What Modern Sales Has in Common With Sports
What is your definition of sales? If you ask ten sales reps, that question will get you ten different answers. The dictionary defines sales as “the exchange of a commodity for money.” That definition makes us wonder if Webster spent any time actually trying to sell their dictionaries. In the real-world, sales is a complex and competitive environment. In fact, sales as a profession is quite similar to sports. You may realize you have natural talent early on, but it must be developed if you want to maximize your performance. In this article, we will outline what sales professionals have in common with sports and how they can improve their performance and set new sales records.
Don’t Expect to Be Great in Sales at First
A common misconception about sales is that, if you get into sales, you immediately earn big bucks. This only sets you up for an unrealistic expectation. It’s like going golfing and hoping your first round is under par–it’s just not going to happen. In what endeavor can you expect to be great at the beginning? In every sport you learn the fundamentals first. Once those are perfected, you develop more advanced skills. Developing your fundamental sales skills require mindset, practice, process, and action.
You may have heard the old school sales phrase A.B.C. or Always be Closing. This is one such antiquated sales phrase that needs to be removed from every sales rep and sales leaders’ vocabulary. If you really are “always closing,” that means your only goal is to extract as much value out of your clients as possible. Sales professionals are not vampires, sucking the life out of their customers. We are trusted advisors that deliver more value than we extract. A sales rep who is always closing is like a basketball player that shoots the ball every time they touch it. That type of player usually finds himself sitting on the bench. To be successful in sales today, you want to be sure you always give more than you take. Do this and you will enjoy a long and successful career with customers for life.
The Impact of Coaching on Sales
Similar to sports, sales is a competitive environment where sales reps have to be mature enough to accept coaching. In other words, sales reps must learn how to receive criticism. If you are defensive about receiving genuine feedback, then the coaching process can be demoralizing. Valid criticism is something you will never read in a book. It can only happen in the real world. It also can be priceless if the salesperson is self-aware enough to listen to the message and not get upset with the messenger. The truth hurts. For example, if your sales manager calls you out in front of the sales team, it can be embarrassing. But as Norman Vincent Peal said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”
One of the hardest things to do as a sales rep is to remain positive while receiving criticism. Criticism is often perceived as negative or upsetting, especially if it is not received behind closed doors. When your sales manager calls you out, what is your first reaction? It can be difficult to stay calm and positive. Your first thought is, “Last month I closed a big account without a word from my sales manager and now you want to nitpick about my sales skills?” Receiving criticism with the wrong mindset can be demotivating and interfere with your relationship with your sales manager. But criticism is part of being a professional sales rep, and part of the daily struggle is to keep criticism in perspective.
Here is what Stephen Curry had to say about this issue: “To excel at the highest level – or any level, really – you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.”
Learn to Manage the Pressure of Sales
Sales and sports both come with expectations to win. To win the game or to win the business, create pressure. Under pressure, people get nervous. Nervousness is the body’s natural response to a stressful situation. If you are in sales and you have been in front of your biggest prospect and started sweating, getting clammy hands, or a racing heart, you felt the pressure. How you respond to the pressure is up to you. You could let the pressure get the best of you and choke. Or you could practice these simple yet effective strategies used by top-performing sales reps and athletes alike:
- Take a Deep Breath: Focus on slowing your breathing. This technique will interrupt your nervous system and slow things down.
- Get Positive: Remind yourself you got there for a reason. Out of all your competition, you are the one having the meeting today. Remind yourself of all the accounts you’ve closed, this is just another account.
- Practice: If you follow a sales process and a methodology on every sales appointment, you build muscle memory. If you wing every sale when the pressure is on, you won’t have the muscle memory to help you. Practice. Practice. Practice. It’s been said that everyone practices their sales, but some sales reps only do it with live prospects.
Being Your Best Requires Sacrifice
Ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up to be the best sales rep at my company?” Pele said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” There are 1440 minutes in a day and what you choose to do with them is up to you. Are you just going to spend those minutes or invest them? Because you are reading this blog, you obviously are investing your time. But if information alone was the answer, everyone who reads this blog would be a sales superstar. Sales success requires you to take the right actions with your time.
It’s been said LeBron James invests one million dollars a year on his body. He’s spending time with his personal trainer, his massage therapist, and his nutritionist. He also uses cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, and other cutting-edge technology. All of these activities require time. He’s not sitting around during the offseason drinking Strawberry Daiquiris poolside. He’s investing both financial resources and his time to be his best.
The key takeaway is that there are a lot of sales reps who can buckle down for one quarter, exceed quota, and earn a big commission and bonus. Then they move into coast mode and think they’ll be fine. During the next quarter, they’ll miss quota and end up on the sales roller coaster.
Sales Success Requires Mental Toughness
Think about your HR department’s hiring process for a second. Most salespeople on your team went through similar interviews and screenings. They were hired because they have talent. There isn’t a huge difference between many resumes. So what separates the good from the great? Their mindset. It’s been said how you do anything is how you will do everything. It’s attention to detail, day in and day out, that separates the best sales rep from the rest of the pack. You can’t allow the little things that are part of sales to bog you down and get you into a negative mindset.
David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL and Ultra Distance athlete, said, “The only way you gain mental toughness is to do things you’re not happy doing. If you continue doing things that you’re satisfied with and make you happy, you’re not getting stronger. You’re staying where you’re at. Either you’re getting better, or you’re getting worse. You’re not staying the same.”
Sales success comes down to what you are going to do with every opportunity. Are you looking to improve every day and dominate in your field? Sales is not always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we can take a loss, but we don’t stay down and make excuses. We find solutions and we persevere. This article can be summed up from the words of legendary college football coach Lou Holtz, “You aren’t going to find anybody that’s going to be successful without making a sacrifice and without perseverance.”
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