision, ask about the competition, exit an RFP opportunity, etc.  As long as the risk will ultimately help you help your customer make a better decision (even if it’s not you), then take the risk.
  • Each rep should walk away with one risk to take within the next week. 
  • Plan to report back on the outcomes of the team’s risk-taking.  Not all will go well – that’s why we call it a “risk”.  So be it…

Play to win. Charge the net.  Have more fun.

(Post brought to you by Jill Myrick of Meeting to Win.  Meeting to Win provides sales team meeting agendas for Sales Managers who want to take their team to the next level.  Play to Win, Not to NOT Lose is the April 2, 2010 Agenda Topic.  To get a new sales team meeting topic each week, visit us at to subscribe.)