Are You a Sales Athlete?


Perseverance is essential in sales, and my recent blog about the way in which we can learn from the dedication and commitment of Olympic athletes chimed with many people who work in sales today.

There’s a lot to be gained from listening to those who’ve achieved sporting success, and there’s a reason why many former Olympians such as Kriss Akabusi and Roger Black now charge big sums for motivational speeches (1), appearing at sales conferences to pass on their skills.

Comments on the blog about “committing to the race” and “deliberate practice” got me thinking about how we can look at the commitment made by top sportspeople and use these lessons to improve the way we work towards our goals in sales.

Laying the foundation for sales success

Olympic athletes train for between four and eight years before making it into an Olympic team (2). That’s not years of competitions, going out in front of a crowd and winning medals: that’s up to eight years of sheer hard work, putting the effort in every day before they see any return at all.

Can you learn from that kind of dedication? Do you approach your sales role with the same level of perseverance, putting in that kind of effort to improve your skills? When I look at Olympic athletes, I see people who are prepared to commit themselves totally to their goal. They go as far as changing the way their bodies work, increasing strength and lung capacity to maximise their potential. To people like that, training is a full-time job.

This commitment is inspiring, and it’s something that those of us in the world of sales can learn from. Training is not just an occasional thing, it should be a permanent part of your job, and an ongoing dedication to progression should be at the very core of what you do.

Planning out success

Olympic athletes plan their training far ahead, with schedules that can cover up to four years into the future. This is the kind of preparation we can learn from, and there are lessons to take on board.

How far ahead do you plan your own training and development? Many of us may treat it as an afterthought, slotting it in around a regular day’s work. Instead, adopting a well-planned schedule that looks far ahead could be the key to making sure you constantly achieve more.

In real terms, this could mean focussing on engaging with new customers and opening up new accounts over a period of time rather than giving up at the first sign of difficulty. It can also include investment in your own abilities and skills, making sure you look at where you’ll be and what you can achieve a year or more from now.

Getting the right team on board

Athletes may well compete individually, but they won’t win anything without a great team to support them. There’s another big lesson that I can see in this – you need the right people around you in order to win.

Nutritionists, psychologists, trainers; any gold medal-winning athlete will have all of these people working with them to bring out their very best and help them get the results they’re after. Each can focus on a different area of the athlete’s needs, and together they create a plan for success.

Who makes up your team, and who helps you to improve? Do you have someone who coaches you in the things you need to work on? Most importantly, is there anyone missing from your team who could help you to achieve more?

Focus on the mind

A winning athlete doesn’t just have to get their body into peak condition, but their mind as well. As I mentioned, psychologists form an integral part of many athletes’ teams, and performing mental exercises is as important as physical ones for preparing for a high-profile competition.

How can we learn from this kind of preparation, and what mental exercises can each of us do to get ourselves ready to push our successes even further? Getting yourself in the right state of mind before going into a potential meeting could make all the difference to the outcome. Some reps even use visualisations to visualise a successful meeting before they go in to see a customer, to help them better handle objections and have more confidence on the day.

Winning the race

Consistently winning sales is a long race and one that you’ll do better at by committing yourself to the right kind of preparation. There are many similarities between the way Olympic athletes prepare for their events and the way a successful salesperson should go about their role. Rather than looking for overnight success, it is a commitment to training and dedication that will ultimately see you taking the gold medal at the end. There’s no shortcut, but committing to self-improvement is the first step.

References

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2007/aug/19/athletics.news1

(2) https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/08/training-perfect-athlete-olympics08-forbeslife-cx_avd_0708health.html

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