Picking a Winning Sales Team: What Sales Managers Can Learn From Olympic Champions

Picking a Winning Sales Team: What Sales Managers Can Learn From Olympic Champions

How can sales managers consistently pick winners?

A few years ago, I met Olympic kayaker and retired Olympic swimming coach, Bill Jewell at a sushi bar. He freely shared his insights from working with top swimmers.

Use these ideas and questions as a checklist next time you need to hire a superstar sales pro.

Disclamer: Check with your HR department before asking these questions as they may unintentionally violate certain local laws or company policies.

Possess Physical Strength 

Olympic medalists possess extraordinary physical strength that powers them to their success. Without this strength, they can’t even start in the field of the world’s best athletes much less have stamina to make it to the end of the race.

Sales champions possess physical strength because they must be able to have the stamina to train for long days, endure the challenges of a road warrior, and finish with enough energy to be present with their family when the day ends.

Sales managers look for sales champions who are physically fit so that their health never interferes with their performance and in fact, amplifies their sales outcomes.

Ask, “Let’s hit the gym and do a few circuits” to see how they respond. Ask, “What do you like for our meal together?” The answer is telling.

Train Intensely

Olympic champions train intensely. They aren’t afraid of hard work, sweat, or personal discomfort. They engage in the training that their coach prescribes without complaint or hesitation because they know it’s how they get to their goal.

Sales champions train intensely. They continuously drill on their product knowledge, the competitor’s products, and likely sales scenarios. No matter how long they’ve been selling, they still always willing to learn and grow every day because they know that they’ll get left behind if they don’t.

Sales managers select sales champions that exhibit personal growth and are committed to honing their skills. They look for people who invest in themselves and don’t rely on their bosses to become better.

Ask, “What was the last sales book you bought and read? When was the last time you went to a sales class? What did you learn yesterday about being a better sales professional today?”

Use What They’ve Got

Olympic competitors use all of their assets: physical strength, mental focus, emotional drive, spiritual connection, environmental advantages, and every part of of their support structures. Instead of lamenting what’s missing, they focus on maximizing their assets: developing what’s weak, exploiting what’s strong.

Sales managers choose team members who are resourceful, using all of the available assets, developing where they need more strength and sharing with the team where they have an abundance of ability and knowledge.

As long as the fundamentals are there—positive attitude, focused energy, practical intelligence, and a hungry willingness to learn—sales managers can develop the rest of the necessary sales skills.

Ask, “What are your key strengths that you can share with our team? Where do you need coaching and support?”

Aren’t Intimidated

Nothing intimidates an Olympian. Nothing! They have no fear of prolonged pain, antagonistic competition, rigorous coaching, new situations, unknown territory, or untried methods. They courageously move into battle knowing they are at their best and that preparation and willpower ensures their success.

Top sales managers select sales pros who can confront with unflinching confidence the toughest buyer, the meanest negotiator, or the strongest competitor. They choose team members who cheerfully cold call, deftly deal with angry customers, and fiercely fight for their customer without fear for their career.

Ask, “Think of a time when your customer tried to intimidate you, such as saying, ‘If you can’t give me a better price, get the Hell out of here!’ What did you do?” Their answer is very telling.

Insanely Tough, Can’t Be Broken

Olympic champions tough out what’s necessary to win the prize. They pull from inner strength to get through situations that crush lesser mortals. If giving their last erg of energy breaks the finish-line tape, that’s what they do.

Sales managers demand this characteristic from their superstars. Sales is a tough business demanding tough sales people to take on rough territories and seemingly overwhelming competition.

Winning sales pros know their power and are never bullied by customers into relinquishing that power by unnecessarily giving up margin or letting prospects berate their products.

Ask, “What’s the toughest sales situation you’ve been in? How did you handle it? How did it turn out?”

If their toughest experience doesn’t match the current sales challenges, move on to someone who has the strength to take it.

Hate to Lose

Olympians hate to lose. Missing a medal breaks their heart and spurs them to be better. Every Olympian has lost a heat and yet they turn that loss into fuel to win the next race. They know that every loss is their fault and won’t make excuses.

Sales managers choose team members who passionately hate to lose. Top sales pros will do almost anything to keep from losing. And when they do lose, they learn from the experience instead of blaming others. If you have a team member with continuous excuses for losing, cut them loose, now!

Ask, “What goes through your mind when you lose a deal?” Then ask, “What goes through your mind when you lose a deal and you know it’s your fault?”

The answers give you an insight into how they’ll approach your critical customers. Winners take responsibility for losing deals and grow their skills from the experience.

Wish to Be Great and Make the Wish Come True

All Olympians wish for greatness. They believe that they have what it takes and commit to do what it takes to express their greatness. When the difference between gold and bronze is hundredths of a second, the athlete who holds their dream closest and does everything—absolutely everything within their power—to achieve their dream, wins. They make their dream come true.

Sales managers know that discipline is the secret to greatness. Commitment to be a great sales professional and the discipline to make it happen creates extraordinary sales outcomes.

Ask, “Thinking about you being a sales professional, how would you describe yourself?” If they respond, “Average,” run!

If they answer, “I’m one of the best,” ask, “On a scale of one to ten, how committed are you to being a top sales professional?” If it’s not ten, run!

Got to Be a Finisher

Olympians always finish. Next time you watch the Olympics, notice that they don’t quit. Even if they aren’t in the medals, they always finish. Champions are devoted to their personal quest and don’t stop just because they can’t win this race.

Sales managers demand the same from their team. Their mantra: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!”

If you’ve got sales people who say, “I know that they aren’t going to buy from us,” they don’t know how to sell.

Sales happen when customers don’t want to buy from you. Otherwise, it’s just order taking. Sales is about coming to agreement and pros stay with it, creating agreement after agreement until the sale happens.

Ask, “What do you do when it looks like a competitor is going to get the deal?” You’ll know what to do with the answer.
Use these Olympic secrets to form and manage a successful, winning sales team.

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