The Olympics is a celebration of the determination, willpower, and achievements of thousands of athletes from across the globe, the culmination of years of dedicated training and hard work. In a grueling yet powerful display of athleticism, competitors push themselves further than they thought possible as they seek seemingly impossible goals. We are touched by the heart-warming stories of athletes who persevered through their trials, tribulations, and tragedies, and we pull inspiration from both their wins and losses.
Though in different arenas, it’s not difficult to notice the similarities between sales and sports. Running is particularly relatable, as it is an activity most of us have participated in at some level at some point in our lives. For example, in sales, like running, you have your winners (i.e. top sales reps) and then everybody else. And of course, most reps have those stretch quota goals that they are working toward. Many of the principles that make a runner an elite athlete hold true for turning sales reps into top performers. Read ahead to learn how.
If you are serious about running (and doing so safely), you will probably go to a specialty running store, have a gait analysis done, and get fitted for the right shoes. Without proper guidance, you could be stuck with a poor-fitting pair in the wrong sizes and type, which will just set you up for failure and even injury from the start.
Similarly, sales reps need onboarding and training to get them up to speed quickly, to reduce the opportunities for mistakes, and to increase their productivity and effectiveness. While new runners need advice on what to wear, how to meal plan, and how to train, sales people need guidance on the selling space and market, different buyer personas, and your products, as well as on what to say, what content to share, and how to guide the prospect through the buying process.
All runners understand the importance of proper nutrition and hydration: pre-run snacks, replenishment during training, electrolyte replacement, carbo-loading, adjusting calorie intake, the right sources of protein – the list goes on.
Like runners need to feed their bodies, sales reps need to feed their minds. Top performing sales reps make sure to stay educated on industry trends, customer challenges, and competitive differences, while also understanding the product that they are selling. They are knowledgeable enough to engage prospects, add value to the conversation, help build a business case, and prove ROI.
If you have never trained before, then you will probably not be able to run ten miles at a competitive pace without breaks. In order to compete for the win, you need to run several times a week and do tempo runs, hill repeats, and intervals. Even if your goal is a marathon, you will be doing multiple shorter runs every week and work your way up to the distance.
Similarly, a sales rep is probably not going to sit down, make 10 phone calls, and set 10 meetings. In fact, it takes 7-13 touches on average to make a sale. Instead, they will have a cadence for calling and emailing each prospect over a period of time to build a relationship. Sales people trying to hit quota will look to the top performers for guidance and work to turn best practices into habits. And like runners conditioning themselves for factors such as temperature and elevation, sales reps should be prepared to respond to prospect questions and challenges.
Runners really only need one piece of equipment: shoes. You could go down to your local big box retailer and pick a flashy pair in your favorite color from the shelf, and they will probably perform ok for the average runner. Or you could invest in a higher-end pair of Nike FlyKnits or Adidas Racers that will help improve your stride, reduce blisters, and prevent shin splints. Which will help you perform better and makes more sense in the long run?
In the sales world, reps can use traditional sales methods, which continue to have some degree of sales success. Or organizations can invest in more modern sales tools, such as sales enablement technology, that combines predictive and automated capabilities to permit data-driven efficiencies. These tools empower sales teams to perform their job more productively and effectively, advancing prospects through the sales funnel more quickly and increasing revenue. Again, which makes more sense and will drive performance?
Cross-training is an important part of a runner’s workout plan, from weight-lifting and yoga to biking and swimming. It can help to improve cardio endurance and flexibility, strengthen muscles, reduce the risk of injury, and speed recovery.
Likewise, sales reps need to be aware of what’s going on in the rest of the organization, particularly in the marketing department. What are the upcoming product releases? What marketing campaigns are going on? What new content is available? What hot topics are trending in the industry? These types of information can help sales reps perform more effectively.
Devoted athletes know exactly what it takes to win and how to reach that goal. And when they do hit that goal, they don’t stop there. Dozens and dozens of training runs (and likely a lot of blood, sweat, and tears) went into that achievement. After the 5k and 10k comes the half marathon, the full marathon, and maybe even an ultrathon or Ironman! And runners are definitely known for their tenacity. We have all seen the viral videos on social media of injured or exhausted runners pushing as hard as they can to drag themselves across the finish line – giving up is simply not an option.
Likewise, winning sales reps don’t work hard to hit their monthly quota and then sit back and wait until the next month rolls around. Instead, they keep pushing to go above and beyond their number. Even more, sales reps must have the endurance to make hundreds of sales calls and send hundreds of emails just to talk to a handful of people (and without getting discouraged!).
Runners are driven by competition - not just against other athletes but also against themselves, in constant pursuit of setting a new PR (personal record). Similarly, most sales reps are naturally ambitious and thrive in a competitive setting. They look to their colleagues’ successes and strive to do better, which is why gamification has become so popular in recent years. But sales reps, too, compete against themselves, hoping to one-up their own achievements.
Runners use a variety of key measures to evaluate the quality of their runs and track progress toward their end goal. Common metrics include minutes per mile, split times, cadence, distance, and heart rate.
Similarly, sales organizations can improve sales performance by measuring KPIs such as conversion rates, win rates, marketing collateral usage, average deal size, and deal response time. These data points are essential for sales teams to understand what factors impact successes and advances sales, how to deliver the right content at the right time, and what changes will improve performance.
In recent years, the fitness industry has gained attention for its innovative products and processes, from the Paleo diet and barefoot running to the influx of wearable technologies and smart devices. Over in sales, traditional (and sometimes outdated) strategies have given way to new concepts such as social selling, predictive analytics, and account-based marketing. And both industries are always on the lookout for the next big thing to be bigger and better than ever before.
Shelley Cernel is the Senior Marketing Manager at KnowledgeTree