What does it take to be a champion? In front of a packed house at Salesforce World Tour London 2016, my esteemed colleague, Tim Clarke, Sales Cloud Product Marketing Director, asked an Olympic legend how to cultivate a winner’s mindset...

Sir Chris Hoy MBE knows a thing or two about overcoming competition. He’s Britain’s most successful Olympian, with six gold medals, and an eleven-time world champion. Now that his cycling career is over, the competitive Scotsman hopes to continue his success on four wheels as a racing driver, at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.

Sir Chris sees plenty of parallels between business and sport, and he shared four key lessons he’s learned in his career – lessons he believes are just as important for salespeople and business professionals.

If you’re not interested in winning, look away now.

Lesson 1: Big dreams, small steps

Back when Sir Chris first set his sights on Olympic glory, he wasn’t even the best cyclist in his club. But when a coach encouraged him to write down his career goal, he decided to dream big – and work hard.

To the rest of us, champions seem supremely confident, and almost destined to be winners. But Sir Chris says the winners he knows are simply normal people who have devoted themselves to a lifelong goal.

Likewise, Sir Chris encourages us all to aim high, setting ambitious long-term targets and breaking them down into achievable, short-term steps. “Big targets can be dispiriting, especially when they’re far off,” he says. “Focus on the micro level: what can I do today to achieve my goal?”

Tim Clarke believes this applies to sales too: “It’s a really simple formula. If you generate the right amount of activities, it’s going to drive meetings and calls, and ultimately that is going to turn into pipeline.”

Lesson 2: Small gains add up

Wherever the British Cycling team travelled in the world, each cyclist took their own mattress and orthopaedic pillow. Why? Because small factors add up to make a big difference, and if ensuring a good night’s sleep gives even a tiny advantage, it was worth going to the trouble.

It’s just one way that performance director Dave Brailsford relentlessly pursued every possible way to shave fractions of seconds from the team’s times – the famous philosophy of the “aggregation of marginal gains”.

In the same way, focusing on small gains at each stage in the sales and marketing process contributes to pipeline – so it’s important to stay on top of business.

Lesson 3: Learn from your losses

As well as Sir Chris’s six gold medals, he has one silver – from the Team Sprint at his first Olympics, Sydney 2000, where Great Britain lost out to a legendary French team in the gold medal race. 

Not even Sir Chris Hoy MBE wins every time. And he’s actually quite relieved about that.

“When you’re winning, you can be scared to change anything,” he explains, “but your defeats make you look in the mirror, and ask how you can get to the next level. Don’t fear your losses; use them to improve.”

Tim Clarke adds: “Have a think about what is important to your business; perhaps there’s a particular pain point that you need to focus on. It could be improving your win rate against competitors, or making your sales teams as productive as possible.”

Lesson 4: Use technology to gain feedback

For an athlete, technology brings accountability. With every leg stroke monitored, coaches could see if Sir Chris ever eased up in training, encouraging him to give his all for every minute of every session.

He recalls: “The data means feedback is completely objective, so there’s nowhere to hide. That’s why I love motor racing too: the technology means we can make decisions based upon real evidence.”

It’s the same for sales and marketing. Simon Sproule, Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President at Aston Martin, says: “If your performance is lacking, the data will show all. In the past, it was difficult to get a gauge on whether a marketing campaign was having an impact. Now, if my idea falls flat in the market, I’m going to see that pretty immediately.

“Every day I can call up my dashboard and see how many new leads we’re getting from specific cars, and get feedback from our dealers around the world about whether a message is resonating. That level of granularity is something we’ve never had before.”

Need more inspiration?

Sir Chris Hoy MBE’s clear message – never limit yourself – was a fitting end to a Salesforce World Tour event that challenged us all to do more to meet customers’ rising demands.  

If you’d like to tap into some of that inspiration for yourself, watch the recording from the Sales Cloud session featuring Simon Sproule from Aston Martin.