What The NFL And College Football Taught Me About Adversity

I have learned that the top producers have the ability to deal with adversity and turn it into an opportunity to learn and get better.  A common saying in football is “you are only as good as your last play.”  So if we are talking sales, “you are only as good as your last sale.”  And if we are talking recruiting, “you are only as good as your last placement.”  The top performers all have this in common; they are all able to own their mistakes, learn from them, correct them and not repeat them again.  The excuse makers and finger pointers killed our team moral and infected the team with their negativity like a bad disease.  The ones who held themselves accountable, more often than not were successful and top producers. Recruiters imagine this:  You filled a VP position with a high salary and big commission.  The day your placement is supposed to start, she calls and says she has changed her mind is not taking the job.  Sales Professional imagine this: You have a deal worth 2 quarters of quota that you have worked on for months that is ready to be signed on Monday at 9 AM.  At 6 AM the CEO calls you and tells you he has changed his mind and is going with a competitor.  How do you feel right now? Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller reacts as he sits on his helmet during football training camp, Saturday, July 27, 2013, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey) That is what a lot of my adversity lessons in my playing and coaching career felt like.  Like this one.  As a college player at the University of Oregon we blew a 30 point ½ time lead and lost 42-41 to Cal Berkeley.  Or as a Washington Redskin, I committed a facemask penalty on the final drive of our game against the Arizona Cardinals.  Arizona received 15 yards + a 1st down, drove the ball down to our end and kicked a field goal to win the game, and in turn knocked us out of the play-offs.  The next day my picture was on the front page, above the fold, of the Washington Post’s sport section.  What about this?  As a coach at Colorado we lost our very first game and home opener to a “lesser” opponent, Montana State.  And then there was that time at Colorado when we blew a 28 point lead to the University of Kansas.  They scored 35 unanswered points and completed one of the biggest come-back wins in college football history.  I could go on but I think you get the point. After these very public humbling lessons the top players came in early the following day to evaluate themselves and to see what mistakes they needed to correct.  And figure out how they could do even more to help the team.  And the coaches did the same.  We asked ourselves how could we teach and prepare our group better, and in turn do more to help the team be successful.   The finger pointers hid in the back, complained about how they were getting screwed.  And they tried to get others to join in on their bitch session about the bad game plan and the coaches. So what do I look for in a sales professional?  How does this person respond when he loses a big deal due to a mistake that he made?  How does she respond when the boss leans into her because she let a big deal slip through her fingers?  How does he respond when he doesn’t hit quota for 2 months?  Do they blame the solution?  Do they blame the manager?  Do they blame marketing?  Or do they admit their role in the issue at hand?  Do they share how they addressed the issues and made changes for the better?  Because that will be the type of answer I will be looking for. So what did I learn from these lessons in adversity?  The way you respond will determine how well you will do in the future.  You don’t let it define who you are or what you are capable off.  You turn it into an opportunity to learn and to improve yourself or your process.  You own it, you correct it, and you learn from it.  You don’t repeat it and THEN YOU MOVE ON.  If you can find out that a sales professional possesses these qualities, you are on the right track.


Keenan is A Sales Guy Inc’s CEO/President and Chief Antagonist. He’s been selling something to someone for his entire life. He’s been teaching and coaching almost as long. With over 20 years of sales experience, which he’ll tell you he doesn’t give a shit about, Keenan has been influencing, learning from and shaping the world of sales for a long time. Finder of the elephant in the room, Keenan calls it as he sees it and lets nothing or no one go unnoticed.