What Do Formula 1 Drivers and Great Sales Professionals Have In Common?


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For sometime,  I’ve been haranguing readers about the importance of the selling process.  Even in a recent post, I considered use of the sales process as a condition of continued employment.  I’m not softening my position on this, the sales process is the cornerstone to personal and organizational performance excellence in selling. 

However, the posts have generated a good amount of discussion and emails.   Some have suggested the process removes creativity and innovation.  Some have said the highly scripted nature of a sales process is not conducive to the highly customer focused/responsive approach to selling we need to be executing.  My colleague, Andy Rudin, has made some outstanding arguments about the need for sale professionals to be able to “call audibles, deviating from the game plan” in order to be responsive to the situation.  I tend to agree with Andy’s concept.

It seems much of the discussion is about the level of precision and prescriptiveness of the selling process.  I thought it would be useful to provide some clarification.

In the past, I’ve used the analogy of a road map.  A sales process is a lot like a road map.  A map offers directions to get from Point A to Point B, in fact it may offer several options based on different criteria (e.g. Freeways, Surface Streets, Scenic, etc.).  A road map doesn’t describe everything one encounters on the journey.  It won’t describe every pothole, twist or turn.  It doesn’t describe road conditions or hazards that might be encountered along the way, nor does it describe what to do when those hazards are encountered. 

While the road map offers directions to get from Point A to B, it still requires a skilled driver to execute it.  The driver’s skill needs to be much higher, if you want to get between points very quickly.  Then you add traffic, it takes even more skill to navigate, while going very fast, with dynamic and changing traffic conditions.

Let me extend the example, I like watching Formula 1 racing.  Anyone that can drive, can drive a Formula 1 race course.  But to drive a Formula 1 course at 200mph, dealing with other skilled drivers, dealing with changing road, car conditions, accidents, and winning at the end requires the highest level of skill and performance.  Formula 1 drivers, think and analyze—very fast, they adapt and improvise quickly.  They change to meet changing conditions.  Above all, they stay on course, that is if they want to finish the race and win.

The sales process is a lot like a map.  It provides general directions, and may even provide options.  But executing the sales process, in the face of changing conditions, while moving at full speed, and beating competition requires the highest levels of skill, performance, ability to “read the conditions,” and adaptability by the sales professional.  The best sales professionals, like Formula 1 drivers, don’t seek to “drive on their own course,”  but learn how to exploit the course/process, adapt it to the current situation and conditions and go on to win.

Formula 1 drivers never blame the course if they fail to achieve goals.  Likewise, great sales people never blame the sales process for failing to achieve their goals.  Great sales professionals know that the sales process positions them to be as effective as possible, but that in the end, it’s all about execution—better, faster, more effectively than anyone else.  They know the execution is not blind, but requires thoughtfulness, adaptation and nimbleness on their part—if they are going to win.

I have a problem with sales processes that try to be overly prescriptive.  Those that try to anticipate everything that can happen on the journey.  Those that try to describe every twist and turn, every possible road condition, every possible situation that can happen in traffic.  It’s impossible.  Those that try to do this usually fail.  They create a process that is overly complex, too cumbersome, unresponsive, and slow.

At the risk of alienating some of my audience, I think overly prescriptive, highly scripted sales processes demean the sales professional.  The script the sales person has to follow without any deviation or adaptation to the system removes the real time thinking, analysis, and adaptation that is critical to winning fast, efficiently, effectively.  I tend to think that organizations that put this type of process into place do it because they either do not trust their sales people, they do not want to invest the time to train sales people, or they are looking for the lowest level of skills.  These jobs will disappear—they are better executed through the internet or through robots.

Selling is complex.  To be effective, we have to have a road map or a course.  To win, we have to think, analyze, adapt, and execute at full speed.  Great sales processes enable great sales professionals to execute and win like Formula 1 drivers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. David: you’ve brought up a major controversy in sales. One sales manager I worked with often said “I don’t care how you make your number as long as you make it.” His sentiment is widely held–at least in my experience. Many VP’s and managers are simply too busy, too overwhelmed, or too lackadaisical to dig into the “how” part of selling.

    People should care about ‘how’ for many reasons. The racing analogy fits. Winning must be done achieved a certain way, and subject to specific constraints and variables. In sales we experience the same thing. It’s not just “get the order,” it’s get the order
    –without discounting
    –within the next quarter
    –at or above dollar forecast
    –with the customer highly satisfied with the buying experience
    –without incurring expenses greater than revenue achieved

    Defined sales processes aid in managing these outcomes. But sales processes are highly iterative, and should integrate knowledge from the field. When they’re dictatorial–from “headquarters”–they risk losing touch with how buyers need to buy. Audibles play a great role in mitigating the risk of incongruence. Thanks for the mention!

  2. Andy, I couldn’t agree with you more. Sales processes not based on knowledge from the field, but dictated from “HQ” are close to irrelevant. The best sales processes are developed, integrating the experiences from the best people in the field, with the strategies and priorities of the organization. The best sales processes are continually reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the market, new insight, changes in competition and shifts in strategies. Thanks for your contribution!


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