Over the last 2 weeks, we have been privileged to witness some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen, applying their trade at the Rio Olympics. Whether it be Michael Phelps adding more gold medals to his treasure trove, Usain Bolt going about his business achieving the ‘triple triple’, or some of the less fancied athletes striking gold, the Games has again provided us with plenty of examples where individuals (and teams), have pushed the limits, exceeded personal best times, demonstrating what is possible to achieve on the world stage.
Along with the achievements of medals, there were also a number of disappointments, where athletes did not live up to expectations, and struggled to have an impact. Whilst many athletes are coming away from Rio with thoughts of ‘what if’ or ruing lost opportunity, many of them are going to use these games as a springboard to catapult them to Tokyo in 2020.
For a lot of athletes, to place in the top 10 in the world at an event is exceptional, while for others, their pinnacle is the gold medal. And this got me thinking – what is it that separates the champions from the rest of the field?
We understand that in order to qualify for the Olympics, you must be talented and achieve a minimum benchmark or criteria. And we also understand that even though there is a variety of talent in specific events at the Olympics, often the spectrum of difference is small, meaning that on any given day, there could be different winners (always exceptions of course, a la Usain Bolt!!). So what separates the champions?
There are 3 core areas that stand out and the beauty about these areas is that they can apply in any area of life and especially in sales leadership. Let’s explore them now:
Area 1 : Picture The Prize – everything worthwhile achieving always starts with a thought, a vision, or a dream. Olympic Gold Medalists do not become Gold Medalists by accident. The gold medal is the tangible outcome of the effort put in and the process followed, however the gold medal was actually won long before the actual event. You see, champions understand the importance of visualisation and the power of the human mind, to drive optimal performance.
A great example of this is the study conducted by Dr Biasiotto at the University of Chicago where he split a basketball team into 3 groups and tested them on how many free throws they could score. After this, he asked the 1st group to practice their free throws for 1 hour per day. The 2nd group, he asked them to simply visualise themselves scoring the free throws – they were not allowed to physically practice. The 3rd group he instructed to do nothing. At the end of 30 days, the 3 groups were tested again. The 1st group, having practiced 1 hour each day, improved their free throw percentage by 24%. The 2nd group improved by 23% and they did not touch a basketball during the previous 30 days. The 3rd group showed no improvement at all. What did this prove? That the power of picturing the prize can deliver nearly identical improvement rates as physically practising. The question then to ask is what results could be achieved if the group visualised and practiced?
So how can this apply to sales leadership and to your team? How often do you practice visualising an important conversation, an important meeting or sales presentation? Often we are so ‘busy’ that we do not do nearly enough preparation, we don’t rehearse, and often we end up ‘winging’ it at the moment of truth. Now I’m not saying that by picturing the prize and mentally visualising the outcome is going to result in your ideal outcome every single time. However, what I will promise you is that through the visualisation of the prize and the outcome, your level of confidence will shoot through the roof, you will find yourself much calmer when it comes to the moment of truth, that it will almost feel like déjà vu. So see yourself closing that huge sale, bringing on that new customer, and really tap into all of the senses to make it so real that it feels as though it has already happened. In fact, what I instruct clients to do is spend equal time visualising the prize and achieving the outcome as they do preparing & practicing to deliver a presentation or a sales pitch for example. It is that important.
Area 2 : Invest The Time – we saw from the basketball study that the group practicing 1 hour a day improved only 1% more than those who only visualised. In order to achieve anything, you must physically do something & take action, whether that be shoot a free throw, run 100 metres, deliver that presentation or make that phone call. Champions understand that there is no reward without effort, so they invest time in their chosen discipline and they are relentless. They practice technique, they practice building power and speed and they do this over and over again. Repetition is the key.
For Usain Bolt, prior to the Olympic Games 100 metres and 200 metres finals, he would have practised his ‘starts’ thousands and thousands of times. In a race that lasts under 10 seconds (100 metres), the start can often mean the difference between the gold medal and last place. These champion athletes understand that in order to maximise performance, they must practice under pressure and train to win. In other words, train with intent and purpose.
From a sales leadership perspective, this means creating and maintaining an environment which has a heightened level of intensity. Have your sales execs practice a customer pitch in front of you and the team, and provide them with feedback. Conduct genuine role plays to allow the team to improve their ability to handle customer objections. Ensure that the activities the team is undertaking is leading to the desired outcome (the pictured prize) – this way, the investment of time will have meaning and purpose.
Area 3 : Partner with a Coach – interestingly, every athlete who participated in Rio, had a coach. Now many people watching events such as the shot put may think ‘what can a coach do to help someone throw a heavy ball?’ The coach can pick up tiny little nuances and subtleties in technique, that the athlete cannot see, because the coach is ‘disassociated’. And here is the thing. All champion athletes have a coach because they understand that they require someone who can provide perspective, guidance on technique, or simply, accountability.
For many of the top athletes, the coach is there specifically to help the athlete with their mindset and perhaps identify some small tweaks in technique. The coach can be a terrific sounding board for the athlete as well as someone to keep them grounded, so they don’t get ahead of themselves. The coach is often the person the athlete trusts the most, and even though the coach is compensated well for working with the athlete, they are there to ensure that the athlete performs at their optimal capacity and achieves their ultimate outcome. The coach is often ‘silent and invisible’, not seeking the accolades or the limelight, but they are instrumental in the athlete achieving their goal.
And so it is in business. As a sales leader, you are the coach of your team – you are responsible for helping your sales execs ‘tweak’ their technique, to help them stay on track and support them in achieving their ultimate outcome. And as a sales leader, who is your coach? Who looks at your technique, who challenges you to take your performance to the next level? Remember, all great achievers never achieve success alone, they all have a support person(s) or coach. This is critical.
So for many athletes, the platform has now been set and they begin their progress towards Tokyo in 2020. And in 4 years time, no doubt we will see new champions crowned and more records broken. All of them would have paid a price to get to the podium and all of them would have embraced and invested in the 3 core areas covered in this article.
For you, what is your Olympics, what is your prize? Whatever it is, I wish you every success in your pursuit of it – and remember to embrace these 3 core areas, 1) Picture the Prize, 2) Invest the Time, and 3) Partner with a Coach!
To your continued sales leadership success.
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