Playing to Space (Issue 476)

In which we consider a parallel between soccer tactics and performing as trusted advisors to our clients.

Have you been watching any of the World Cup matches?

(Do you know that the World Cup is not a Reality TV series about excessive drinking or college spring break?)

It’s the world’s game, sometimes tedious,endlessly fascinating, frequently exhilarating.  On a football/soccer field, more than in any other sport I’m aware of, “space” means “opportunity.” Players “play to space,” meaning, run to an open area to receive the ball or play the ball to an area of the field in which the opponent’s players aren’t present, thus leading or directing their team mates to areas of opportunity – areas where they can break free or move the ball up the field.

Except on corner kicks or free kicks, there’s no set play. Players influence the direction of play by choosing the space into which they run (if looking to receive the ball) or serve the ball. Their choices of space and serve are based on many factors, including game conditions, relative strengths of the two teams, skills of teammates close to the space, position on the field, and score.

This same principle applies to sellers who aspire to be trusted advisors to their clients. Clients like advisors who influence play by “serving a ball into space,” meaning, serving an idea that the client hasn’t thought of, triggering a client action that creates value.

The idea could be a question or information that the client should know or an action the client should take.

For example, “I see that prices are beginning to rise. Based on your situation, I think now is the time you should consider ….” or “There’s a change in the tax code I want to make you aware of because….” Or “We see your competitors doing X. I’m wondering how you’ll….?”

The key is: unsolicited, valuable, and appropriate.

On a soccer field, if a player with the ball holds the ball too long, without serving to space, it’s likely one of their opponents will strip the ball from them. Translation… you have to serve your idea before one of your competitors or someone inside the company comes up with it.

Further, on a soccer field, if a player consistently serves balls into spaces that are too far away from teammates, or consistently drives the ball too far or too fast to be played by teammates, the teammates lose confidence and won’t try as hard when that player has the ball.

Same in trusted advisor relationships. Serve your ideas to space that is close enough for your client to move to. Like a series of passes and dribbles in football, influence them a step at a time through the space before them toward their goals.

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