What Sellers Can Learn From F1 Racing

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I’m a huge fan of F1 Racing. It’s just fascinating to watch, learn about the teams, drivers, cars. I love looking at the racing strategies. In the early 2000’s I was fortunate in beginning to see a little of the behind the scenes work of the F1 teams. I was on the founding team of an AI software tool. It turned out, after each race, the teams had terabytes of data they wanted to analyze to improve how they performed in the next race. Our product provided them the capability to get performance insights they never could have gotten before.

A lot of the data had to do with vehicle performance, even the slightest change in settings might provide a little edge. The ability to provide data to the drivers to help them understand their own performance and how they might improve was a critical aspect of what they sought to discover.

As a “fan-boy,” it was awesome to visit the team sites. Usually there were 100’s of people doing all sorts of analysis, making design changes, doing everything they could do to gain a few seconds advantage. Many of these sites had wind tunnels, test tracks. Usually, when you walked into the reception area, there was a “display area.” It was a roped off glass floor, or a wall of windows, where you could look into the “garage” to see the mechanics working on the car. Usually, it had just returned from a race, it was being reworked, changed, set up for the next race. Often, these garages made a hospital operating room look filthy.

Through that involvement in F1, I started thinking, “What lessons can we extract to selling?”

  1. While I know 100’s of engineers would argue with me, I believe success is less about the product (the vehicle), and more about other factors. In the first place, there are a lot of regulations that specify the size, weight, engine, tires, and so forth about the cars. So at a high level there is not a huge amount of “product” differentiation. Additionally, every team studies every other teams vehicles, the differences are relatively small. And sometimes, those differences may be important, perhaps for a race, over time the differentiation is less about the vehicle. You have to have a competitive vehicle, but this is table stakes. (In other car racing series, like Indy and NASCAR, the regulations may be even tighter, making it less about the car and more about the driver.)
  2. As you look at every course, every driver faces exactly the same conditions for each course. No driver is favored. Courses don’t think, “Lewis Hamilton is such a great guy and driver, I’m going to give Lewis an advantage in this race!”
  3. Going into a race, every driver/team develops a strategy. They figure out the best way to navigate the course, how to best set up the car, how they might deal with each competitor. But while they go into a race with a strategy, they realize the reality in the race changes the strategy. They may have had a problem, something unanticipated arises, a competitor with a different strategy may be doing better. So they recognize they have to adapt what they do, how they engage, to maximize their ability to perform.
  4. No driver was “unprepared.” If anything each driver was hyper-prepared. They studied the course, they walked the tracks, they understood their vehicles, they studied the competition. They viciously assessed their own performance and those of their competitors. They studied, learned, practiced, experimented. They didn’t just focus on driving, the course and the vehicle. They spent a lot of time on physical, mental, and mindset conditioning.
  5. No driver showed up doing the same thing they had always done before. They recognize that each race is new, the bar for performance continues to be raised. So doing what they had always done before, would cause them to fail.
  6. They did everything they could to get whatever edge they could.Even though every driver faces the exact same course, each driver drives a different race on same course. They each choose a slightly different line, they shift at different points, brake/accelerate at different points, enter turns sightly differently. Depending on where they are on the track, where they are positioned, they choose very different strategies. How/when to pass, which side to pass, how to keep from being passed.
  7. Each driver drives their own race. If it were possible to copy someone like Lewis Hamilton, they know by doing everything Lewis does would always cause them to finish no better than second. And they know they can’t even begin to copy and do the things Lewis does, so they probably will finish much further back, if they finish at all. Instead they drive their own race, they think of what they have to do to outperform Lewis, adjusting and adapting through the race.
  8. While we watch the drivers and cheer them. We know the names and personalities of the top drivers. But the drivers cannot possibly win by themselves. There are literally hundreds of people working with them to help them win. The very best drivers recognize this. They work closely with their team, they respect the views and expertise of their teams. They listen to them knowing it’s a collective effort that will cause them to win.
  9. I’m struggling for the F1 analogy around discounting, can’t figure one out. I suppose the best way to think about it is it’s always the top performer that wins. And that top performance is a combination of everything–the vehicle, the smarts of the team, the way the driver executes in the race, and sometimes a little luck. There is nothing like pricing, some sort of advantage or future benefit to tilt things in the favor of the team. It’s really about outperforming the competition on the track.
  10. Finally, and this is where I had a lot of visibility, after every race, whether they won or lost. They spend a lot of time assessing their performance, that of their competition and everything else that impacted their performance or that of their competitors. They sought to learn as much as they could and immediately thinking about what they needed to change, how they can improve and execute at a higher level in the next race.

To compete at the global level, every team and every driver is the very best of the best. The differences in vehicles, in teams, in drivers are very small. Each team faces the exact same challenge on the track. Each team seeks to find a distinctive edge, but mostly they need to perform at the highest levels possible. And they have to do this in each and every race. There is never any slacking off. It’s always consistently outstanding execution.

There’s so much we can learn from these top performing teams. If we applied even a small part of these lessons to how we engage and execute with our customers, we will perform much better.

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