Honoring the Playbook: Steve Young on the Common Language of Football and Enterprise Sales

Sophie Grais

Sophie Grais

Honoring the Playbook: Steve Young on the Common Language of Football and Enterprise Sales
“In business, people are always saying, ‘let’s huddle.’ Have you ever been in a real team huddle?”

On stage at the Steelbrick Customer Success Summit last week, former San Francisco 49er, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young looked out at the audience. Only a few hands went up.

"A bunch of guys squatting in a circle, and only the Quarterback allowed to talk? I can guarantee you that a huddle is not going to be a very long meeting.”

Jokes aside, Young made a serious point. Apart from the usual sports-turned-sales words — kickoff, fumble, Hail Mary, huddle — plenty of great metaphors apply to both sports and business. The connection between the two is tried and true, but Young’s keynote focused on two more unusual words: platform and integration.

The similarities go beyond just sports. “The vocabulary of technology and people overlap,” Young said. “Great metaphors permeate all society.”

Platforms for Success

Engineers build and work on ‘platforms,’ groups of technologies that can in turn become the foundation of something else. Platforms enable bigger, better activity. When you build a team, it has to enable that kind of bigger, better activity. Young saw this focus at the heart of his 49ers, with one big question:

How do we set up our players for success?

“I’ve never seen a better platform to allow somebody to see how good or great they can be,” Young said of his team. “Everything that was a problem was actually an opportunity.”
Sales Ops leaders face a similar question everyday:

How do you set up your sales teams to succeed?

Sales Ops leaders need to create an environment that is both structured and encouraging. They need to provide sales teams with the guidance to succeed and the autonomy to be motivated.

Integration of Teams

Young’s second word was integration. In technology and innovation today, integration is a given. Users expect that systems will integrate with and speak to one another seamlessly.

The same goes for people when building effective teams. It requires more focus on individual responsibility and accountability. “If you can get everybody on the team feeling like If I don’t do my job, we’re going to lose, then you’ll win,” Young said.

It’s up to Sales Ops leaders to create this kind of culture on their teams. Technology is a key component, but it’s not everything. Data management and analytics tools will help bring structure and process, but only when implemented and managed across teams. Technology can’t succeed without clear communication and adoption — without integration into a culture.

Whether you’re a coach on the field or a leader in the field, the challenges are similar. Young’s comparisons raised important questions for Sales Ops leaders that we’ll explore further at EXCEED, the first-ever event dedicated to sales operations and enablement on May 4-5 at Levi’s Stadium, the home of Young’s 49ers. In addition to small roundtable discussions on data-driven selling, forecasting, and sales methodology, the EXCEED community will hear from industry experts Jason Jordan and Steve Silver, along with three more 49er superstars: Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, and Brent Jones. Join us at Levi’s to share your own experience and lessons on teamwork, culture, and leadership with a select group of peer sales visionaries

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