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On Winning and Talent

As a native of Columbus, Ohio, I have been fascinated by the stories about The Ohio State Buckeye’s new head coach, Urban Meyer, and his recruiting efforts. Other Big Ten coaches are critical of Meyer for recruiting players that had already made verbal commitments to other schools. The complaining coaches suggest that there is a longstanding gentlemen’s agreement forbidding the practice of recruiting players that have already made a verbal commitment. He is also accused–or credited–for bringing this practice to the SEC (an SEC that continues to dominate the BCS).

Meyer is also freeing up limited scholarships by suggesting that some players would be better off playing for another school and for suggesting that he doesn’t have a place for them in his program. It is also rumored that the strength-training regime is so physically and emotionally grueling that it is designed to eliminate players that don’t play with heart, that aren’t going to leave everything on the playing field.

All of these practices have lessons for sales organizations and salespeople.

The War for Talent

There is an ongoing war for talent.

The sales organizations that reach their goals are the sales organizations with the talent to execute on their strategy.

The best strategy without the talent to execute it will fail. A poor strategy with exceptional talent and leadership can often overcome a poor strategy, and talented people often compete above their weight class. It’s tough to beat a sales organization where the entire company is engaged and aligned around executing their sales strategies.

You must have the right people on your sales team in order to execute on your strategy. Because this is true, sales organizations are engaged in a war for talent. You may not want to be involved in a war for talent, and you may not be interested in the war for talent, but the war for talent is interested in you.

There are some who believe that the goal is to build a system and a process that allows mediocre salespeople to win. They believe that with the right process, the right systems, anyone can be taught to execute the process, to create opportunities, and to win these opportunities. This isn’t true. Selling well is more difficult now than ever.

To build a championship team, you need to identify and acquire the talent you need, or you need to build that talent. It is people that execute your strategy, and it is your people that make a difference for your dream clients.

What Meyer is doing is acquiring the talent he needs to execute and win. To compete and win in your space, you need to do the same.

A Weeding Out and Self-Selecting Out

Not everyone is going to want to play the game that you play. Not everyone is going to want to compete the way you need to compete to win. There may be salespeople on your team who simply aren’t going to have a place in your strategy. If you are a salesperson, the game your sales organization wants to play may not fit you. I have seen salespeople that are exceptionally good salespeople in one sales organization fail miserably in another, and I have seen the opposite also be true. Both the salesperson and the sales organization may be more successful—and happier—apart from one another.

As a sales leader, you need to make sure you have the right people on your team to compete and win. As a salesperson, you need to be on the right team to compete and win. For the sales leader, there are only so many places on the org chart, and you need to fill them with the best talent you can find. As a salesperson, you need to work somewhere that you can do meaningful work and where you can make a real contribution.

This weeding out is a two way street. You may need to help a salesperson into a new role where they can succeed, and a salesperson has every right to self-select out of a position that doesn’t allow them to do meaningful work and succeed.

A Few Words About Heart

I don’t believe there has ever been a more challenging time for salespeople. But this being true also makes this a time of tremendous opportunity for salespeople that are willing to play full out, for those that are willing to do the heavy lifting it takes to develop themselves as value creators.

The sales organizations and salespeople that succeed are going to have to bring their A-game, and they are going to have to play with head, heart, and guts. Playing with anything less isn’t going to do it. It’s too tough, it’s too competitive, and your competitors are going to do everything they can to buy and to build the talent they need to win.

If you have to make a decision as to who belongs on your team, salespeople that play with heart count for a lot. You can build salespeople that play with heart over time.


Can you execute your strategy without the right talent?

Do you have the ability to build the talent that you need?

Do you have salespeople sitting in spots that are wrong for your strategy? As a salesperson, are you in a role that allows you to play to your strengths?

Why does selling require more from salespeople and sales organizations now? Why does talent count for more now?

How much does playing with heart count for in sales now?



  • Michael Rudd

    Great read.  In six years I have seen people come and people go and other members on the staff get upset a lot but honestly very few if any times do I remember a great member with heart and dedication and talent get weeded out of a team.  Chip Conley does those emotional equations…how about for sales teams…
    Heart plus Talent Equals Victories

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I go with head, heart, and guts, Michael! 

  • Olin Graczyk

    I know this is a sales blog.  BUT, inadvertently your article can communicate to the marketing communications world as well.  

    I work within an agency, and these are challenging times for our industry as well.  Clients are spending less and creativity is usually squashed for “more impressions.”  It’s a shame.. but it is also a gut check as well.  Talent is imperative right now.  And not just talent, inspired talent.  The type of talent that refuses to talk about it.. and wants to do it.  The same talent Coach Meyer is looking for at Ohio State.

    The fight right now (whether it be in sales, marketing, merchandising.. anything), is to find these individuals the possess this trait of a “driving will to do more.”  Too many people go through the motions.  Too many individuals are not in touch with what is “owed” to them, and what comes with sweat.

    Coaches aren’t “owed” talent, and players aren’t “owed” scholarships.  This is a dog eat dog world.  Man up and lead.. or sit on the sidelines. Nothing good comes easy.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      The extra mile really is a lonely place, isn’t it? You need to hire players . . . and you need to be a player!