Question:  Dave, I’m wearied by the preponderance of business books written by sports coaches. What makes these books so popular?

Answer: What a thoughtful question. Here are my thoughts...

I can understand the interest in sports coaches who dole out success formulas. From an athlete's perspective, the character that is developed through successful sports involvement will serve anyone well in the business world. From the point of view of the manager or executive, many of the leadership techniques that make a sports team a winner are skills that help the team play at their very best — focus, commitment to goals, practice, attention to detail, sportsmanship, etc. These are all desirable traits in the world of business. 

And, it’s been my observation that as kids grow up, those who participated in sports have a much better chance of staying out of trouble and succeeding than do those who refrain from athletic competition. Whenever I interview a candidate for a sales position, for example, if he or she has had some experience on an athletic team, that always scores extra points with me. So, on the surface, I can understand, and to some degree, support the sports business culture.

However, there are significant differences that call into question the applicability of the wisdom of high profile sports coaches. High profile coaches work in a world that is a far cry from that of the typical sales manager.  

First, a sports coach’s successes are measured once or twice a week. In other words, they have the luxury of competing only once or twice a week, for a specific portion of the year. They can, therefore, focus all of their resources on that specific contest. Win ten times a year, for example, and they are considered a very successful football coach. 

In the real world, salespeople and sales managers have to contest with their competitors daily. Win only ten times a year and you're out of a job. The quantity of contests dramatically reduces the validity of the sports comparison. Many of the real success issues for salespeople have to do with prioritizing their time (see my book: Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople), and effectively managing the growing quantity of "things to do."

Second, high profile coaches have the luxury of working with talent that is the absolute cream of the crop. Think of the 15 or so basketball players on a Pat Riley team. Of all the potential athletes that could come out of the country, he has people who are in the top tier of the sport. I'm not sure what percentage 15 is of 120 million, but you get the idea. The people highly visible sports coaches work with are the absolutely most highly motivated, capable, and dedicated group of athletes in the game. 

Alas, most sales executives do not have the absolute top percent of the population with whom to work. So, real world issues having to do with motivation, capabilities, dedication, experience, etc., are what comprise the work of the sales executive. The professional sports coach expects to field a number of superstars every season. The sales leader in the real world is fortunate to come across one superstar sales person in his or her lifetime.

There is another telling difference between the two worlds. There is, on the part of professional sports teams, coaches and executives, a commonly held belief that, in order to field a winning team, you need to invest in acquiring and developing the best talent you can. So, they hire the best coaches, train at world-class training facilities, and invest in trainers, nutritionists, sports psychologists, etc. All of this time and money invested to gain a slight competitive edge is just routine for professional sports teams. No one would question the wisdom of investing in their players to bring them to higher levels of productivity and performance.

Unfortunately, that is not true of the typical jan/san distributor. Ask about well-defined processes to ensure that you hire the very best salespeople, and you’ll be met with blank stares. Dig a bit into budgets for training and developing sales competencies, and you’ll find nothing budgeted, no plans made — not even an acknowledgement that sales people can become more productive when they are shown how to do their jobs more effectively. 

So, a major difference between high-performing sports teams and the typical distributor has to do with the attitudes and beliefs on the part of the executive team.

The popularity of the sports business trend is an expression of American's fascination with celebrities. Tens of thousands of sales people will read the latest sports coach book and take away simplistic platitudes that only remotely apply to their job, while only a fraction of that amount will read any of the books  written for their profession. 

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written ten books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.  Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. Check out our Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level. You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or