I know, I know, we use way too many sports metaphors to talk about selling. But we really can learn a lot by watching high performing athletes in some of the most important sports events.This past weekend was packed with some of my favorite sports, the finals at Wimbledon, the World Cup, the start of the Tour de France, and toss in a few nice golf tournaments. Watching them provoked some thoughts:
You can’t be successful without the support of your team: Sales is a team sport–even if you sell by yourself. the days of the “lone wolf” are gone (I’m not sure they ever existed). Even if you look at the supposedly “individual sports.” like the singles finals at Wimbledon this weekend, none of those top performers could have gotten to the finals without the support of their team–trainers, coaches, practice partners, managers, and so forth. It’s also interesting, the first thing these top athletes do is to thank their team (watch the interviews of Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal)! They know their success is due to the support from their team. Too often, I see sales people forgetting this. They think their success is based on what they have done and ignore the team members. Make sure you thank your team!
Top performers are respectful of their competitors: Top athletes don’t underestimate their competition. They study them, they watch them, they respect their capabilities and skills. Regardless of how the competitor may be ranked, top athletes know their competitor earned the right to be there – they beat all other competitors. Top athletes don’t denigrate their opponents, but focus on outPerforming them. Great competitors raise the level of play and performance of everyone. Sales people need to think about this as well. Customers have chosen the alternatives they want to consider. To be shortlisted by the customer means that each competitor is a serious contender for the business. Don’t underestimate them, don’t discount them, leverage them to raise your own level of “play.”
Top performers don’t get to Wimbledon, the Tour de France, or the World Cup by accident: All have a plan, strategies, they train, and compete. Take the guys in the Tour de France. They train constantly, riding thousands of miles a year in practice sessions. They train for specific conditions they anticipate they will encounter—for example, yesterday’s difficult 3rd day on the cobblestones. Lance Armstrong trained for days on the course, long before the race. He knew the cobblestones could make the difference between winning and losing. Alberto Contador hired a coach to help him master cobblestones. Each day on the tour, the team gets together to review the plan, to evaluate alternative strategies, to discuss contingencies. How do we deal with a break-away? How do we position our sprinters at the finish line? How do we pick up extra points along the way? How will we keep our GC contender at the front of the peloton? High performing sales people are the same. They are constantly planning and developing strategies. They look at their territories and accounts, developing plans to expand their business. They think about each deal, looking at potential obstacles or problems, looking at areas where they can get advantage. They study their customers and industries. They constantly train and improve. Finally, they are always out there competing, learning from their wins and losses.
Top performers have a plan–but adapt that plan to conditions: The Tour Prologue presented an interesting challenge– a short, very fast course. Everyone knew how they would ride it, how they would approach each turn, where they needed to slow down to stay on course. Then on race day–rain, the course was wet and slippery, plans had to be adjusted. Great sellers do the same, they have a plan and strategy, but as things play out they adjust their plan, responding to the customer’s needs. While they shift and adjust the plan, the goal always remains the same–winning.
Great tools help, but ultimately it’s about your own personal performance. Professional golfers have custom clubs–tuned to optimize their performance. Each bike in the Tour uses the latest, best technology, costing over $10 K each. At Wimbledon, players were using special strings, strung at very specific tensions to achieve better ball control. They all use the best “tools” available to them because they help them perform better and more efficiently. At the same time, to quote Lance, “It’s not the bike…” Top sales people are the same. They leverage sales tools to help them be more effective and productive. Top performers know how to get advantage from their CRM systems, they know how to leverage social media. In the end, however, they realize that while the tools are helpful, ultimately, it’s their own personal performance that causes them to win or lose. (Notice also that top athletes don’t blame their equipment for their bad performance.)
On game-day, there are no do-overs, no-excuses: As Tibor Shanto poses in his post, Sudden Death Sales, everything sale is like “sudden death,” not in the literal sense, but when is ready to make their decision, you have to have played your best game. You have to have left everything on the tennis court, football (soccer) field, or on the course. For the deal, there is no second chance, you win or lose. The best sales people are the same, in every sale, they are fully present, they compete to win, knowing there aren’t second chances, mulligans, or do-overs. They realize, if they lose this opportunity, it may be some time before they have the opportunity to sell to this customer again.
You have to bring your “A” game–each and every time you compete. Competition is tough, customers are busy. If you don’t bring your “A” game to each sales situation, you will have no chance of winning. Competitors who should not win, can beat you if they are executing better than you. For example, on his way to the finals at Wimbledon, Tomas Berdych, beat players ranked much higher than him. He just executed better than each person that he defeated. In selling we don’t have to have the best alternative, we just have to compete more strongly, work with the customer to demonstrate our offering is the best for the decision they are making.
Sometimes things aren’t fair: The World Cup has been plagued with accusations of “bad calls.” TV replays have shown some of them have, in fact been bad calls. In spite of that, the final score is the final score. Great athletes and teams don’t let a bad call distract them. They put it behind them, adjust their game plans, and continue to compete as strongly as possible. Sales is like that as well, sometimes things aren’t “fair.” The customer may have “unfair expectations,” we may not have exactly the product or support we need. In spite of that, great professionals adjust their strategies and compete as best possible.
Luck helps, bad luck hurts, the game goes on: There is always an element of luck in any competition (this will not be a discussion of making your luck). Yesterday, despite all his training and preparation, Lance had a bad day, he had a flat. It moved him back in the GC contention from one of the leaders to 18th with a seemingly insurmountable time difference to make up. It was bad luck, I’m sure he and the RadioShack team are adjusting their strategies, finding ways to make up the time, examining possibilities of winning. The same is true of sales, sometimes we are lucky, for reasons we can’t explain, things go our way. Other times, it’s just the opposite. Despite good or bad luck, top performers put it behind them, adjust their strategies, and move on.
Top athletes don’t blame others: When they lose, the best players don’t blame others. Roger Federer–expected to be in the Wimbledon finals was beaten. He had no excuses, while he was higher ranked than his opponent, on the day of the match, the opponent outplayed him. Great sales people don’t blame others, they know that ultimately, they are accountable. It is their responsibility to put the strongest plans in place. It is their responsibility to manage their team to present the best solution. If they lose, they don’t make excuses, they don’t blame others.
Finally, top athletes ALWAYS thank their customers: Win or lose, top athletes thank the fans–after all they are paying the bills. Win or lose, top sales people always thank their customers. They thank them for the business. They thank them for being given the opportunity to compete.
Choose your favorite sport, study the top performers in the sport. Adapt what they do to to your own job and practice of selling. Your performance will improve, you’ll be on the path to being a top performer.