I've had the good fortune to interview over 10,000 technology sales executives and as a result I've gotten really good at identifying patterns in top performers. One pattern I'd like to discuss / share is that endurance athletes tend to be great sales people. Here are some theories about why the correlation:
Focus on Finishing: If you ask an experienced sales leader they will surely tell you that their team often has good intentions, but doesn't always execute. As an example its very common for sales people to block out a period of time for prospecting but never actually do any, or commit to more rigorous data entry into CRM but then just keep all their notes on a series of papers. Endurance athletes are different, by definition success for them requires completion. Every minute of every race is consumed with the thoughts of finishing. They tend to bring this execution excellence into their professional lives as well.
Deep Respect for Preparation: We all know that planning and prep are key to success in sales. Reading an annual report, checking out LinkedIn profiles, conducting industry analysis, checking out Glassdoor ratings, or Wikipedia entries all result in much higher quality conversations than showing up unprepared.
Endurance athletes take prep to the next level. They spend countless hours training for every race, and for good cause. Imagine showing up to a marathon or ironman without preparing? It would make for a tough day to say the least.
They Care About the Details: There are countless reasons why sales activities usually do not end up in an actual sale. With today's buying committees requiring consensus, and the myriad of available alternatives, to successfully navigate a deal from prospect to closure requires acute awareness and monitoring of many details. This is second nature for endurance athletes. They are constantly changing equipment, measuring lap times, analyzing track conditions, monitoring time and duration of training. Although their races tend to last for hours the difference between winning and 15th place is often only seconds, so the details are very important.
Consistency is King: Every sales team has that person who isn't the smartest. They are not the most charismatic. They don't know the products the best. They are not the tallest, or most attractive. But for some reason they consistently close. Sales people with arguably inferior skills or natural talents that consistently show up and execute (even if its just average execution) can be quite successful - provided the keep showing up and keep being consistent day in and day out. The handsome, suave, good golfer joe cool sales pro's will make fun of Mr. consistent but at the end of the year, being consistent works. The same is true for endurance athletes. Success requires you to show up and perform, over and over and over.
They Tend To Be Happy: Running, biking swimming all result in a massive release in endorphins - which makes you happy. Customers like to buy from happy people. Nuff said.
Extended Monotonous Exercise Breeds Creativity: Want a good idea? Or a creative solution to a problem? Go for a run. Ask any creative types when they get their best ideas or designs. Its typically when they are unplugged, and not thinking about the problem. In fact usually their mind is on something completely different. With all the training required to be an endurance athlete their brains are frequently freed to be creative, and good things happen.
They Are Competitive: This almost always helps with sales.
They Consistently Overcome Adversity: Twisted ankles, sore muscles, torn ligaments.... the obstacles an endurance athlete faces in order to be successful are many. The same is true for success in sales. Completing long races tends to be a good character builder and thicken up the skin sufficiently to prepare people for success in selling.
They Appreciate the Power of Groups: Endurance athletes frequently train in groups. They appreciate that a group provides support, accountability, guidance and protection from their surroundings (weather). The same is true for sales teams. Being part of the right group can provide relief from management if your having a bad month/ quarter, and also support when the external surroundings (market) become inclement. Both endurance athletes and sales professionals can quickly improve their performance if they belong to a high performing team.
Good Form Trumps Athletic Genes: Endurance athletes are maniacal about form. They analyze the biking angle, their body position in the water, their stride length and pace....because they know that the right form wins the day. The same is true for sales pro's. The sales people that are religious about feedback, and are constantly shadowing others and role playing are the ones that consistently improve their game.
Want to crush your quota this year? Consider signing up for a Marathon or Triathlon.