What Sales Management Must Learn From Superathletes

by Chris Young - The Rainmaker

Superathletes use science and technology to gain a sustainable competitive edge.

The field of sales is ripe with opportunity to emulate what superathletes have been using to gain a sustainable competitive edge. 

Recently, I read, "Faster, Higher, Stronger" How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes by Mark McClusky. McClusky shares fascinating insights into how significant improvements have been made in the athletic world through improved understanding of our bodies and training.


McClusky wrote:  

"What I’ve come to believe is that there aren’t any easy answers to the question of what makes a great athlete— so many factors have to align to give us transcendent performers like Serena Williams and Usain Bolt. But there is a thread that unites our best athletes and teams today, and that’s an increasing focus on science and technology as a way to push the boundaries of human performance." 

The parallel between superathletes and a high-performing salespeople is obvious.

As I read "Faster, Higher, Stronger" I saw the obvious parallels between the best athletes and the best salespeople. Just as there are scientific predictors of success in athletics, there are similar scientific predictors in sales.

The data and science do not lie.

For over a decade, my team and I have analyzed personality traits of thousands of salespeople of all types. We have compared the personality traits to sales performance indicators such as quota achievement, close ratios, conversion rates, average sales price, and profit margins. The evidence is strong.

Companies who understand that science and technology is a significant competitive advantage in sales win more. These companies do not win just a little more. They win significantly more.


You are competitive or you are not.

Being competitive is a mindset. You are either competitive or you are not. You either play to win, or you do not. There is no in between. There are no shades of grey on this. Second place is the first loser every single time

The question you must ask yourself is, "Do I play to win?" You sales team does what you do.


Old ways of thinking are no longer effective in athletics.

If you want to win in athetlcs, desire and hard work are seemingly not enough. Today, you have to be a "superathlete" to consistently win.  

McClusky wrote: 

"We’ve made massive improvements in the athletic world through a better understanding of our bodies and how they can be trained. But we’ve seen recently that it’s becoming harder and harder to improve at the same rate— it’s much more difficult to smash a world record than it used to be. Because of this, athletes have to be smarter about their training— surrounding themselves with a savvy team of scientists and technologists becomes basically essential. Although races can still be won through hard work and effort, they are increasingly won by competitors who not only work hard, but are smarter than the competition as well."

Old ways of thinking are no longer effective in sales.

The real question is, "Are you smart enough?"

Are you still making sales hiring decisions based upon gut intuition? If so, then you are not smart enough.

Are you unaware of the unique combination of Behaviors, Motivators, Acumen, and Skills the best salespeople on your sales team are required to succeed?  If so, then you are not smart enough.

Are your salespeople still using a legal pad and their memory to track Customer and Prospect relationships?  If so, then you are not smart enough.

Are your salespeople still creating and using their own sales process? If so, then you are not smart enough.

Are you engaging professionals smarter than you to identify growth opportunities in your sales model? If not, then you are not smart enough.

What old ways of thinking and doing are you protecting that must be improved upon before you get fired or your company goes under? Either make your own incremental improvements or wait for a competitor to force you to adopt the powerful innovations they have already mastered.

"The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." - Arie de Geus


The key to sales performance improvement is marginal gains.

After reviewing McClusky's book, I am more convinced than ever that like athletics, the field of sales is ripe for a transformation driven by data analytics. To be competitive, you must adopt the marginal gains philosophy. You must carefully review every single aspect of your sales model in order to be competitive. And you must not be afraid to make incremental changes that may be unpopular with those who will never get it.





What got you here will not get you to the next level. Will you lead the way or will you be following your competitors? The choice is yours to make.

The only way to win more is to understand more. The only way to understand more is through analysis of data.

If you want to win more, you must improve decision-making. Examples of decision-making include (but not limited to) who is hired, which sales activities add the most value, which email template maximizes engagement, and the type of sales culture that gets results. This is only possible through the analysis of data.