In this issue of The SalesPulse we are going to examine how sales people and senior business leaders can learn from sports people to improve their own and their company’s performance. Our headline this week is a quotation from George Kruis, the Saracens, England and Great Britain and Ireland Lions second row forward.

So what is George’s obsession? Every Sunday afternoon he sits down with his lap top and watches clip after clip of his upcoming opponents so that he can learn their strengths and weaknesses, and work out how he can neutralise their strengths and exploit their weaknesses. He considers this laborious task one of the most important periods of training. He goes on to say that,

 –  “I think it is around 60 – 70% preparation and 30% is what you do the field”. He also says,

 – “if you want to be the best, you have to put the time in”.

Over the years I have spent quite a lot of time training and coaching sales people, and one of the first topics we do cover is call planning. Only the best sales people follow George’s mantra regarding planning. They get the most out of sales calls be they face to face or on the phone. The better the call plan, the more progress you make, and the more progress you make the shorter the sales cycle.
The same applies to sales planning. How many of your salespeople, or you if you are the salesperson, actually plan how they will manage a campaign? Very few I would suggest. The classic sales response to planning is, I am here to sell so I spend as much time as possible with customers. It is not how much time people spend in front of customers, it is how much of that time is effective. So the two key points from this part of this SalesPulse are:

– Understand your competitors strengths and weaknesses and how you can use yours to beat them.
– Time spent planning properly reduces sales cycle times and increases effectiveness

Turning now to another great sports person; this time it is Ben Stokes the Durham and England cricketer and his attitude towards his job. Here is a quote from him “I’m always looking to improve, I am never happy with how I am going. I think once you get comfortable with what you are offering it is dangerous”. I have seen the outcomes of complacency many times. Competitors sneaking in and taking business because the company had only one customer relationship; people not attending training courses because they “knew it all” and were outsold by hungrier competitors and of course the loss of really valuable sales time because the seller didn’t qualify well enough. Unfortunately they depended on their customer angel who was equally complacent! Finally on this topic, how many sales people, managers and directors have a personal development plan. Not one that ticks all the HR processes boxes, but one that is personally developed, personally executed and personally measured against a benchmark e.g. the best salesperson in the team or a peer managing director. The key learning point from this section is:

 – Resting on your laurels is not good enough; have a plan to keep getting better!

The final similarity that I want to draw between business, selling and sport concerns cycling. The British cycling team is the most successful team in British sport. They initially developed the carbon fibre bike which was the big game changer, but as is the case in business the competition soon caught up and their advantage disappeared. However, Sir Dave Brailsford, then head of British Cycling, coined the phrase “marginal gains”. A marginal gain is a very small improvement. It might only improve an individual’s performance by 0.1 of a percent. However, if you get enough of these gains then the impact can be quite sizeable; a 1% improvement in a lap time is the difference between winning and losing. Now strangely enough Sir Dave Brailsford took this philosophy from business. Those of you in Manufacturing will know this as continuous improvement or Kaizen, that originated in Toyota and used by many leading companies. Continuous Improvement is the search for perfection. In sales terms it is honing sales skills, increasing competitor knowledge, knowing the value of your offerings, understanding your customer business and markets, all underpinned by true leadership. The key learning point here is:
– Game changers are few and far between and your competitors will catch up very soon; have a programme of incremental improvements in how you sell as that is a sustainable differentiator

I am going to conclude with a quote from a true sporting leader. You might love him, hate him or never have heard of him but Sir Alex Ferguson was enormously successful. He said “My job was to make everyone understand that the impossible was possible. That’s the difference between leadership and management“.