Sales Leadership Lessons from Penalty Shoot-outs

Jonna Sercombe has designed and delivered hundreds of sales trainings for some of the world’s famous companies, such as BMW, Samsung and Siemens.

As the European Championships hots up, evenly matched teams often need a deciding factor, even after extra time. Penalties. Full of drama and with everything on the line, there are lessons that penalty shoot-outs offer to sales leaders.

1. Don’t try to be lucky


Like sales success, penalty shoot outs are absolutely not about luck. And in fact studies show that players that think penalties are about luck have more destructive interpretations of anxiety and are more likely to miss and lose. Like penalty shoot-outs selling is a skill. Skills can be practiced and improved. Importantly skills are within our own locus of control.  Don’t try to be a lucky sales team.

2. Get ahead, by setting a better target

The team that shoots first in a penalty shoot-out wins 60% of the time. There is more pressure on the second team. With every successful penalty kick the opposition score, the second team must score to just stay in the level. In a sudden death scenario, they must score to stay in the competition.

“The best sales leaders and teams set a target that can be beaten, and a stretch goal, get ahead of their target and stay ahead of their target.”


Many sales leaders try to drive performance by having high targets that put teams immediately in the red zone from January. They spend all year chasing. This is called “lagging pressure”and makes the teams perform badly. The best sales leaders and teams set a target that can be beaten, and a stretch goal, get ahead of their target and stay ahead of their target. Ever felt it’s easier to close deals when you don’t need the deal? That’s the confident environment that creates easy wins and high margin.

3. It’s a team sport

People say that football is a team game until penalties. It’s simply not true. When players celebrate scoring with both arms in the air their next opponent is twice as likely to miss. This is thought to be due to emotional contagion. If you pit your sales team against each other one person’s success can have a negative impact on others members of the team. Set at least one team goal (revenue, profit, new business wins etc) so you can celebrate together. Penalties are a team sport and sales is likewise.

4. Take your time

In penalty shoot outs, players who move less than one second after the whistle score 58% of the time. Players that wait more than one second score 80% of the time. Work with your sales team to demonstrate confidence and not be in a rush, especially at or around the close. Demonstrate gravitas and confidence by holding steady at key moments. In sales, every £ or $ discounted is all profit. Don’t rush to close. As, after all, you should be ahead of target!

“Work with your sales team to demonstrate confidence and not be in a rush, especially at or around the close.”

5. Study non-verbals in detail

One of the greatest penalty savers of all time was French goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau who saved 39 penalties in total. Landreau conducted forensic research into each opponent. Top level goalkeepers know, for example, that the angle of the hips or the angle between kicking and non-kicking leg during the run up can help them work out where the ball is going. Work with your team on reading non-verbal’s, from speed of reply, through breathing patterns, shifts in posture. With practice it is possible to have a clear understanding, for example, as to whether a price objection is genuine. We must also learn how to manage our own non-verbal’s so we can use them to communicate the right messages.

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