How to Think Like the NFL Draft When Hiring in Sales

Later this month the NFL will have its annual draft of college players. Before I go any further I should provide you this disclaimer; I LOVE football!! In my view it is the greatest game God every created. OK perhaps the last part is a bit of an exaggeration.  What is not an exaggeration however, NFL teams invest between $2-3m on their scouting department each year to, find the most talented, intelligent, mentally tough players who also have a history of high character. Once these gems are found the team continues to investigate and research the lives of these potential players including; family, friends, how they deal with pressure circumstances and a host of other areas outside of what the player can do on the field.

Hire like you draft a football player.

Hire like you draft a football player.


Despite the focus and investment in these areas for every first round pick that eventually becomes a superstar like Peyton Manning, Von Miller, or JJ Watt there are many others that were busts. The same is true when a Sales VP is building a sales team. We have all had those instances where we thought we were hiring a sales superstar who turned out to be a bust.

It is about winning

There are many parallels to an NFL team having a successful season and a sales organization having a successful sales year. Both an NFL General Manager and a company Sales Vice President will admit that the most important aspect of winning is, having the right players/associates, who fit their system & culture. Individuals who are driven to succeed, have the right attitudes, great work ethic, love what they do, care about their teammates and most importantly - love to win.  So how does a company ensure they have the right person who can drive the sales and revenue numbers out of the park without jeopardizing overall team morale or making a mockery out of your company culture?

The Basics Are Simply the Basics

Some of the basic tests which every team in the NFL measures is the players speed in the 40-yard dash, how many times the player can bench 225 pounds and how high they can jump. Some of the basic tests used by most companies in hiring salespeople today include, past performance, relatable product/sales experience, as well as, personality and cognitive tests. However, many an NFL draft pick who excelled on these tests - never translated their positive test results to the field. In other words, if part of your basic hiring process is an HR initiated math test filled with complicated algorithms but the only math you as the Sales Director really need the salesperson to be good at is calculating discounts, profit margins and gross sales do what an NFL Head Coach does when he sees a 40 yd. dash time is 5.9 seconds but that player, is an offensive lineman who will be responsible for protecting the blind side of the team’s star Quarterback; overlook those math scores.


People, Process and Profits

Choosing the right people involves having the right process. A few tips, brainstorming mixers and questions ensuring the right process leads to the right candidate include:


  • A process which includes each candidate is evaluated and chosen based upon metrics that include past performance as well as the current culture, sales team fit, management style fit and corporate growth goals.
  • Take a good look at the Sales candidate from varying angles; get input about the candidate from the receptionist (who else is more qualified to provide the candidates ability to make a good impression?), fellow management peers, and key members of your field sales team.
  • Have a client interview the candidate.
  • Does this Salesperson fit your management style? Ask them to describe their ideal boss. Later request that they share the qualities of a “terrible boss”.
  • Does the Salesperson fit your company’s culture? If your team members are known to be driven and goal driven yet are also selfless in helping, encouraging one another and the candidate is a “type A driver” -  is this something that can be managed or will it be too disruptive?
  • Does the candidate come from a background where they sold something tangible every day? Will they be able to thrive in your environment that includes a long sales cycle?


Both the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos have scouting departments and each have a process of choosing players in the draft, both organizations.  They also have an offensive and defensive system which they draft players to learn or fit into.  However, when the 2015 season was over one team finished the regular season at 3-13 while the other finished at 12-4 and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Therefore, it is fair to conclude that even with a process of attracting, evaluating and hiring; success only comes to the team and or companies that are committed to having the very BEST processes in place to ensure they have the very best salesperson for the revenue role, and that their pick isn’t a bust!