The sporting world has always been a great source of inspiration for people in business. Despite Olympians being larger than life icons, those who are in the world of sales and business share a lot of similarities with these top notch athletes, including hard work, tenacity, and dedication.
Competition is fierce–and the toughest come out on top.
That said, there is so much more we can learn from the 2016 Olympics.
Here are six lessons from the games that we can apply in sales and business.
1. Fight to win, not to avoid losing
There are many countries in the Olympics that do not get to send as many athletes as the usual suspects for multiple medals. We expect countries like USA and China to bring home at least a dozen golds–but there are countries who can’t even send ten athletes due to many challenges.
Still, every four years, these countries struggle to send as many athletes as they could. And their mission doesn’t end there: they’re after those medals.
One of those countries is the Philippines. They have consistently sent athletes in for the Olympics but have not won a medal since 1996. This year, they finally won a silver medal in the Women’s Olympic Weightlifting 48kg event.
Challenges are not new to people in sales. Like the experience of many smaller countries fighting for success in the Olympics, resilience and steadfastness are key. Salespeople should know how to feast on rejection and make it their fuel.
If there’s one thing the Olympics teaches us, it is that we always have to show up wanting to win and getting the yes–not just avoiding the no.
While it would make sense for Olympians to say that they’re just happy to be there, it’s often not the case. They are there to win. Salespeople need to take on this winning mindset and aim to move the sales process closer and closer to the sale in each call.
2. Potential can be your lottery win
Who hasn’t heard about Simone Biles? The Olympic gymnast from the US crushed competition in all her events, getting four gold medals and a bronze.
Simone’s journey, like many Olympians’, started from childhood. She was discovered by Olympic coaches during a school field trip when she was a kid and trained her aggressively into the champion she is now.
Her discovery was a definite lottery win. While it could’ve been easy for Team USA to just pick and choose from the thousands of athletes excelling in amateur leagues, it went for talent in the rough.
In sales, one of the most crucial components to success is hiring the right people.
Organizations lose a lot of resources through disengaged and/or incompetent personnel. Because of this experience shared by many sales organizations in different industries, there is a tendency to hire the most experienced salesperson in the stack of applicants. There is always the bent to recruit the person with the fattest LinkedIn profile.
Simone Biles’ Olympic story teaches us that it is just as important to be able to spot potential as it is to pick out those who are already among the best. Sales organizations should always be open to training individuals who show promise even if both talent and skill still need polishing.
3. Analytics pushes skill to new heights
Each Olympics, records are smashed and taken to new heights. The world’s most elite athletes train each day to reach their peak. To optimize their training and performance, they use technology, particularly data analytics.
“Real-time data analytics may not seem like a big leap from an innovation point of view, but it has the potential to enable yet more records to be broken in 2016,” says Dr Helen Meese, head of healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The same applies to business. Companies are becoming progressively reliant on technology to run their businesses with top efficiency. Sales quotas are smashed. Revenues targets are made.
In selling, analytics is key to success. Having access to threshed out numbers allows sales leaders to pinpoint trends and key deals while supporting reps with pipeline management. When these chunks of information are developed into meaningful reporting, top level management is able to make strategic decisions and steer the company in the right direction.
For both sports and sales, knowing the numbers allow you to assess the situation objectively, and ultimately make the correct decisions.
4. Dig deep–study your competition
In sales, keeping close tabs on your competition can’t be a slacker’s job. Are you satisfied with just checking their social media feed and email newsletter when you happen to remember?
Take a lesson from Sam Webster, a Kiwi Olympian endearingly called Wiki for his habit of extensively researching his competition. The track cyclist nabbed a silver medal with his team in the Men’s Team Sprint event. His director said, “He understands who he competes against and that’s what it’s about. You’ve got to understand who you’re battling against.”
And isn’t it the same in business and in sales in particular?
Your competition is hungry for customers as much as you are. While you give your best improving your internal processes, the way you generate leads and close sales, you have to devote time and energy to keeping tabs on your competition.
5. Niche up! Specialize
The hundreds of events in the Olympics scream specialization. And there’s reason for it.
These athletes can get to their level of eliteness because they take their strengths and push it into overdrive. Countries like Japan zero in on Judo because it is where they are culturally inclined and where they excel. Jamaica and Kenya kill it on the track so they focus on those events. This strategy has worked for these countries and it’s something you need to apply to sales as well.
What are you good at? What are your prospects’ underserved needs that you have the capacity to fill?
Drilling down, it is also equally important for sales teams to look at role specialization as early as possible. While everyone has to have a baseline of skills, having experts for each stage of the sales process assures that you have a winning team. If someone is great at getting a potential buyer in for a hot demo, that should be their focus. After all, you want the best person possible for every job.
6. Constant training is constant winning
The biggest positive news in the 2016 Rio Olympics is the successful farewell stints of superstar Olympians Michael Phelps (USA) and Usain Bolt (Jamaica). Both have said that this will be their final run for Olympic medals. And while athletes often peak for a short time and are replaced by younger Olympians, at 29 and 31, Phelps and Bolt, respectively, have kept their competence at a very high level throughout their careers. Who retires with a gold medal win at an “old age’ for a sport?
What sets Phelps and Bolt apart from those who crash and burn? They continue to train, continue to get better, and continue to take care of their bodies.
The same can be said for salespeople. There are a lot of jaded veterans who get stuck doing old, ineffective practice.
What’s the key here? Like Phelps and Bolt, there should be a recognition that context changes.
Competition changes. The industry changes. With this realization comes the acceptance that constant training and retraining is not only for young guns. If you want to continue to win, you need to constantly adapt.
Just like the athletes of the 2016 Rio Olympics pushing to win in events every day, salespeople go in day in and out, striving to win each prospect. It’s imperative for us in sales to always be on the lookout for lessons we can apply to our profession.
What are your takeaways from the 2016 Rio Olympics?
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