Let me look at the last 5 sales people we placed at software organisations. The bottom area of their CVs read: sport sport sport.
I’ve found that a very high percentage of top performers in IT sales play some form of sport. There seems to be a correlation between sports and sales success as these top performers are able to handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses, and mentally prepare themselves for the next opportunity to compete.
This seems to be the case world over; currently we’re working with candidates with the following accolades:
German candidate – Over-achiever, been in IT Sales for over 5 years, taking home over 160k euros. Ex professional Basketball player.
Swedish candidate – Another over-achiever, specialises in SaaS, new business. Does Iron-Man triathlons.
French candidate – Senior candidate, 15 years in IT Solutions, overachiever. Took a sabbatical to go travelling and climb 3 of the highest peaks in the world. Mont Blanc - 13976 feet; Kilimanjaro – 19341 feet; Illimani - 23999 feet.
(Photo credit: Neale Cousland)
Take a look at your sales team. Who are the best performers? Have they been competitive and successful in some sporting activity in the past? Of course this is a rule of thumb and not an absolute correlation. There are, however, a lot of similarities besides the obvious competitive streak in both successful sales people and successful sports players. Here are the top 4.
1. Recognising weaknesses and turning them into strengths:
How do you achieve your goals? Look at your strengths and weaknesses. You need to leverage your strengths and work your weaknesses. For athletes it’s usually easy to know what their strengths and weaknesses are as they have coaches to tell them what they did wrong and work on those weaknesses.
For the sales professional it can be harder; there is no video playback of a sales meeting. But you can record your telephone conversations. In the strive for self-development the very best will improve themselves by recording telephone calls and reviewing them critically, allowing them to reflect on the days’ activity. This brings me to another key characteristic of people who are good at improving themselves – self-reflection.
We all know about the athletes who blame the referee when they don’t win. And we all know sales professionals who blame the price, internal politics, unfair competition – in fact anything but their own performance – if they lose a deal. It’s only people with high levels of self-reflection who can acknowledge they under performed and go on to do better.
2. Repetition & persistence:
Sales people – like sports people – operate in a competitive environment and are measured by their “wins”. Most sports people, indeed virtually all successful professionals, receive regular training, development and coaching to continually improve. Swimming 100,000 laps or completing 1,000,000 football passes is like making cold calls or warm calls. Repetition and knowing it’s going to lead to success is key.
3. Embracing the team:
Although most sales positions are measured individually, working against a quota, unit sales goal or overall sales performance, being able to work within a team environment is also of critical importance. In an article about the value of teamwork, Mackenzie Thornton says:
”It is important to respect, encourage, support and stay committed to your teammates through the ups and downs. Team dynamics and keeping the team goals ahead of your own personal stats is vital. Being accountable, reliable and dependable are attributes that are held in high regard by both coaches and sales managers.”
Tiger Woods would always treat each shot as a new game. His mentality was to approach each shot without reflection from the previous one, be that positive or negative. You’re only as good as your next sale. Success breeds confidence and if you haven't really had a lot of success it may be hard to convince yourself that the next shot or call is going to be much better than the last 4 slices. Blocking out all possible "negative waves" is difficult or near impossible on every shot/call.
But everyone who has competed in any sport at a high level has had to overcome failure. No athlete wins 100% of the time and the same goes for sales. Competitive athletes know this and can apply it to sales. Top performers don’t let a missed sale affect their day.
This is just scratching the surface on the similarities, but it would be interesting, sales managers, and sales individuals, if you think this rings true in your organisation.