Lessons From Rio 2016: A Gold Medal Sales Strategy

With the 2016 Summer Olympics now underway in Rio, the world is getting a taste of competition at the highest levels. Some people enjoy this as a rare opportunity to watch a favorite event, but for most of us it’s a chance to vicariously compete on the global stage.

Most salespeople also compete – on a daily basis – and we often turn to the language of sports to understand and explain various aspects of sales. So while we turn our attention to the international spectacle of the Summer Games, it’s worth considering how we can develop a sales strategy with the mindset of an Olympian.

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Sales Strategy #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

In Rio this year, we get to see athletes in action for seconds, sometimes minutes, but behind these brief moments are years, if not decades of intense practice and training. In the same way, bringing a deal across the finish line reflects long and consistent work from sales organizations to optimize their performance. Like athletes in training, high-performance sales teams need to build on consistent processes in order to measure and improve performance.

Great athletes and sales organizations often practice by breaking down larger activities – say running a race or moving the buyer through the sales funnel – into small components that can be finely tuned and perfected. For Olympians, this can be something as simple as the runner’s positioning on the starting blocks or a swimmer’s flip turn at the end of the pool. Although optimizing performance for each component may only shave nanoseconds off the athlete’s race time, these subtle improvements added together can be the difference that beats a world record or puts an Olympian on top of the podium.

It’s also crucial to break down the sales process into small components that can be measured and optimized – and these small adjustments can have a dramatic effect on an organization’s win rates. For example, our research shows that following up with new prospects in less than one minute after they’ve shown interest by downloading a whitepaper or filling out a contact form leads to an astounding 391 percent increase in conversion rates, on average.

Sales Strategy #2: Even the Best Benefit From Coaching

While the competitors are front and center, the Olympic games also remind us of the important role that coaching plays, even for the most experienced athletes. Behind every gold medalist is a great coach, and excellent salespeople also owe a lot of their success to guidance and mentoring. Coaching isn’t just for amateurs or salespeople starting out in new roles: a good coach helps the athlete stay focused and motivated by establishing a daily training regimen and incremental milestones that build to the ultimate challenge ahead.

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Sales managers also need to keep their teams prepared and motivated to perform at a high level. Like training athletes for an Olympic competition, this often involves setting incremental goals that keep reps on track to meet long-term sales quotas. Sales managers can borrow Olympic coaching techniques to build smaller wins into greater success.

Good coaching relies on a foundation of clearly communicated expectations. It’s hard to compete in a race if no one knows where the finish line is, and sales reps need to understand what’s expected of them and what metrics will track their achievement. Sales leaderboards – the scoreboards for sales teams – give reps visibility into their progress and offer an opportunity to celebrate success. To truly motivate sales reps to achieve at a high level, managers need to reward top performers with meaningful incentives, whether it’s bonus compensation, gifts or new leads.

Sales Strategy #3: Don’t Overlook the Power of Teamwork

As the world focuses on the amazing talents of individual Olympians, the importance of teamwork often remains hidden behind the scenes. But when it comes time to count up medals, great teams play an enormous role in bringing recognition and reward to their home country. Even one-of-a-kind phenoms like swimmer Michael Phelps can appreciate the value of competing as a team – Phelps’ first gold medal from the 2016 Olympics was won as a member of the U.S. men’s relay swim team.

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The division between team and solo events at the Olympics has a parallel in sales. Field sales tends to resemble individual-focused events like swimming or track, however, the increasingly widespread inside sales and hybrid models look more like team competitions such as crew or basketball. Unlike field sales reps, who typically shepherd one big deal through the entire sales process, inside sales teams can maximize the different strengths of each member by working together to handle an account. However, in order to function in today’s fast-paced sales landscape, sales teams rely on carefully structured workflows to ensure that no one drops the ball. With everyone aligned to specific processes, sales organizations can make their teams more effective than the sum of their parts.

In the end, Olympic competitions divide winners – individuals or teams – from the rest of the competition. For sales organizations, success also means overcoming all competitors to close the deal. Approaching sales with the mindset of an Olympian means combining a love for the game itself with a love for the big opportunity to compete.

josh pittman - headshotAbout the author: Joshua Pittman is the Vice President of Inside Sales at Velocify. A seasoned Inside Sales expert with over 10 years of experience, Joshua specializes in architecting, growing and leading sales organizations within the technology space. He has built numerous high performing teams throughout the country; most recently designing and executing the sales growth plan of California-based startup, Cargomatic. Joshua also architected and implemented the sales structure and growth plan at Minneapolis based Sport Ngin, a leader in the emerging sports technology space. During his 4-year tenure at the high growth Washington DC social commerce startup Livingsocial, he built out an industry leading 100+ rep Inside Sales team while driving numerous successful pilot initiatives. Joshua studied at Anoka Ramsey in Minneapolis with a focus on business management and administration.

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