I’m a long distance runner. I’m currently training for the Boston Marathon, which means I run at least 14 miles every Saturday morning in order to prepare for the 26.2 mile haul in a few short months. A lot can happen in 14 miles and, the other day, I got to thinking about the similarities between training for a marathon and sales as a profession.
Perseverance is key.
Running in the Midwest, especially Chicago is always a challenge. In fact, I recently found myself telling a friend that ideal weather for marathon training does not exist when you live in this city. I put up with 30 mph wind gusts, frozen snowflakes on my eyelashes, 3 or 4 layers of clothes, and weather conditions that make me feel like I have brain freeze (without the enjoyment of actually consuming a milkshake). In order to persevere in a difficult environment, you have to resign to the fact that it is going to be tough. Once you accept it, you can find some sort of solace in the rhythm of your feet on the pavement.
Sales is hard. Once you realize that a certain portion of the 80-100 calls you make today may not go your way, you’ll begin to celebrate the ones that do.
If you don’t develop the proper habits, you will underperform.
You have to be fit to run a marathon. And you don’t just develop fitness in the moments when you’re running. There are many other factors that can affect my training. Am I staying hydrated before, during, and after my run? Did I stretch enough this week? Are my muscles recovering quickly after a long run? How is my diet affecting my running? Am I committing enough time to strength training in order to prevent injury? The small habits can make a big difference when it comes to the marathon distance.
Being a successful salesperson demands certain habits. You have to be vigilant in updating your contact database, you must stay organized, you should be tactical about where and how you spend your time, you must consider appropriate follow-up with your clients or potential customers, etc. Success usually follows when you take the time to commit to the seemingly “small” habits.
Exceeding your goal doesn’t mean you can stop training.
I like competing against myself. Like most long distance runners, I am always seeking a personal record in a certain distance & I devote time to celebrating once I do. Last fall, I ran the Twin Cities Marathon 15 minutes faster than I ran the Chicago Marathon the previous year. Imagine if I had just thrown my hands up in the air and said, “Well, I’m done now. I met my goal.” Just because I met my goal doesn’t mean that I’m done striving for a better time. In fact, it just gives me more fuel to keep moving forward.
It’s just the same in sales. You win that big sale and you may astronomically exceed your revenue target. But do you stop there? I’d hope not. Once you get that big win, you don’t twiddle your thumbs at your desk for the rest of the day. You pick up that phone and you keep making dials. Your motivation is at an all-time high and prospective customers will recognize the enthusiasm in your voice. Success doesn’t come from winning one big client. It comes from winning several clients that have a big impact on your business.
You must try new strategies and methods to excel.
The top marathoners in this world have an insanely intense training regimen. They run more than 80 miles a week (some more than others) and devote much more time to taking care of their bodies in other ways. Do you think they run each mile at the same pace, day in and day out? No way. Racing faster means training faster. You dedicate time to different workouts at different paces in order to give your legs many gears that will carry you through 26.2 miles. And if you’re not progressively getting faster or meeting your goals, you might stop and reconsider your training. Are your easy runs “too fast”? Would a new coach help you meet your goal time? Everyone is different and your body responds to certain stimuli in different ways than other runners. Change it up.
As Dan Pink discussed in To Sell Is Human, being a salesperson in the 50s was drastically different than being one today. The strategies that worked then may not work today. In sales, you should constantly be thinking about what is working and what is not. Maybe you need to introduce yourself differently on the phone so that your prospect has a clear understanding of why you’re calling and how you can help them. Maybe you need to change the way you answer that email inquiry. If a certain strategy or method isn’t producing results, then change it!
It’s an independent endeavor but that doesn’t mean you’re alone.
Running can be a lonely endeavor. You’re pushing for personal goals and you spend a lot of time running by your lonesome. But there are ways to become a ‘socially active’ runner, if and when you want to be. Activate your social network and reach out to others that might be interested in running with you. I’m a solo runner. I love running alone and rarely run with others. But I’ve found other ways to create a “team” of runners around me. I interact with runners on social networks constantly; the social chatter proves that I’m not the only one out there working hard. It’s both motivating and humbling at the same time.
Even if you have your own personal sales targets and, at the end of the day, your success depends upon your own habits and behaviors, you are not alone. You can find ways to break up your day and interact with other salespeople in your company. The camaraderie of a sales team can be really powerful, especially when you’re all encouraging each other.
So you see, long distance running is a lot like selling 5 days a week, day in and day out. Both depend on perseverance, developing proper habits, striving to exceed your goals, trying new strategies and methods, and finding a sense of community in your own personal work.
If you are a salesperson and you are reading this and I haven’t yet convinced you to become a runner, then I haven’t done my job. I guess I will just have to keep selling you on the idea.
William James is famous for saying, “Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” I think this applies to running as well as a positive sales mentality.