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DeanSmithcropped2.jpgWhen you learn about Dean Smith, you quickly realize that most people could learn from his life and work. Smith, who died at age 83 in February of this year, was the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1961 to 1997. His career produced 879 victories, which at the time of his retirement was the NCAA Division I record in men’s basketball. Two national championships and appearances in the NCAA tournament Final Four on 11 occasions also highlighted Smith’s career.

But Dean Smith wasn’t just about putting points on the scoreboard. He was about how teams worked together to do that, and he was also known for having a high graduation rate (96.6%), and for promoting desegregation during the Civil Rights era. Basketball legend Michael Jordan said Smith was the most influential person in his life besides his parents, stating after Smith’s death that he was “more than a coach – he was a mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it.”

Pharmaceutical sales trainers can learn from Dean Smith’s extraordinary career because many of the principles he promoted in basketball apply broadly. Here are 3 important lessons trainers can learn from Coach Smith.

1. The Value of Taking the Best Possible Action in a Situation

Dean Smith wasn’t about showboating, but teamwork. If one or two players dominated the spotlight, he believed, teammates could lose focus. So Smith required his players to pass the ball until they found an open player. His philosophy was that the more players who handled the ball, the better the chances of finding that easy shot and scoring. Said Smith, “We never think in terms of who’s going to get the points. We’re worried about North Carolina getting the points.”

In terms of pharma sales, this could mean foregoing that “Hail Mary” pitch that could bring tremendous acclaim (but at great risk). Rather, working together until the right person is in the position to make the shot without the need for a miracle is preferable. It may mean one standout sales rep loses out on a sale because he knows someone else is in a better position to make it and establish a better customer relationship. It’s about your whole organization getting “points on the board” rather than one person doing it. When the right decisions at every juncture are made – even sometimes at the expense of personal glory – overall success is greater.

Play hard. Play Smart. Play Together.

Dean SmithUniversity of North Carolina Basketball Coach 1961-1997

2. All-Around Excellence Makes Success Even Better

Coach Smith emphasized all-around excellence rather than just skills on the court, and that was reflected in the high graduation rate of his players. In fact, this is a principle used by many great coaches. Legendary former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was also about putting the team before the self. She said, “Individual success is a myth. No one succeeds all by herself.”

Dean Smith’s life off the court was well-rounded too. In his office, he read the editorial pages of the newspapers before the sports pages, and at home read works by philosophical luminaries like Martin Buber and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Early in his career, Smith’s team was struggling and he was very unpopular. He credits the work of Catherine Marshall, a 20th-century theological writer, for helping him attain an inner calm that helped him turn the team around. Are your sales reps people of integrity and strong character in addition to being good at selling your products? If not, success could be short-lived.

3. Coaching Principles Can Apply to Pharma Sales Training

Obviously, each person on your sales team is unique, and you will have standout performers and those who may not stand out so much. But everyone’s focus should be on practicing workable, proven principles that drive sales and growth, from the very beginning of the sales process. As a trainer, your work should also include coaching. That means recognizing each team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and through constructive means helping them develop strengths and overcome weaknesses. If it sounds like hard work, it is. But the results can be spectacular, and you can build a loyal sales team that’s ready to work hard and get exceptional results.

Getting to know your sales team and taking the time to customize training so that each team member contributes to organizational success is hard work, but it’s well worth the effort. Legends like the late Dean Smith didn’t earn the exceptional loyalty and respect of players and others in the industry by shirking hard work or thinking there were shortcuts. And you can bet that the University of North Carolina will always be grateful that Coach Smith never cut corners.