What do top athletes and top sales professionals have in common? At first glance it may seem that they bear little resemblance, but the two activities have many things in common.

Since 2019 we have been inviting high performance athletes to speak at the event on innovation and the future in B2B Sales, the NOVA SBE SalesShaker 2021, because we believe that this correlation is really very strong. As an example, in recent years, we have been able to attend talks by Alex Gregory, five-time world champion and two-time Olympian in the sport of rowing, Pedro Câncio Reis, multiple national and European champion in the sport of adapted sailing, and tennis player Marius Barnard, who has won six World #1's (including Roger Federer) during his career.

And what do all these speakers have in common? Three characteristics they also share with top performers in B2B sales around the world:

          - A robust work ethic

          - Exceptional discipline and focus.

           - A great capacity for adaptability and flexibility, which is enhanced by training and competitiveness


A winning mindset

Yogi Berra, an American coach, once said in an interview, "baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical". The same could be said of sales: 90% is mental, it's resilience, stamina, discipline, consistency, being value-focused and customer-centric. The other half is a mix between technical knowledge and hard-skills such as: prospecting, communicating value propositions, handling objections, doing discovery and getting appointments.

In both activities, it all starts with the mindset - which, above all, cannot be fixed, it has to be one of growth. Author and sociologist Carol Dweck has dissertated on these two types of approaches, the latter being characterised by constant and consistent practice. Many business leaders and salespeople want to believe that it is possible to learn a magic formula that accelerates their results overnight, without having to invest time and work.

I suggest that improving sales performance only comes about with a focus on leader and professional training and consistent practice and role-playing. To me, the "get by" mentality is nothing more than a fixed mindset, it's failing to invest the time to perfect sales approaches or prospecting, as well as needing the boss to push to make that effort. Similarly, a high performance athlete doesn't need the coach to motivate him or remind him that he has to train - he is self-motivated, to progressively improve, every day.

This growth mindset also extends to the relationship with failure, which cannot be viewed negatively. In the world of professional selling, you embrace rejection every day, just like in sport. An elite athlete needs to have mental toughness, just like salespeople, because they know that until they reach their goals they will fail many times, but they don't allow this to demoralise them - instead of giving up, they try again.

Another characteristic they have in common is the constant search for feedback, which translates into a need to surround themselves with the right people who enable them to evolve. The high performance athlete and the elite sales professional have the desire to grow and reflect, proactively seeking to find faults in their performance, incorporating criticism and using it to improve.

And this brings us to the last two characteristics they share: a sense of responsibility and consistency. It takes responsibility to take ownership on how to improve and progress. To do this, you need to be consistent. A top athlete doesn't just train or eat well once a week, they do it every day. Similarly, top salespeople have to gain consistency and prospect daily, at least for 60 minutes a day.

The good news is that this mindset and these traits can be trained.

Do you want to improve your sales performance?

Do you know our program:
Sales & Prospecting with Impact?
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