In the many years that I’ve been working in Enterprise SaaS, there are any number of sporting allusions around ‘one team’ that I hear on a frequent basis. The most common ones being: “it takes a whole bus to deliver a deal”, “welcome to the dream team”, “let’s play on the front foot vs back foot”. All of them, of course, ring very true. The complexity of SaaS and the increasing sophistication of most customers means that a variety of roles and skill sets are needed for any win. On a whim, I decided to see if I could draw a parallel between the various roles played in a sales / pre-sales context in SaaS and those in the starting XI of Il Joga Bonito.

First Caveat: not to be taken too seriously. Or even slightly seriously for that matter.

Second Caveat: all roles are equal. And unlike the Animal Farm amendment, no role is more equal than others.

 

Here goes:

The Goalkeeper:

Legal / Compliance / Revenue Recognition. Guardians of all the red lines of the organization. Will field anything thrown at them and unless there is a burning need, will not concede (read: no concessions made)

Central Defence:

Pricing / Deal Desk. The final line before anything can go through to legal. Custodians of the long-term interests. And like Beckenbauer, Cannavaro or VVD, the greats here are more than adept at setting creative strategies that can form the backbone of the win

Wing-backs:

Business Development or ECS. While their key role is to win the ball in their half or third (read: own the early stage of a deal), the greats here will emulate the Roberto Carlos’s, TAAs and Cancelos in carrying the ball up the pitch and delivering the inch perfect crosses

Midfield general:

The Account Executive. I have gone for this role as the captain. Obvious reasons really: ball winner, engine room, works with pretty much all other players on the pitch. At the heart of all the action. The Roy Keane or if you prefer a more recent vintage, N’Golo Kante of the team

Winger:

The Solution Consultant. Needs to be active across the pitch or throughout the deal cycle. Hugs the touchline to find space (read: pushes the boundaries as much as possible) and embodies pace. With fantastic looking demos, can also ‘channel’ the Beckham or CRON7 glamour aspect

Playmaker:

The Value Engineer. Fluid role. Can play alongside the Midfield General (AE), the winger (SE) or as a number 10 behind the forward. ‘Creates’ the value story or need for the deal. Combines great technique (domain or industry knowledge) with flair (communication) and creativity (in commercials). Also finds time to pen posts drawing parallels between football and software. Zizou, Messi or Maradona anyone?

Striker:

The Executive Sponsor. Has the whole team behind them to seal the deal and tap / nod the ball in. The best ones also play a role in ‘leading the line’. In tight games / situations, will be relied upon for a ‘moment of magic’ to break the deadlock like a Pele or (original) Ronaldo

 

Over the many deals and, by extension, teams that I’ve been part of, there are a couple of key reflections that I’ve found myself making, which also all share similarities with a football XI:

  • As mentioned earlier already, each role is both critical and equal. Depending on the deal and situation in question, a certain role may take on greater significance at a point in time. We have all seen legal for example, bringing a deal home in the closing hours. It is imperative for all roles on the pitch to appreciate this and not always want to be involved. On the flip side, just because one role has played an important role in one deal or situation, that does not mean that they start thinking of themselves as ‘more pivotal’ to the sales process. There is a reason why this is a team sport after all.
  • The captain is the captain. They may on occasion be the most important member of the team. On as many occasions though, someone else will be playing the pivotal role. It is very important for the captain to respect the expanded role that a team member is playing and allow them to shine. It is equally important for said team member to always remember that current importance notwithstanding, there is a team captain for a reason. Jockeying for power or ‘deal control’ and keeping team members at bay are the classic ingredients for failure. The captain’s purpose is to pass the ball to the right player and call the right play at the right time.
  • The main outcome is winning the deal. There is, however, a great importance on winning by also keeping the stakeholders e.g., the crowd or TV viewers (read: organization or sales leadership) happy and comfortable. The more in control therefore the team is in, the easier is this process. Otherwise, people will start to get restive 😊. And the closer one is to the 90 mins or deadline with the game in the balance, the more nervous everyone starts getting
  • To move from ‘a win’ to ‘winning consistently, the team must run like a well-oiled machine. This is where execution, strategy, capability building and the whole playbook or institutionalization of best practices comes in, which brings us to…

The coach or manager. That SAF like figure who can create a winning machine, the Guardiolaesque perfectionist, the Rinus Michels who can transform the very game. For a dream team such as this, one needs that enabler or ‘secret sauce’ that can do the dual job of both making everyone tick and perform to their potential; as well as serve as the repository of knowledge to foster further innovation. One wonders who or er… what, that can be.

 

Just saying.

 

Value is the language of consensus

Value is the language of consensus

Buying groups are getting larger and more complex. Even smaller $50k SaaS decisions often involve +10 stakeholders. So if you’re a B2B seller and don’t have ‘guiding buyer consensus’ at the top of mind – then you’re probably toast…

read more
Fail Friday (and learn fast!)

Fail Friday (and learn fast!)

I heard a great fail story this week from a CRO at a $100m ARR SaaS firm. The company had been going after one of the biggest deals ever with a pharmaceutical giant. The fit was fantastic and they had their most experienced, highest performing rep leading the campaign. The rep even had a long term relationship with the business executive sponsoring the project…

read more