The sales skill of reading the play

Posted by  David Christiansen —May 27, 2016
Filed in Insight, Selling

Back in 2014, I was at the mighty MCG about to watch my beloved Tigers play a game of AFL football with my 15 year old son. I remember asking him where he would like to sit assuming he would respond by saying “behind the goals” or “amongst the cheer squad on the fence”. No – he said on the top level way up high.

I was initially horrified until I asked him why and he said that on ground level, he could not see what was about to unfold ahead of the play. By sitting up high, he was able to read the play as it was happening and understand why the players were kicking to certain spots and he would point out to me who was next to receive the ball based on their running patterns. By sitting down on the fence, he could not do that.

Sales skill of reading the play
Reproduced with permission of Kate Birrell


Many years ago, I commenced my sales career as an internal sales cadet eager to achieve success and develop my skills which were no doubt passed on from my father. There was a small team of sales people at my first firm who seemed to be having fun and the way they lit up the room when they walked in was something I really wanted to learn and someday apply.

After 2 years working through a structured cadetship in the warehouse, accounts, procurement and IT, the day arrived when i was offered the company car, sales territory and customer list and I was now one of the team. My sales manager was a great leader who was the guy I really wanted to impress.

My training was thorough and mostly on the job. The usual sales challenges presented themselves. Price, quality, value, competition, budgets, targets, and each of these we were trained for and we had a response for when a prospect would either not make a decision or not buy at all. 

Then, I travelled overseas and my sales career really accelerated principally because I was exposed to a sales skill that I had not heard of before. This sales skill was called “Reading the Play”.

Knowing who is in the room, what are their motivations, what’s happening with the company, are they in growth mode, do they have pressures that are beyond business as usual etc etc. Reading the body language of the people you are speaking to and meeting with. How are you sitting, presenting yourself? What types of questions are you asking, what are the reactions of the people in the room?  What next? How do I advance my current state?

Can Reading the Play be taught or is it a skill that you are born with? Possibly it can. Next time you need to understand the play, think about stepping up from the fence and find a seat on the top level. There you see more and Reading the Play becomes a lot clearer. 

Oh and by the way, my Tigers won that day back in 2014 and we sung the song down amongst the cheer squad at the end of the game. 

David Christiansen About  David Christiansen

David Christiansen is a career sales professional with experience at senior level across a wide range of business to business industries. With over 20 years sales management and a natural bias towards developing key connections and driving new business, David continues to work with sales people and sales teams where he can positively influence the careers of both aspiring sales professionals and experienced sales leaders.

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