Sales Teams Thrive on Trust

Coach K builds team-trust to overcome fear of failure.

I once heard Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski tell a story about the importance of trust in team-building. It made a big impression on me then. Now the Harvard Business Review has their own story to back it up.

Coach K’s story was about how he built the team-trust for Christian Laetner, after he missed a season-ending shot, when Duke lost in the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1989. He pointed out that when a player is worried about criticism or penalty, if he misses a shot or otherwise makes a mistake, he is more likely to flub it. Rather than have his mind fully in the game, the player’s mind is saying “don’t miss,” taking his mind off the concentration on mechanics that makes for best performance.

Studies and commentary have supported this thesis related to football field goal kicking and futbol penalty kicking, too. The “don’t miss” mindset makes missing more likely. Fear of failure can be failure inducing.

Perhaps more than any other endeavor, sales requires pushing through despite failure. Sales people and sales teams that have very high closing ratios could probably increase sales by approaching more prospects and lowering their win-rate. But criticism of failure reduces the risk-taking that is necessary for success.

Coach K told the story of how he got the team together in the hotel after the season-ending game in 1989, so that he could show the team he didn’t blame Christian for the loss, and he could show Christian that he had not lost the trust of the team. That set the stage for Christian to make a spate of game-winners over the next few seasons culminating in two consecutive national championships for the team.


About Daniel M. Ambrose

Ambrose, launched, corp. in 1994 to provide sophisticated strategy consulting and advertising sales training to advertising-driven media clients in the U.S. and abroad. Starting with the founding of and iVillage in 1995, has worked with hundreds of clients to help accelerate advertising revenue growth.