What’s Your Free Throw Percentage?

blue-basketball-american-basket.jpgI’ve always been a fan of basketball. It’s the perfect sport. It doesn’t take a lot of fancy equipment or training to play. It’s fast-paced and the rules are fairly simple to understand. It requires a combination of strategy, teamwork, and individual skill. Though I’ve cheered for a number of specific teams over the years, including my son’s championship high school team, I don’t need a particular side to root for in order to enjoy a good game.

One part of the game that has always frustrated me though, is free throws. When shooting a free throw, the player has just about everything to their advantage. They stand in a specific spot to shoot, so they don’t have to adjust for varying angles to the basket. The opposing team cannot steal the ball or block the shot, so they player can focus their attention. They have plenty of time to prepare for each free throw, so they don’t have to worry about being rushed to beat the clock. Yet, with all of this going for them, so many players are horrible at shooting free throws.

It’s often said that games are decided at the free throw line. Statistically, two-thirds of a winnings team’s points over the final minutes of a basketball game come from free throws. However, free throw shooting percentages have remained relatively unchanged over the past 50 years. College players make, on average, 69% of their free throw attempts. Players in the NBA average around 75%. There have always been individuals who stand out, but despite 50 years of sports evolution, why hasn’t the average make-rate of this “gimme” shot improved?

The answer is simple: practicing free throws isn’t fun. Few players want to spend significant amounts of time standing in the same pot, shooting the same shot, over and over again. It’s much more invigorating to run special plays or launch low-percentage fade-away three point attempts during practice. Even coaches will admit they generally have low expectations for the free throw.

Becoming a free-throw master isn’t really that hard. The perfect free throw shot is straight, creates a 45 degree arc, and hits the basket about 11 inches past center. Get these three things right consistently, and you’re among the elite – the hero of the game. Miss the easy shots when they count and, well…

Winning the sales and service game is a lot like playing basketball. We live for the big play and the game winning shot, but all too often, we miss the easy shots. It’s the mundane, day-to-day, seemingly insignificant activities that wind up making the difference in whether we win or lose. But it’s precisely because they’re easy, or should be, that we don’t give them much thought.

It takes so little to stand out from the crowd. Often you just have to stand up when everyone else is sitting down. You don’t have to be the most innovative, have the flashiest marketing, or offer the lowest prices. Simply execute, consistently, on the simple stuff and you elevate yourself above the average. That’s what the best do. That’s why they win. The fancy shots and buzzer-beaters make for a great the highlight reel, but games are won by executing on the basics.

So, what’s the secret to consistency? It’s identifying the best way to approach your shot, getting the right kind of coaching, and practicing until perfection becomes automatic. That’s how you win basketball games, and that’s how you win customers.

What’s your free throw percentage? How often do you greet the customer, identify their needs, meet those needs, and then thank them for their business? How consistent is your team at delivering on the easy shots – the can’t-miss opportunities to remind people of the great decision they made in choosing you? Master this part of the game and you’ll greatly increase your odds of a winning season.


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