Sales Lessons from the World of Competitive Sports

Elizabeth Scolari
January 26, 2015

Whether you’re a former star athlete, a casual sports fan, or the kid who dreaded gym class, the world of sports has many sales lessons to offer reps and their teams. Sports and sales, after all, have a lot in common. Both are intensely competitive, and winners and losers are often determined by seemingly small efforts that can make a big difference, whether it was a few more hours of training or practice, the resolve to go the extra mile, or the willingness of a team to create a culture of cooperation and mutual support. Here are some sales lessons you can take from the field and into your sales meetings.

Sales Lessons from Competitive Sports

1) Exercise self-discipline.

If you've played any kind of sport, it’s guaranteed that you were met with the challenges of maintaining a sense of self-discipline and the ability to perform under pressure. Great athletes push through the pain towards the end of a difficult practice, show up to each and every 6:00 AM workout, and are able to play at their best when the pressure is on. This is often a test of mental toughness rather than just physical strength, and as a sales rep, that mental fortitude is paramount. The mark of a good salesperson? Being able to control any doubts or fear of failure. They continue to do their best to achieve their goals when spending gruelingly long hours on the road or working under the pressure of meeting ambitious sales numbers.

2) Train and prepare.

Sports is about striving to be the best and gaining whatever advantage you can over the competition. Those sales teams that remain stagnant in terms of lack of training and proper preparation will fall behind. Always be sure that you’re continuing to improve and learn, whether it’s by taking the initiative to read up on relevant news in your industry, gaining inspiration from sales thought leaders, participating in free webinars, or keeping an eye on the latest technology that can give you an edge. Likewise, you should be showing up to every sales meeting like you’re about to play in a big game. Be completely prepared with everything you need--your customer’s order history, a list of products you think they’d be interested in purchasing, updated inventory information, customer-specific payment terms, etc.

3) Be confident, not arrogant.

On both the field and in a sales meeting, confidence is an important component to success. For successful salespeople and athletes alike, however, it can sometimes be difficult to check one’s ego at the door. As any athlete or ardent sports fan will tell you, underestimating the competition can be disastrous, not to mention the fact that no one likes to work with an egoist.

4) Balance your time.

With daily practices, constant travel, and long game days, playing a sport can be a huge time commitment. Sales--and any job, for that matter--can also begin to absorb all of your time and mental energy. In both situations, it’s important to realize that in order to maintain your health and sanity, you need to actively make time for family, friends, and anything outside of your work. This means sticking to a schedule, as well as finding new ways to do your work more quickly and efficiently.

5) Learn from losses.

If you lose, go to the game tape. Analyze what may have gone wrong in detail so that you can make improvements for next time you have to close a deal. Share those insights with the rest of your team, so that no one makes the same mistakes again.

6) Remember that in the end, it’s about teamwork.

While star athletes are often in the limelight, they often can’t play the game without their teammates supporting them. The same can be said of many sales reps; they need the rest of the team behind them to make their overall numbers. With the Super Bowl right around the corner, Tom Brady is a great example of this. He's an NFL MVP with multiple Quarterback records, but he often attributes all credit to his teammates for their hard work and preparation. The most important thing to him is a Super Bowl championship, and he needs his team to get there. Similarly, while sales teams are often engaged in internal competition, it’s ultimately not the individual glory that matters, but the achievement of your company’s overall goals.

7) Don’t rest on your laurels.

For both sports teams and sales teams, the constant drive to improve--even after achieving the highest levels of success--is crucial to maintaining the lead. The alternative would be to open up the chance for others to surpass you. Remember that there are always others out there striving to get to the top. As a salesperson, your reaction to success should be a desire to push your goals even further. Do you have any other sales lessons to share, sports-related or otherwise? Share them with us in the comments!