Why do so many of us get so excited about the Olympics? It’s such a thrilling time of year to cheer for Team USA, to hear stories of sacrifice, exceptional personal challenge, and the capability to overcome in the quest for gold. There is something inspiring and uplifting encompassed in the overall theme of the Olympics as well as the individual efforts of every Olympian.
It’s a time when we are presented with an extraordinary group of people who go way beyond the ordinary, defying their limits, testing what’s possible with their mind, body, and spirit. Whether it’s Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Simone Biles, or Gabby Douglas, Olympic athletes refuse to settle for less than they are capable of.
Though we may never achieve the heights of these exceptional athletes in sports, we can learn from them and model their characteristics in achieving “gold” in our world – the world of sales.
If you want to develop your inner sales Olympian here are four tips:
In sports, and especially in the Olympics, what separates the best from the rest isn’t about innate talent—it’s about something more rare than talent. In his new book, Peak: Secrets From The New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson, Ph.D. tells us “deliberate practice” or “purposeful practice” explains how the best of the best get to the top of their field.
According to Dr. Ericsson, deliberate practice involves (in part) two things—and it just happens to be two things the majority of salespeople fail to do:
Getting ongoing feedback
What role do you think ongoing feedback plays in the performance of Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Ashton Eaton or Gabby Douglas? One reason professional athletes do so well is they get immediate feedback. They perform and immediately debrief with their coach so they can improve the next time.
Most salespeople don’t have an internal or external coach and unfortunately, few managers have set up their leadership to coach in this way. If you want your performance to soar, seek out feedback from your manager or a colleague--and your clients. When is the last time you asked for specific feedback? How frequently do you ask for feedback? Olympian style feedback is specific and often.
When it comes to getting out of your comfort zone, Ericsson states, “This is perhaps the most important part of purposeful practice.” Getting out of your comfort zone is challenging because it’s plain uncomfortable—and we love our comfort. If you want gold level results in sales but you’re afraid to ask for referrals or you routinely lower your price because it’s the easy thing to do—that’s staying in your comfort zone.
It’s human to want to feel safe and to seek comfort over discomfort. It’s just not Olympian. No one gets to the Olympics without a willingness to stretch themselves way beyond comfort. Discomfort does not intimidate or discourage them, rather they see it as an indicator that they are reaching the next level of their potential.
Katie Ledecky is already a 2016 gold medalist winner and in the 2015 World Championships Athletics she won five gold medals. How has she reached the level of gold medal performance? Sporting News tells us one key is “Most of the time Katie Ledecky dives into a pool to begin a race, she isn’t competing against other swimmers as much as she is herself.”
We coach our clients to be their own “measuring stick” instead of using others to measure how well they’re doing. The exception would be using comparison to expand your view of what’s possible and as a source of inspiration to “go for the gold.”
However, Olympic class sales professionals don’t limit themselves by seeing what their highest achieving colleagues have done and concluding, “That’s the limit of what can be done.”
Instead, they are driven to discover what’s possible for them, creating positive energy and the momentum to get to the next level. That’s why they invest in coaches—they know coaching enables them to unleash more gold level performance. Their focus is on continually improving themselves, not trying to beat a competitor.
This Olympian sales mindset will not only continually unlock potential, but get you through the tough times, the lean times, and the trying times. Keep your eye on yourself, engage in deliberate practice, and you’ll move towards gold level performance.
As you keep your focus on yourself, ask yourself these two questions daily:
What did I do well today? (What were my “wins,” what did I improve, what did I practice in a deliberate manner? What can I congratulate myself on today?)
What can I improve tomorrow?
Olympian sales professionals own their ability to produce stellar results--they know the value they bring to their clients. When you bring great value to a prospect or client you enter the discussion as a peer, not a vendor. When you call on C-level or senior executives of large companies you’re not likely a peer in title, position, or even income. However, you can and should be a peer (an equal) when it comes to professionalism and value.
To reach Olympic sales results requires an Olympic mindset: “I’m a peer, not a vendor.” Olympian sales professionals are confident because they know they offer immense value. They view themselves not as “vendors” but as “trusted advisors,” “partners” and “world-class consultants.” A vendor will easily and quickly accept a “No” —a partner and advisor questions that “No” when he or she knows it’s in the prospects or clients best interest.
You don’t have to wait until you hit a certain level in sales to relate to senior executives with the confidence of a partner and peer. In fact, that mindset is what will propel you towards and help you maintain your gold level performance. When you prospect, ask for a referral, or call on a current client, what’s your mindset? Do you feel inferior or do you communicate with confidence?
Sales professionals who feel they’re an unwelcome intrusion in their prospects day will never reach Olympic level sales until they see themselves as a peer and equal to even C-level prospects. If you don’t have enough value to offer prospects and clients, that’s a different story—you have to develop yourself and become that sales professional who has immense value and knows it.
How do you develop your Olympian Sales Mindset? Here are six ways:
The most important sale is the one to yourself: Own your value.
Know your product or service offerings inside out.
Replace “presenting” to a prospect or current client with asking useful and provocative questions.
Listen far more than you talk.
Help your client or prospect challenge their assumptions: “I don’t think more training is the answer—what results would you need to justify investing in additional training?”
If you can’t deliver high value results on something, refer your prospect or client to a colleague that can.
You might not be an Olympic level salesperson yet, but you can move in that direction if you get and use feedback on how you can improve, if you focus on your continual development, measure your progress and success against yourself, not your “competition” and if you think like a peer of your prospects and clients.
JoAnn Corley is a passionate champion of human potential with a focus on leadership and organizational success. She has the crazy belief that we can create our best leaders and businesses from the best of our human selves. Her overall mission is to help companies put the human back in human resource through holistic talent management. She leverages her knowledge of human behavior in marketing her boutique consulting firm across a variety of channels. She has been consistently recognized as one of the top 100 most social HR & management experts to follow on social media @joanncorley.
Alan Allard enables his clients to dramatically and rapidly improve their performance in sales and life. He is the founder/CEO of Genius Dynamics, Inc. and a speaker and executive coach for sales professionals and sales leaders. Alan is the author of the upcoming book, The Second Question: Achieving Peak Performance in Sales and Life. Sign up for his newsletter at www.alanallard.com.