How Sports Psychology Can Improve Your Sales

Learn from the Habits of Highly Successful Sportspeople

I am often asked «How can sports psychology help salespeople, surely they are totally different areas of expertise?» and my answer is simply this:

Every sport has different skills sets & disciplines and requires different areas of knowledge – yet most, if not all, now accept that mental strength and readiness is the single most important factor that separates the winners from the also-rans.

I’m sure you will accept that at the pinnacle of any sport the top athlete’s skill levels and abilities are extremely close?

My sport is golf. In any given week there are 20, 30 even 40 players who could win a tournament – if it was all down to their inherent ability to hit a golf ball. But it’s not! Every week it’s the player who thinks right and plays right that wins – not necessarily the most skilful player on show!

If you follow football; does the best team always win the match? No.

This demonstrates how you think matters!

And as someone who’s been involved in Sales and Sales Management for many years and is now actively involved in the training and development of sales forces throughout the country, I believe the same is true of our industry.

How salespeople think, matters!

Sales success is all in the mind. Yes you need selling skills. You need product knowledge. You need the ability to plan and prepare. As does the golfer; he needs to be able to drive the ball, play out of bunkers, play flop shots and putt. BUT! That all said; it’s how he thinks during the round that will determine his success and so it is in selling too. How you think during the day, during the call, ultimately determines your success.

So here is a brief glimpse into some of the areas that highly successful sportsmen and women excel at and how they would benefit us in the sales game too.

Practice, Practice, Practice… but in right way:

The top echelon of sportsmen and women make every second count when practicing. They work all areas of their game to the maximum, not just the points they’re good at. They dissect their sport into its smallest components and ensure they are world class in each and every one of them.

Take a long jumper. The UK Olympic qualifying distance is 8.20mts. If an athlete is coming up short of this target – let’s say 7.90mts, he doesn’t just keep practicing by running and jumping over and over hoping to get longer – he practices in the right way. He and/or his coach analyses every area of his performance and works on it in order to improve.

Technique: Take-off and landing – is his method right?

Physical: Does he have enough power in his legs for an explosive run up? If not – into the gym!

Diet: Is he eating properly, is he carrying a few pounds too many?

Mental: Does he have the belief in himself and his ability?

Technical: Is he using the whole run-up area – jumping too soon before the board?

You get the point? They don’t just keep doing the same thing over and over hoping it will get better.

The first thing to do in order to get better at selling is to think about the way you practice and rehearse your selling, your pitch, your selling style (if you even do it!) and create a solid routine.

First Impressions: Approach to the customer, Appearance? Do you adapt to what you see?

Presentation: Do you establish customer objectives? Translate selling points into benefits? Do you tell rather than ask?

Profitability: Do you always look to up-sell? Provide add-ons?

Closing: Do you make saying «yes» easy? Ask for referrals?

I’ve worked with many golfers and salespeople of all abilities and the thing that correlates most to improved performance is the way you practice. To keep motivated, create a Personal Progress Log – break your sales role into all of its different facets and mark whether your own performance in each area is Not Good Enough, Good Enough or Excellent and then work away on each area no more than a few at a time – to get them all up to Excellent.

Study, learn and rehearse – in sales this is your practice – the equivalent of going to the driving range for golfers. And like I tell all golfers, if you want to improve don’t make practice routine, make practice hard and challenge yourself. What can your team do to become dedicated to continual improvement?

Stay Focussed and in the Moment:

Staying in the present means that you give whatever you are doing your complete and undivided attention. In sport, this means you’re not thinking about your score, why you think you just mishit that shot or 3 putted the last hole. All your energy is on the task at hand. This is also true when selling. No point reflecting on missing out on that last sale, being caught out by an objection or forgetting to up-sell your add-ons and accessories – while you drive to your next appointment or await your next customer coming into the store. The last sale is over!

Yes you will and should have time to reflect later on, when the selling day is done but DON’T do it on the way to the next call or while you wait. Don’t bring yourself down. Focus on the positives in your abilities and think how the next sale will happen successfully.

It’s counter-productive not to be in the present!

If you play golf for example, just think back to the last time you started playing well and subsequently thought about shooting your best score, «if only I can keep it going for the last few holes» – only for your game to unravel!

Staying in the present is easier said than done, I appreciate that; and like everything else it takes practice but it can and should be done.

Create a highly repeatable routine – follow your Sales Process:

In golf, the top players in the world all go through the exact same routine before every shot, even down to the number of practice swings. Watch them and you’ll notice that the number of seconds it takes to go through their pre-shot routine is the same every time. This helps them stay focussed on the process of shot-making and not get too caught up on outcome thoughts such as; «This putt for the Open» or in football when they think «This penalty to get through to the World Cup Final» (Many football supporters will be all too familiar with what happens when a player focus on the outcome of the penalty!)

What’s your routine when selling? Pre-sale or during a sale? Post sale? Don’t have one? Do you factor in your Sales Process and plan and prepare accordingly?

Well unless you are perfect – take leaf from the Pro’s and get a routine that makes you feel comfortable and confident so you perform at your best when selling.

Know how to calm yourself down when the pressure is on.

How do you cope with the pressure of hitting demanding targets? Or dealing with a tough customer who’s giving you a hard time? In sales, nerves can and do kick in when the pressure is on and once again we have an area where selling can learn directly from the sports arena.

I’ve worked with enough golfers to know that the good ones know powerful techniques to calm themselves down to prevent nerves turning into panic and negatively affecting their performance. They use nerves to their advantage. Because if you are nervous it’s really a good sign – it shows that what you are doing matters! You care!

There are many ways to control nerves such as breathing techniques or using your peripheral vision or having special thoughts/places to go in your head. I recently read that Jesper Parnevik would try to solve math problems in his head when it all got too much when playing. So there are countless ways to do it! You just need to find a technique that helps you.

Remember, nerves cannot be eliminated totally IF what you are doing matters to you. If it’s not important or way below your level of ability and skill – you probably won’t be nervous. But when it matters – then you need the awareness to appreciate that feeling nervous is «normal» in fact it’s desirable – and then have a way that suits you in dealing with it and let the nerves help your performance, rather than hinder it.

The power of acceptance and moving on:

No one is successful 100% of the time. Mistakes happen. Sales are lost. But beating yourself up about it won’t improve your next performance!

By all means, at the appropriate time analyse what went wrong and take steps to ensure it won’t be repeated again if it’s within your power to do so but being able to accept a setback and not let it cripple you mentally is imperative to peak performance.

In golf, being able to accept the outcome of every shot is a trait that all the top players possess. Although almost impossible to achieve, the optimal state for golf would be if you could become emotionally indifferent to good and bad shots and remain on the same level throughout – but show me any sportsperson who’s not emotionally charged and pumped up for winning and I’ll show you a loser!

It’s a balancing act. Remaining in emotional control when it matters most can be done but once again it takes practice, discipline and the finding of techniques that work for you. Then you need the ability to let it all go – when it goes wrong!

Padraig Harrington tells himself as part of his pre-shot routine that although he has a positive intention for the shot, if it doesn’t go where he wants it to, it’s better to accept it and move on, than get upset. He wants his mind to be clear, ready for the next shot – wherever it may be from – not harking back to the previous swing that put him in trouble.

Try giving yourself that same pep talk before your next sales call. Don’t let setbacks drag you down!

Conclusion

Ensure your sales people make every second of selling time count! That’s when they are performing their trade, their skill, their chosen career.

Encourage them to put the above ideas into practice and you will see continuous improvement in their sales ability and performance.

The sports industry has spent millions of dollars and decades of research fine tuning these techniques. Use them. They work!

Should you wish to discuss how Sports Psychology can help you and/or your Team improve Sales Performance please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call.

Here’s to successful Selling!

The Inner Coach

You can find more information on ways Sport Psychology can help your Sales right here:

Develop Your Inner Coach Series

Why Football Fans Need Their Own Social Network

In recent years social media has evolved from a communication tool between people to a dominant driving force on the World Wide Web. Nowadays social media has a huge impact not only on the digital realm, but also on business, politics, trends and almost all aspects of our world.

A common assumption is that social networks are totally driven by people, but that is partly incorrect, in reality social networks are driven by dominant forces and media giants. In reality people are not shaping social media, but social media is shaped for them and they just follow, which is a sad reality by itself because social networks were supposed to be driven by the people not the other way around.

How this is related to football. Football is the most popular sport on earth, more than 3.4 Billion people watched world cup 2010, almost half of the planet! And it was estimated that about 1 billion people watched world Cup 2014 final between Germany and Argentina. Traditionally football has always been covered by TV, newspapers and news websites. But in recent years social networks started taking an important portion of this coverage. With the shift from traditional news to social media news, and from computer devices to mobile devices, people are now more comfortable in consuming football news in their favorite social network, and at the comfort of their mobile devices. You can get all football news from all sources at your news feeds depending on the pages that you follow, compare this with search engines or bookmarking several websites, the first option became the more popular method of following sports events.

Although football has good presence in top social networks but for football enthusiasts that presence is missing or not enough, for instance you still do not get updated with all football events, and as a football fan you will need to do exhausting search to follow all the pages you are interested in. Other problem is that football news are buried inside swarm of posts from all other subjects, where you can not easily filter out posts that are not related to football.

Football fans deserve their own social network where they can talk exclusively about football and share related news and stories. They need social channels that are dedicated for football fans, where they can meet, interact and share football passion. They need a place where they can follow the latest news and matches results without the need to leave to search for the information.

In a new world governed by social media, people are becoming addicted to the ease of access to information that social media provides. And because people are obsessed with ease of access to what they are interested in, the future of social media will be shifting towards niche social networks that are specialized in specific interests and affinities.

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane, the monk-like fantasista – heir to Platini’s throne as France’s greatest ever player, is also widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Maybe slightly overrated in some quarters when labelled with the ‘Greatest Ever’ tag, his achievements and trophy haul are certainly second to very few. For a time he was also the most expensive player in the world, costing Real Madrid a huge £46m. During his playing days Zidane became one of world football’s true superstars, and much loved players – his global fan base was (and still is) exceptional. From Europe, to North Africa (the origin of his roots) and the Middle East, to Japan – Zidane, was the man.

Zidane was born to Algerian immigrants who firstly moved to Paris, but eventually settled in La Castellane – a suburb with a huge North African community in France’s southern town of Marseille. It was here that Yazid Zidane was born in 1972. Yazid, his birth name, is what he was known by to his friends and family. The young Yazid looked to replicate his idol; Olympic Marseille’s very own fantasista, Uruguayan Enzo Franchescoli, by teaching himself tricks and repetitively juggling a football until he was better than most of the boys in the area. In a neighbourhood high in crime rate Zidane had to become tough, though this was mostly focused through Judo – something else he showed an early talent for. But it was football that won the youngsters heart. After school he would gather with the other boys from his tower block, in ‘Place Tartane’ – an 80 x 12 yard clearing in the middle of the housing complex, which served as a makeshift football pitch. By 13 years old his talent was such that he was spotted by a scout for Cannes who proclaimed: ‘I’ve found a boy who has hands where his feet should be’. After initial scepticism he was allowed to join the club’s ‘centre de formation’, leaving home and his family in the process to lodge with a club director’s family.

By 16 years old he was making his league debut versus Nantes. Then, playing the same opponents two years on, he scored his first senior league goal in a 2-1 win. Remembering the promise he made the young Zidane upon scoring his debut goal, the president rewarded him with a brand new Renault Clio. Unfortunately for the 20 year old Zizou, the Va Va Voom factor wore off pretty quick as Cannes were relegated the very next season. His skills didn’t go unnoticed however and with an offer coming in from Bordeaux, Zidane moved South for approximately £300k, where he would be reunited with his junior international team mate and close friend Christophe Dugarry. They formed part of an exciting new team that made waves in Europe as well as at home, winning the Intertoto Cup in 1995 and finishing runners-up in the UEFA Cup. It was during this period he also made his national team debut in 1994, coming off the bench whilst France were 2-0 down against the Czech Republic, and scoring twice. The press went wild – the new Platini had arrived. People outside of France were now beginning to take notice of Zidane’s attributes. The then Premiership Champions Blackburn Rovers coach Ray Harford expressed an interest in the midfielder, only for Blackburn’s owner Jack Walker to refuse, famously stating: ‘Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?’

Zizou was a relative late bloomer on the world stage. He was already aged 24 when gaining his first major move – Juventus paying a modest £3.2m in 1996 to take him from the Bordeaux side that had starred (particularly against AC Milan) in the previous seasons UEFA Cup. Juve had chosen to snap him up before the summer’s Euro’96 competition in case of any value increase. But after his poor, lacklustre performances during the tournament, they probably saw their new commodity depreciate in value – leading Juventus president Gianni Agnelli to cuttingly remark: ‘is the real Zidane the one I’ve heard so much about, or the one I’ve been watching?’ To be fair to Zidane, he had just completed a mammoth 65-match season. Then on the eve of the Euros, he suffered a car crash. His arrival in Turin signalled more ‘new Platini’ comparisons. But after a difficult period of adjustment to the new league, murmurs of disappointment could be heard throughout the Juve faithful, leading Zidane to announce: ‘I’m Zinedine Zidane and it’s important that the fans understand that I can never be Platini, on or off the pitch.’ He was right. Zidane was a totally different character to the former Juventus number 10, and what’s more that shirt at Juve now belonged to Del Piero. Zidane’s squad number at La Vecchia Signora was 21 – an alien number to a fantasista, however after the frosty start in Turin his performances started to resemble a true fantasista. With winning goals against championship rivals Inter, and by helping Juve secure their second Intercontinental Cup in November versus River Plate, Zidane silenced his doubters. The win was made even sweeter for Zidane as he faced his teenage idol, Enzo Francescoli. The Uruguayan fantasista was ending his career back at the club where he had shot to fame. For Zidane, life couldn’t get any better.

Only it could.

That trophy was the first major of his senior career and sparked a remarkable winning period which would see him collect nearly every major trophy the sport had to offer during an incredible career. His stay at the Turin giants saw him win the Scudetto twice, a UEFA Supercup and another Intertoto Cup. During the same period with France he collected the 1998 World Cup and then followed it up with the European Championship in 2000. The only major trophy which evaded him was the Champions League. He had finished runner-up twice with Juve and now it seemed like his Holy Grail. It was probably a major factor in his decision to leave Juventus in the summer of 2001, when Real Madrid came calling and splashed out a whopping £47m for his services. The Real president Florentino Perez was embarking on his first galactico project, signing the best players in the world. And at this time, nobody was better than Zidane, having also picked up the greatest accolades any individual player could win – the Ballon d’Or in 1998, and World Player of the Year in that same year, whilst also collecting it in 2000. In 1996 when he arrived at Juventus he may have been labelled as an inferior model to the great Platini, but in 2001 he was leaving having certainly surpassed him.

In Spain, Zidane won the watching Bernabeau faithful over instantly. They adored his velvet touch and instant control. His mastery over the ball reminded their older followers of their glorious players from the past – not least their greatest ever player, Alfredo Di Stefano, who’s number 5 shirt Zidane now wore (the number 10 shirt was taken by Real’s first galactico, Luis Figo). The similarity would be greatly enhanced by the end of that season, when Zidane inspired Madrid to reach the European Cup final in Glasgow – scene of their infamous 7-3 victory in 1960 versus Eintracht Frankfurt from Germany. During that match the great Di Stefano was at the peak of his powers, scoring a hat-trick. Real’s modern day number 5 couldn’t quite emulate three goals, but scored what is considered the greatest goal in European Cup final history – a tremendous volley with his left foot (his wrong foot) from the edge of the penalty box, to lead Real to a 2-1 win over Bayer Laverkusen…from Germany. He had completed his Holy Grail.

Zidane won further trophy’s whilst in Spain, adding a La Liga championship, a UEFA Supercup and another Intercontinental Cup to his now bursting trophy cabinet. He also claimed a third World Player of the Year award in 2003, making him the joint highest ever recipient (alongside Ronaldo).

Zizou was more than a collection of awards though. To watch him play during his peak was like watching the top ballet star perform, albeit in football boots, such was his elegance and technique when controlling and gliding with the ball. His signature move, the roulette, looked like a graceful pirouette performed in the middle of a clumsy mob, leaving his midfield markers dumfounded and kicking fresh air. His attributes led Michel Platini to observe: ‘Technically, I think he is the king of what’s fundamental in the game – control and passing. I don’t think anyone can match him when it comes to controlling or receiving the ball.’ Brazilian coaching legend Carlos Alberto Parreira put it rather more bluntly, though non-the less complimentary, simply labelling him: ‘a monster!’

Unlike many of the other legendary fantasisti, Zidane wasn’t a great goalscorer, never reaching double figures in Italy or Spain. However, he was most definitely a scorer of great goals. More importantly he was a scorer of decisive goals in big games, especially on the international stage. He scored twice (two identical headers) in the 1998 World Cup final, when France beat Brazil 3-1 to win their first ever (and only) World Cup. During Euro 2000 he scored a sublime free-kick in the quarter-finals versus Spain, then, followed it up scoring a Golden Goal in the semi-final win versus Portugal. Euro 2004 saw a poor French performance but Zidane provided one of the highlights of the competition when scoring twice (a free-kick and a penalty) in injury time, turning a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 victory versus England during the opening group game. Cementing his place as a legendary World Cup performer in 2006 Zidane scored the winner, another penalty versus Portugal in the semi-final. He then scored (another penalty) again in another World Cup final, giving France an early lead against Italy in what was his final match as a professional footballer (he had announced his retirement from the game before the tournament). Sadly for him, France lost that game. Even sadder was the fact that Zidane wasn’t able to stay on the pitch until the final whistle – having received a red card. Unfortunately for Zizou, red cards also form part of his legend.

As a playmaker Zidane’s expression was all in his creative flair and artistry. However, during his career he was no stranger to some unsavoury incidents on the football pitch. Zidane was sent-off a massive 12 times during his career (including five times at Juventus and twice whilst at Real Madrid) – mostly for retaliation. These violent flashpoints were in direct contrast to his perceived cool persona as he glided around the field, though his brooding, often moody stare also served as a warning; he was a player who would not be bullied. His response to provocation was first noted during his younger days at Cannes. Whilst he never started any trouble, he knew how to take care of himself. As Richard Williams deftly puts it in his excellent book ‘The Perfect 10’, he would respond: ‘in a way that might be expected from a boy formed in a tough quarter of a hard-nosed city, where an injury might be repaid with a headbutt’. Fast forward 18 years and Marco Materazzi was living testament that age had not mellowed Zidane’s own sense of personal justice – a flying headbutt to the Italian’s chest in response to alleged provocation during the 2006 World Cup final. His last act as a professional footballer.

Many forget however, that this was not Zizou’s first red card during a World Cup tournament. Indeed during France’s triumphant World Cup victory in 1998 it is very easy to forget, in all the hysteria of his two headed goals in the final, that he was briefly a French villain. During the second group game versus Saudi Arabia, the balding fantasista inexplicably lost his cool and stamped on the back of the Saudi captain whilst he was lay on the ground after a challenge. It left the watching world mystified, as this time Zidane’s brand of personal justice seemed to come without any direct provocation. The French poster-boy was given a two match suspension, putting ‘Les Bleus’ campaign in jeopardy – the then captain Didier Deschamps summing up the nervous feeling of the nation: ‘I know he’s impulsive, but he’s put us all at risk’. Indeed without Zidane, the French struggled (eventually winning) in their last-16 tie versus Paraguay – which is testament to the effect Zizou had on the national team. This would become a worrying noticeable feature of all the French teams for the next decade; such was Zidane’s stature and ability. With him, they were world beaters, without him they looked also rans. During qualification for the 2006 finals, the French (without Zidane who had announced his international retirement in 2004) almost failed to qualify. Zidane (along with Thuram and Makelele) answered the call to help out his country and was immediately reinstated as captain. In doing so he instantly rejuvenated the French who went on to reach the (ill-fated) final of the tournament – along the way knocking out previous and future champions Brazil and Spain, with Zidane in imperious form and winning the competition’s Most Valuable Player award.

So with this fantasista, we had the beauty and the beast. The grace and the violence. Taking the rough with the smooth, he was one hell of a player – maybe Parreira had described him best after all…he was a monster!

Bio

Born: 23rd June 1972 in Marseille (France)

Height: 1.85m / 6ft 1″

Career

1988-1992: Cannes – 61 apps / 6 goals

1992-1996: Bordeaux – 139 apps / 28 goals

1996-2001: Juventus – 151 apps / 24 goals

2001-2006: Real Madrid – 155 apps / 37 goals

Totals: 506 app / 95 goals

1994-2006: France – 108 caps / 31 goals

Honours

World Player of the Year: 1998, 2000, 2003

Ballon D’Or: 1998

FIFA World Cup: 1998

UEFA European Championship: 2000

UEFA Champions League: 2002

UEFA Supercup: 1996, 2002

Intercontinental Cup: 1996, 2002

Serie A Champions: 1997, 1998

La Liga Champions: 2003

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