Sales is a Contact Sport

Many organizations love to hire athletes for their sales positions.  People have always wondered why?  Some, incorrectly I might add, think it is because they are physically fit and in turn more attractive.  Others think it is their competitive nature.  That one is not entirely incorrect.  For me, I think sales is a sport and there are many parallels between being an athlete and being a sales professional.  Here are 12 ways you should act as an athlete in the sales world.

  • Prepare to win

You show me a team that does not have a game plan to win, I will show you a team that is not going to win.  Picture Tom Brady in the shotgun.  He calls a play “BLUE 42!”  When he calls that play, he knows what his players are going to do.  His wide receiver is going to run a go route, His Tight End is going to run a post and his running back is going to slide out into the flats.  But…in Tom Brady’s preparing to win, he also knows based on the way the defense is lined up what they are going to do and based on what he sees, he knows which of his players he will look at first to throw the football to.  That is preparing to win.

In sales you not only need to know what you need to do as a sales professional – Calling “BLUE 42!” but you need to know what your competitors are going to do, what your prospects are going to do.  If you say one thing, how will they respond and how will you respond to their response.

  • Dress to win

The University of Oregon has some of the most unique uniforms in college football.  Every game seems to be a different combination of colors, designs, and helmets.  It has become a common discussion during each week of college football about what uniform not only Oregon but many of the teams are wearing.  Does the color of the uniform make a difference? No.  Does the design or the manufacturer make a difference? No…Nike and Under Armor may disagree.  But the players love it.  They know they look good and when they run through that tunnel to enter the field and start a game, the uniform makes them feel like a million bucks.

For a sales rep, your uniform may differ based on what you are selling but you need to present yourself as a professional.  How you dress not only impacts how you feel but also impacts how your prospects view you.  For my job, I wear a suit without a tie.  This gives me a professional look without looking like an auditor, which may make someone feel uncomfortable.

  • Practice makes perfect

Football teams on all levels all over our country are starting practice.  They are running the same plays over and over again to make sure everyone knows what they are required to do.

Practice for sales reps is roleplaying.  Roleplays can be extremely effective if done right.  When I do a roleplay, I try to make it as a hard as possible.  I want you, during practice, to face the hardest prospect, hardest objections and hardest questions so that when you get in front of a real prospect, you are ready for whatever they throw at you.  When I worked for Black & Decker, there was a trainer named Dick Redpath.  I will always remember him. He was Scottish and had this thick Scottish accent that was sometimes hard to understand.  He was the hardest person to roleplay with because he would always have an off the wall and never discussed before objection during the role play.  New hires were always scared of Dick but I loved roleplaying with him because if I could close him, I felt like I could close anyone I faced.  Are you doing roleplays?  Are they hard?  You should and they should be!

  • Have a home field advantage

In their book Scorecasting, Toby Moscowitz and Jon Wertheim proved that there is a Home Field Advantage.  They looked at a number of reasons for the advantage and the one that stood out the most was the home team received an advantage from the Referees.  This was not a voluntary bias by the officials but rather an involuntary benefit produced by the crowd effect.  We all want to be liked and officials are no different.

How can this impact you in the sales world?  First, you need to be comfortable in your surroundings, so try and control the environment in which you sell.  Get them on your turf!  But also you need to find your fans in every deal.  The more people rooting for you and for your deal to win will help influence the other people much like the crowd influences the referees.

  • Coaching is Key

Every great player has had great coaches in their life.  Michael Jordon had Dean Smith and Phil Jackson.  Tom Brady has Bill Belichick.  When you look at college sports specifically the coaches seem to have a bigger impact on the game.  Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, and Urban Meyer are all some of the best coaches in College football and are the last three coaches to win a National Championship.  Roy Williams, Jay Wright, and Mike Krzyzewski are all great coaches and have won the last three National Championships in Basketball.

Having a great coach will help you become better at what you do.  You want to be a professional sales person.  Have a coach!  This coach can be someone inside of your organization but if you can’t find one inside your organization, find one outside.

  • Improve 1 thing at a time

Have you ever been to a golf coach before?  A good coach is going to watch you swing.  Then offer corrections.  They have two ways to do it.  They could give you a laundry list of things to fix.  Spread your legs apart further, keep your head down, sweep the ball off the tee, keep your eye on the ball, keep your front arm straight, etc.  Or they could give you one thing at a time.  “I want you to keep your head down, now go hit 50 balls.”  They will come back and see the progress you have made.  “Now I want you to focus on…..” You get the idea.  They will then have you go hit 50 balls focusing on that one thing.

As you look at ways you can improve, focus on one thing at a time.  Track your performance with cold calls.  See how many you do a week and how many turn into initial meetings.  What is your success rate?  Get some coaching and focus on improving your success rate.  After you have improved it, Work on the next thing.  This leads to another point.  When you look at your overall skill set, you can either focus on areas of weaknesses or areas of strength.  I would recommend that you start focusing on your areas of strengths first.  Make yourself world-class at that before you focus on your weaknesses.  (This could be another blog post for another day).

  • Timing is everything

They say in baseball if a player hits a ball straight back foul that they just missed hitting it perfectly.  Their timing was just slightly off or they were a millimeter below the ball.  Timing is everything in sports.  Have you ever tried to throw an alley-oop in basketball?  Have you ever tried to block a punt in football?  Everything comes down to timing.

Sales in no different.  Sometimes you have to call at the right time to get a prospect to open up to you.  If I am sitting in an airport with another flight delay and a competitor airline calls me wanting me to switch to their frequent flyer program…I may just be ready to switch.  They call just after I get upgraded to first class…I am not interested in talking to them!  Timing is everything.  How you deliver your sales message, when you call, when you offer a discount, when you close a deal all revolve around timing and getting good with your timing takes practice and some good coaching.

  • Have rest days

I like to run and am currently training for another half marathon.  Every training program out there includes a rest day.  Your body needs that rest to be ready for the next day.  During that rest day, your muscles will recover and get stronger.

You need rest days in sales as well.  If you work in B2B, most likely that is your weekends.  If you work weekends, you need to find a day during the week to get away from your phone, your computer, your customers and spend time away.  Relax!!!  You have vacation days…you need to use them.  I get that it is hard to do…What if my customer needs me?  What if there is a problem?  What if I miss out on a big opportunity?  I understand those concerns…What if you are tired and stressed and fumble a big presentation?  What if you are not at the top of your game and miss a buying signal from your prospects?  What if you react negatively to an email or question posed by your prospect and blow a deal?  Get some rest!

  • Sweat the small details

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were not the most explosive athletes in the NFL.  Tom Brady’s combine photo looks like someone’s dad bod!  Their athletic ability was not what made them surefire Hall of Famers.  It was that they sweated over every detail.  From how long they warmed up for to studying countless hours of game film to be prepared for the next game.

You need to sweat every small detail of your presentation, calls, collateral…you name it.  Make sure everything is perfect. You should proofread every communication you send out to prospects.  You should have a script for every call you make.  Have an agenda for every meeting you have.

  • Surround yourself with people who challenge you

In wrestling practice, the heavyweights will wrestle with guys smaller than them.  I am sure you are thinking that would not be fair to the smaller guy but both wrestlers benefit from this type of practice.  The heavyweight who is going to be stronger than the smaller wrestler benefits by wrestling with someone who most likely is faster than he is.  The smaller wrestler benefits by wrestling someone who most likely is stronger than he is or at the very least heavier than anyone they will face all season.  In other words, they challenge each other.

Much like Dick Redpath challenged me in role plays at Black and Decker, you need to find mentors, coaches, even counterparts who challenge you to be better.  Look around at the salesforce at your company.  Who consistently makes President’s Club trips?  Try and beat them next year.  Who is up for the next promotion? – pick their brain to find out what they do and then do it better.

  • Eye on the ball

If you ever played baseball or softball growing up, you hear the saying Keep your eye on the ball.  After you failed to do that a coach may have yelled that you can’t hit or catch something you can’t see.

The same goes for sales.  You will be distracted by recruiters calling you to jump ship, customers complaining about issues, a boss that doesn’t know what they are doing, or a multitude of other issues that will challenge you to take the eye off the ball.  Your ball in sales is your quota.  You have to keep your eye on the ball at all times.  Every step you take needs to put you one step closer to achieving your goal.

Win a championship in any sport, especially in the pros, and you all see them doing the same thing.  Popping Champagne!  Baseball teams clinch a spot in the playoffs, Pop Champagne; win the division or clinch a wildcard, Pop Champagne; win the League Championship, Pop Champagne; Win the World Series, yep you guessed it; Pop Champagne.  If you ever want to see a grown man act like a little kid, shake up a bottle of Champagne after he has won a championship and hand him the bottle.  He will dance around, laugh, hug and even cry.

Sales is hard.  There are many people who have failed as sales reps.  The best part of being in sales is helping your prospect become a customer.  You know that you have helped them with their job, business or personal matter at home.  You have helped them achieve a goal…Celebrate.  After you make a sale…Go home and celebrate with your family, friends, hell even your dog!  Pop that Champagne, go out to eat, buy yourself something new.  But whatever you do…celebrate your achievements.

There are many parallels between sports and sales and, hopefully, you can take away some of these tips the athletes do to help you become the sales professional you want to be


Good luck and happy selling!


Bo Hamrick

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