What Sales Managers Can Learn From Lance Armstrong


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Lance Armstrong at the 2005 Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong at the 2005 Tour de France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More precisely, what can sales managers learn from what happened to Lance Armstrong?

Is it don’t be a winner? Perhaps, don’t be a cheat? Maybe, don’t lie? Certainly, don’t get caught. And when you do get caught, carry the can, walk away. Fighting for your corner will just get other people hurt.

You are just another cog in the money men’s machine. Disposable cannon fodder. A tool to be used, abused and discarded. You’ll get well paid of course. For a while you’ll be a hero, but ultimately, you’ll get the blame.

What does this have to do with managing sales? Ultimately it’s all about money.

Sales manager’s jobs are all about money – bringing in deals for a cost less than the budget.

When times get tough, the sales manager is always expected to magic rabbits out of hats. If that means cutting a few corners, so be it. Break a few rules. Rules don’t count, but results matter.

That’s how the money men think.

It’s what caused the entire melt down of the world’s financial system, and ultimately the global economy. Since 2000, we’ve seen a stream of industries and institutions exposed for malpractice. Staring with Enron, and more recently, in the UK, with a distasteful alliance between politicians and the press and the police. We’ve seen drugs companies caught bribing doctors to prescribe ineffective drugs to children. We’ve seen miselling in mortgages, and insurance. We’ve seen price fixing in energy and interest rates. We’ve seen speculators manipulating commodities, including food prices.

All lying and cheating, driven by the money mens’ insatiable desire for more cash, so they can use it to manipulate even more markets.

Where the rubber hits the road, that’s where sales managers work. They’re the ones who turn the money mens ambitions into results.

Returning to Lance, he’s being pilloried for winning by cheating – taking drugs – in sport.

The press are having a field day. The public are in uproar. Lance Armstong is being painted as the devil incarnate. He cheated. He took performance enhancing drugs. He lied. He’s no longer the hero everybody thought he was.

According to the Oprah interview, he’s claimed to have only been interested in leveling the playing field. By implication, other riders with chances of winning were doing it. For him to win he had to do the same. His only crime was in doing what others were doing, so he could compete, and in winning.

Cyclists taking performance enhancing drugs shouldn’t be news to anybody. That was the way the sport worked. There’s even a slight hint of authorities condoning it by omission, with a lax testing regime. Not everybody was doing it for sure. And equally for sure, not only Lance was doing it.

Thinking about it, why did it take so long for what was pubic knowledge to turn into public outrage.

Maybe too many people were making money out of it?

Maybe, just like subprime mortgage selling, everybody was doing rather well out of it until the music stopped?

There’s outrage coming from cyclists themselves right now. A stream of competitors who didn’t win, in part because they were clean, now complain they were cheated from achievement. Their case is obviously valid. They knew about it, but wouldn’t or couldn’t, do the same.

But that didn’t stop them benefitting from the huge amounts of sponsorship drawn to the sport by Armstong’s achievements. Let he who didn’t win, or make money because of the public interest, cast the first stone.

Everybody in professional cycling, all of the companies selling cycling gear, and all of the money men fixing sponsorship deals, made money out of the fairy tale.

A cancer survivor defeats the disease, and goes on to win the world’s most grueling physical and mental challenge 7 times.

Maybe it happened, and maybe it didn’t, but what do you think the money men would have said if Armstrong had told them winning was impossible without cheating?

Would they have insisted he raced clean, to protect the reputation of the sponsors?

Or would they have insisted he do what others were doing?

Armstrong was of little value to anybody if finishing in the pack. He only made them money when finishing up front.

The money men would have said do whatever it takes, but don’t get caught. Win without getting caught and you’ll earn millions (and so will we). Get caught and you’re on your own. Your sponsors can’t be associated with cheating.

Which brings us back to sales managers.

Next time you’re faced with a dilemma. When you can’t meet the revenue recognition rules, or quite meet the customer’s expectations. When your integrity says don’t do it, but your sales target tells you there’s no choice. It’s bend the rules, or miss the number.

Go to your CEO and explain. You can’t do it, without cheating. Ask what should you do.

My guess is you’ll get told the same as the guys in the sub prime mortgage business, the sales managers in pharmaceuticals, and Lance Armstrong himself.

Do whatever it takes, but don’t get caught. If you do, you’re on your own.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Reeves
Consultant, author, software entrepreneur, business development professional, aspiring saxophonist, busy publishing insight and ideas. Boomer turned Zoomer - thirty year sales professional with experience selling everything from debt collection to outsourcing and milking machines to mainframes. Blogger at Successful Sales Management. Head cook and bottle washer at Front Office Box.


  1. Steve, this is an interesting take on lessons learned.

    However, my understanding is that Lance was the Big Boss when it came to deciding to cheat. No one told him “get the results or else” and left it to him to cheat to accomplish his goals.

    All the sponsors want their teams to win. Do you really think the US Postal Service secretly condoned cheating so long as Lance didn’t get caught?

    From all the media coverage, it has never been suggested that Lance was pressured to cheat. He was the one driven by the desire to win at all costs. He was the one that decided to cheat personally. He was the one that decided to direct other on the team to follow him… or suffer the consequences.

    Just like baseball, there is some culpability in “the system” that rewards winners even if they are cheaters that haven’t been caught (yet). But I fail to see how Lance can uniquely blame that system for what he did, which went far beyond other cyclists.


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