Episode 22 - Lessons from Nick Saban


Lessons from Nick Saban

This is the time of year when we get fired up about the college football playoffs, who is going to which Bowl game, and which teams will be in the elite four for a chance at the college football National Championship.  Nobody in college football has been to the “big dance” more often and won more national titles than Nick Saban, the coach of the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

Now, it pains me to say that because I’m a Georgia Bulldog fan, so Alabama is considered one of our arch enemies, and frankly, I’m tired of seeing them at #1 year after year.  Of course, that pleases one of my colleagues Danny who not only is a “Bama Boy”, but also worships at the feet of Tom Brady.   But when you have someone that is that successful, you have to take a look at what he does differently and think about what we might learn from his strategy, plan and process to see if there are some lessons we can apply to the channel.

Here are four things I’ve researched that break down Nick Saban’s strategy to stay at number one that I think we can all learn from.

It all begins with recruiting.

In our channel, partner recruitment is an on-going process.  Master agents want partners to sell through their contracts, and recruit based on their relationships with providers and what they can do for the partner that other masters can’t.  Providers recruit partners to sell services in preference to those of their competitors.  So, what can we learn from arguably one of the most successful college football coaches of all time about recruiting?

Saban’s recruiting coaches are taught to have a conversation that goes somewhat like this, “This is who we are. This is what we do. This is what we’ve done. This is what we feel like we can do for you. This is what we feel like you can do for us. If you want to be a part of it, great. If you don’t, somebody else will.'”  Imagine the clarity that gives a partner to know what your program can do for them, but what you expect in return.

Saban never waits for players to come to him, he finds those hidden gems, recruits year-around, and knows he faces stiff competition from the likes of LSU, Georgia or Clemson.  That lesson should translate to partner recruiting.  You have to go out and find partners proactively and not depend exclusively on passive ways to get them to notice you.  Advertise, offer incentives, host lunch and learns, be at regional meetings in order to find partners you want to work with.

Next, perfect “the process”.

Simply put, Saban shares that “The Process” is maintaining a relentless focus on things that we can control.  It also means not being distracted by the opponent’s perceived strengths or the score, but rather do your job so that you can contribute what you have control over.  How many times in your channel job have you gotten distracted over your development team missing a product release date, the reorganization that you think is coming to realign resources, or an install that is taking too long on that final circuit?  Saban teaches his team that they are responsible for what they create, not what the other team has going on that they can’t control.

Saban also breaks his process down into smaller parts so each routine is understandable, manageable and measurable.  We develop software at Convey.  No task takes our developers manage takes more than a day or two and each new feature is compiled of many smaller tasks that we can manage and measure to keep us on track.  Those of us managing complex sales processes, commissions, installations or other processes in the channel should take a lesson from Saban’s playbook to take a big process, break it into its component parts then track and measure it.

Use technology to gain a competitive edge.

I was astounded to learn that Saban focused hard on technology to increase not only his players’ performances but increase fan loyalty.  A few years ago, he installed a GPS tracking system to look at a player’s speed and acceleration during the season and in post season play.  He used that data to change his practices post-season to keep his players fresh.  He offered students a loyalty app using GPS again to see if they stayed through the fourth quarter.  He viewed a full stadium as a competitive advantage, but when you are 50 points ahead, that’s harder.  If you stayed, then you accrued points for early access to post-season tickets.

In the channel, you have many ways to use technology to give your partner program a competitive edge and Convey provides quite a few of them.  Take the data out of your systems to track partner behavior to see if it is what you are looking for.  Make sure that all of your education, marketing assets and spiffs are online and easy to find.  Automate your processes by investing in a PRM system to take the stress off your staff. Without technology to boost your program, your competitors will use it and overtake you.

Develop bench strength by being an effective leader.

Saban has produced more successful head coaches of other programs than anyone in the league. Kirby Smart was tapped as Georgia’s head coach three years ago.  After a successful run at Colorado, Jim McElwain lead the Florida Gators, and Will Muschamp moved from Florida to South Carolina.  Saban’s secret is to focus on developing leaders by exhibiting the leadership skills he wants his coaches to adopt. 

In the channel, we have many opportunities to lead our team and lead our partners to get the results we are looking for.  Saban always lets you know that at the end of the day he’s the boss and is ultimately held accountable for results.  Channel organizations need a strong leader that they can follow.  Saban is known to be hyper-focused with a work ethic that is unparalleled with an eye on the ultimate prize, winning. Staying focused and minimizing distractions is critical to make sure you have the right orientation to keep your eye on the prize – revenue.

Saban surrounds himself with talent, invests time in practicing and insists that everyone always look the part of a winner, even on game day.  We can all do the same in our channel programs.


Saban’s Crimson Tide may not make the playoffs this year and another National Championship may elude them, but his process, strategy and work ethic will ensure that you can count on him to be at or near the top every year he coaches his team.  For all of us in the channel, if we want to be at or near the top every year, we have to take the plays from Saban’s playbook.  Focus on recruiting, understand and perfect all of your business processes, use technology to give your program a competitive edge and be the leader that your channel needs you to be. 

For all of you willing to do the work to run your program like Saban runs his, I salute you and give you a hearty “Roll Tide”.