Stop Focusing on the Score and Play the Game

The scoreboard tells the tale. At the end of the game, the final score informs you of how you did. Did you make the number? Did you fail to make the number? Regardless, a measurement will be taken, and a new quarter will mark the beginning of a new game.

But the final measurement isn’t taken until the end of the game. Why then so much focus on the scoreboard? Instead, you should now be focused on playing the game well.

This Isn’t Math Class

We want to make the number. We need to make the number. We’ve got to make the number. But all of this focus on the final score does nothing to help you put points on the board.

You can break out the spreadsheet and run the numbers as many ways as you can dream up. You can track your daily numbers, running query after query to see where you are now and how much ground you still need to cover. You can look at different scenarios running the “what if’s” to see how you might get to the number you need to make.

None of this has anything to do with selling and actually making your numbers. This isn’t math class. You aren’t being graded on your arithmetic; you’re being graded on your sales.

Play Until the Whistle Blows

You play the game until the whistle blows. The game doesn’t end until it ends. Focusing on the final score before then is a waste of time, a waste of energy, and says nothing about what will be the final score.

Instead of allowing the number to consume your time and energy, spend your time and energy playing the game, taking the actions and running the plays that may actually result in you opening opportunities, winning those opportunities, and putting something up on the board.

Time spent on focusing on the number is time that should be invested in selling.

You need to know where you are generally; that’s good enough. It’s the actions you take to get beyond where you are that count.

The Sales Manager’s Bane

Salespeople are guilty of spending their time looking at the scoreboard. But looking at the scoreboard is the sales manager’s bane, his undoing.

Do you need to know where you are now? Yes. Do you need to spend more time working backwards from your goal to where you are to figure out how to bridge that gap? No, you don’t.

You know what you need to.

You need to call the plays. You need to make sure the plays are being run as well as possible. You need to influence the action on the field to produce a result on the scoreboard.

Playing the game well has an effect on the scoreboard. Looking at the scoreboard has no effect on the field of play, except maybe to distract you.


Why are salespeople consumed with “figuring out” their numbers?

Beyond a general sense of where you are and what you have in the pipeline, what does the relentless checking on the number do to increase your sales numbers?

Why is the score so alluring, especially to sales managers?

How do you make the numbers improve? What part of that has anything to do with an obsessive focus on the scoreboard?

Have you ever seen a game that looked like it was won, only to have it turn the other way? How did that happen?



  • Chris Bailey

    I can speak to the marketing side…the end does not always justify the means. Hitting your “top of the funnel” number does not necessarily mean more sales. The score doesn’t mean anything if it means hitting numbers that aren’t real. We can only lie to ourselves for so long before we know that our game is lacking substance. 

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your comments, Chris! Same thing in marketing: obsess on the scoreboard instead of focusing on how to take more effective action now. The “players” make it happen because they play! 

      If Shelia S. shows up on your home page, you have to be good people!

      • Chris Bailey

        Yes, I love Sheila…one of the smartest people I know. Also great when she’s just a few minutes away.

        It’s insanely easy to get passive and check the scoreboard just like we’re watching a baseball game from the stands. The action is “out there” and we’re merely spectators in this scenario. Can’t say I haven’t fallen into this trap. The downside is that when this has happened, I’ve let the short-term outbound marketing techniques overwhelm the inbound techniques that I know work so much more effectively.

        Thanks for the reminder that the scoreboard is there to guide – not dictate – our actions.

  • Sheila Scarborough

    How is it that you two are chatting here? Can I get a beer and pull up a chair? :)

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      You are always most welcome wherever I happen to be!

  • tannerc

    Businesses have to check the scoreboard regularly, it’s how to tell whether or not they’ll be around tomorrow. Not everyone needs to keep the score in mind, of course, but it certainly helps to identify when what you’re doing is working and when it’s not.


    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I am not suggesting that one never look at the score. I am just pointing out that looking at the score does absolutely nothing to improve the score. Even if it informs a course correction, it is the action of making that course correction that results in the improvement. Improving the score requires action! 

  • Mike Flanagan

    …Never confuse activity with progress

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      And never believe that an autopsy can bring the body back to life.

  • Chuck S.

    In response to the question “Why is the score so alluring, especially to sales managers?”

    The answer is simple. Sales Managers have to deliver a forecast to the rest of the organization so that it can make decisions about cash flow, staffing, inventory, etc. They need information so they can make intelligent, strategic decisions about how and where to deploy resources.

    To continue the sports analogy, the coach (sales manager) has to look at the score to decide if they need to go for it on 4th down. Do they kick a field goal or push for a TD? Do you bring the infield in or play back for a double play?

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I don’t disagree with anything you wrote, Chuck. I just believe that there is too much looking at the score, too much reporting to the organization, and too little action that would actually improve the score. 

  • Todd Steel

    Everybody likes to know how they are doing, so there is nothing wrong with taking stock.  The problem is when you become obsessed with the score, spending too much productive time keeping tally.  If you are not doing well enough, then you get stressed and under perform.  If you see that you are ahead of the game, you relax and underperform.  But if you don’t ever check your score, you won’t be alerted that your approach sucks, that you are falling short and that you need to change tactics.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Todd. I would never suggest that anyone not take account of their score. But a lot of the time spent looking at the numbers takes away from the time needed to actually make the numbers–the numbers are out there, and we call them clients. 


  • Andrea Howe

    Anthony, your post reminds me of Neil Rackham’s research on closing for high-priced goods, revealing that training
    sellers in closing techniques resulted in shorter sales transaction times *and fewer sales.* The rate of sales was
    42 percent before sellers were trained in closing; after training, the rate of
    sales dropped to 33 percent.
    I also think that thinking long-term makes a huge difference. Are focused on a game, a season, or a *career* as a high-performing athlete who makes a difference? Context is decisive.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andrea. A lot of what I know about sales I learned by studying Rackham’s work and applying it in my practice (as well as my sales team’s). We sometimes focus so hard on the outcome that we need, that we don’t do what is necessary to get those outcomes. It’s an easy trap to fall into! 


      • Andrea Howe

        Indeed! Which is why it’s actually pretty easy to differentiate out there in the sales world by minding the traps and steering clear!

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