Friday, December 12, 2008

Sales & The Long Distance Endurance Athlete

The picture above is of the start of the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii this year. Are there similarities between what goes on here, and in the world of business and sales?

I have, for my whole working life, worked for very small businesses and companies that essentially lived or died, based on their Sales. If you did not sell anything, the company received no business and no money, and me, the salesperson received no money - or significantly less money! It's always been a pretty straightforward relationship. I have very often thought of the parallels between working in sales and being an endurance athlete. There are more than a few similarities.

Good salespeople need to look long term. So does the endurance athlete. It's not so much the training that you do today, that matters, it is the training you do over the course of six months to a year, and year over year, that's really key. It's the same in sales - you need to often keep at it for long periods of time, to see real results. It's rare to hit the home-run in business right away, and it's rare if not impossible to win a running race or a triathlon with little or no training.

Good salespeople need to get focused on a routine. So does the endurance athlete. Training for a marathon or a long triathlon is not rocket science. It's getting out the door and getting the training done. It's the same in sales - what you do is not that complicated, but you need to be focused on what you are doing and your routine every day and keep repeating it over and over and over and . . . . . you get the picture! Training for a marathon is not about the runs you did last week. It's about the 6 months to a year of steady run training you put in.

Good salespeople need to be able to deal with set-backs. Not everyone says, "Yes". In fact, more often, people say, "No". Even deals that you think, for-sure will happen, sometimes don't. Same for the endurance athlete. There will be days of training and races that are disastrous - where nothing will go as planned. Both the salesperson and the endurance athlete need to keep going, and know that it will get better. There will be bad patches. You need to deal with them and move on. It will get better.

Good salespeople know that they are often in a real race - a race with their competitors. Few companies operate completely in a vacuum, without competition. It's hard, because you rarely if ever see your competition, in business - you only hear about them. It's more or less the same for endurance athletes. If you are serious about your performance at some level, you know that on race day its . . . well . . . . . it's a race. It's a competition. The finish line is there for a reason. In training, you may never see your competition. You may only hear that they are training hard, or slacking off, or whatever. You don't know for sure. What you do know, that come race day, it's game-on, and it's going to be competitive!

Good sales people know that their are certain techniques and tools that can be very helpful - they know that other techniques and tools are not that helpful. The successful endurance athlete also knows that certain techniques of training really do help, and that some tools are good at advancing performance. However the athlete also knows, just like the salesperson that certain training techniques and tools are useless, and that others are much more effective in yielding good results over time.

Good salespeople know that technology will only help, and get you so far. It's the same with endurance sports training. There is some technology that is helpful, but really it's about getting the hours of training in. In sales, for example, there is a tendency to rely too much on modern communication technology. However, at it's roots business success is about relationships. At some point, you need to go beyond the Blackberry, the email and the phone, and really get to know who you want to work with. With endurance training, there are all kinds of fancy tools, like heart rate monitors, and power meters, and fancy training machines to help you with your training, but these only monitor your training, you still need to get out there and do it!

So there it is. The marathon runner and the salesperson - one and the same! Who would have thought. However, as someone who has experienced and lived deeply in both worlds I know the parallels and similarities well.


JB said...

I hope you are doing well in this tough economic climate. I have been wondering if tri was somewhat "recession proof".

Fleck said...

JB - We are hoping that the Tri business is recession-proof. We are being optimistic, but somewhat cautious at the same time! :)

How about you?

desert dude said...

Loved it. Great writeup.

Fleck said...

Thanks, Brian. I figured you would also be someone who's seen/felt this as well.