While both of us are fans of professional football, it’s tedious and confusing to wade through the myriad of articles and blogs on NFL draft predictions. Fortunately, the process is over for this year and every team has declared themselves a winner.

By their own calculation, the much-heralded predictions by sport writers, channel talent experts and “insiders” average about 3-4% accuracy in selecting the right player for the right team in the right order. As you might expect, once you get past the first round draft picks, accuracy falls off dramatically. In fact, we can think of no other profession that thrives with such a low level of accuracy–certainly not what you would want to have from a stockbroker, surgeon or car mechanic. But the overall process does cause us to think about lessons for sales professionals.

So let’s take a closer look at the NFL draft process. Think of each potential draft pick and their agent as a “seller.” After all, they are attempting to create an environment in which the right teams will perceive a given player at the highest value (i.e. highest pick). That would make each team a “buyer” that is attempting to make (approximately) seven picks during the 3-day draft process depending on previous trades and something that no one in the business seems to understand called “compensatory picks.”

So What Did We Learn About Selling?

  1. Discover Who and How Your Buyers Make Decisions. Each NFL team puts together their “war room” with owners, key executives, coaches and scouts. But who really decides? On most teams, the General Manager holds ultimate authority for personnel decisions. Chip Kelly, head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, is one of three head coaches in the NFL (along with Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick) that carries either title or authority for the team’s 53-person roster. This means there is no question Kelly carries the overwhelming authority in personnel decisions.

On the Denver Broncos, Gary Kubiak is the head coach, but John Elway holds the title of General Manager and Executive Vice President for Football Operations and serves as Kubiak’s boss. Elway is clearly the organization’s ultimate decision maker for trades, picks and contracts.

On the Dallas Cowboys, the owner, Jerry Jones, appears to have a significant voice and role in all personnel decisions before, during and after the draft.

What’s our lesson? In healthcare and other industries, we are experiencing a transition from single buyers to buying committees and to individuals that hold executive level authority in the C-suite. As a sales professional, your challenge here is two-fold:

  1. Determine What the Buying Team is Trying to Accomplish With Each Decision. Most NFL teams have needs on offense as well as defense. But when you drill down on priority needs you can find dramatic differences even among teams with similar needs. For example, two teams may be looking for a running back, but they may look for players with somewhat different skills sets because of the offensive plays (route) they are expected to run.

The Arizona Cardinals filled an offensive gap when they used their third round selection in this year’s draft to choose a running back out of Northern Iowa. While he is not exceptionally fast, he is a big back who can run up the middle with power. Earlier in the same round Cleveland selected a running back who may provide a somewhat different skill set: fast with the ability to get outside quickly.

What’s our lesson? It’s easy to become stereotypic in our thinking and assume that all buyers are pretty much alike. We need to drill down to discover what the buyer is attempting to accomplish from their perspective.

  1. Identify the Soft Values/Benefits That Matter. After the combines are over, coaches and scouts get detailed reports on all participants with specifics ranging from sprint times in the forty-yard dash to reps in the 225 lb. bench press. As you might suspect, they are especially interested in evidence of key performance indicators (KPIs) for strength and speed. Nothing is as impressive as an outside linebacker with 4.55 speed in the forty yard dash and 35 repetitions in the bench press.

However, in an environment dominated by instances of physical abuse and the use of performance enhancing drugs, character matters along with discipline, work ethic, intelligence and leadership skills. These traits, characteristics and skills may not be measured easily, but “soft” KPIs are vital in building an overall profile of potential success.

What’s our lesson? Soft skills do matter. They have a role to play in building a powerful business case for your solution.

  1. Assess Whether Your Buyers are Seeking Exceptional, Great, Good or Adequate Solutions. Remember: Sometimes “Good” is “Good Enough.” Six quarterbacks were selected in the 2015 NFL draft. The last quarterback drafted was UCLA’s Brett Hundley chosen by Green Bay with the 147th pick in the fifth round. Of course, Green Bay already has an all-pro quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. So what is the reasoning behind their selection?

Most NFL teams carry two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. A few teams will carry three. Some teams may be looking for a backup or a third quarterback or a player with potential who can serve on the practice squad until needed. In other words, a team maybe looking for “good” not “great.”  Sometimes “good” is good enough.

What’s our lesson? Most buyers are looking for a solution to a problem or aid in pursuing an opportunity. Phrases like “world class” and “cutting edge” become red flags that suggest your product or solution may have a price tag that is “industry leading” as well.

  1. No Matter How Great a Deal May Appear, Only Performance Truly Matters. The NFL’s history is replete with stories of disastrous first round picks. In the 1998 NFL draft Indianapolis wisely selected Peyton Manning with the first pick of the draft. The San Diego Chargers, however, wasted the second pick by selecting Ryan Leaf as quarterback. He never approached the “franchise QB” expectations the Chargers had for him. Andre Ware was a Heiman Trophy winning quarterback selected seventh in the 1990 draft. He played only seven games in four years. Green Bay overlooked Barry Sanders and Deion Sanders and selected Tony Mandarich with the second pick in the 1989 draft. An offensive lineman of enormous size, he was a “can’t miss” selection. But his use of painkillers and performance enhancing drugs contributed to his downfall.

What’s our lesson? The critical issue to most buyers is performance. They are asking themselves, “What guarantee do I have that any solution will perform as promised?” Our responsibility, as sales professionals, is to help them answer that question. If you know that buyers are conducting a mental risk assessment, you need to provide insight and support.

Parting Thoughts

All sports have inspirational stories of players who struggled against adversity to achieve success. One of our favorite stories is that of Kurt Warner’s pursuit of an NFL career.

As a quarterback out of Northern Iowa in 1994, he was an undrafted player competing to make the roster of the New York Giants and then the Green Bay Packers. After being cut from the squad in pre-season, Kurt took an evening job as a clerk in a Hy-Vee grocery store earning $5.50 an hour. In 1995, he joined an Arena Football League team hoping to get another shot at the NFL. In 1999 Kurt got his chance with the St. Louis Rams when Trent Green, the Rams’ starting quarterback, went down with an injury in pre-season.

The remainder of his NFL career is legendary. He carried the Rams to a Super Bowl win and received the MVP award. He was a three-time NFL MVP and a three-time NFC champion who retired with a career passer rating of 93.

Kurt Warner’s story reminds us to believe in ourselves and our solutions, pursue opportunity no matter how daunting the challenges and continue to build our skills and hone our craft.