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Running the Sale

I am more than sure that I am not the first to make the linkage between sports and sales and how one is greatly analogous to the other. Like most I tend to relate to it through the sport I know which is running, just like my friend who was a competitive swimmer in his youth, so he draws on that. At my age I do not run competitively, and because of that, as with my selling, it is an endless process of continuous improvement. How can I achieve more, sell more, and yes at the same time make more money, for the most part, how can I always sell better; how can I always run the same distance faster or a greater distance than before?

In running you can either train for short or long distances, just as in sales you either have short cycles or long ones. I prefer the mid to longer runs, the 10K and the half marathons. Similarly in sales I always have a blended pipeline, but have a shine for the bigger ones. As you may be saying to yourself he is probably going to say that both require a similar effort, and the fundamentals apply to both long and short distances, short and long sales cycles, and you are right Jack. But the similarities do not end there.

Loosely speaking you can look at a sale as having three distinct stages, Above the Funnel; Executing or Driving the Sales; Retaining and Enhancing Customer relationships. Just as there is the start of a race, race pace, and finally how you finish. There is no arguing that all three in balance have a great impact on the outcome, but in both, that first third can dramatically impact the ultimate outcome regardless of how well you execute the remaining two thirds. Those of you who have been reading The Pipeline are familiar with the focus we have always had on all things “Above the Funnel”. Always looking for ways and means to get an edge in selling, and recently I had some interesting progress with my running that I think helps to reinforce some key things in the way we sell.

In May I ran a half marathon, 21.1 Kilometres, 13.1 miles, I was able to shave 12.5 minutes off my best time. I was truly pleased (most of the time I am pleased just to finish), I had planed on improving by five or five and a half minutes, but twelve, wow, I was impressed (tired too). Actually I wasn’t truly surprised, mostly because I had a plan, a process, and worked it, just like in sales. The plan itself was based on an article I had read about three months before the run, that had influenced my training and clearly the results. The article talked about the findings of a study that tested a theory on a group of college runners. The goal was to see the impact of the first mile on the rest of the race, challenging some accepted views of the start-out-easy approach. The runners established their “base pace”, that is their average time over two races of the same distance. Then they ran three additional races, one where the first mile was run at their “base pace”; the second, first mile at a 3% faster pace than “base”; third run 6% faster than “base”. The rest of the race was at “base pace”.

It turned out that best results were achieved by those at 6% over “base pace”, even with the counter intuitiveness of expending energy at that stage of the race. Just to drive the point home, those that ran the first mile at base plus 3% did better than the ones running at equal to base. I incorporated this in to my run, along with some other things that can be mapped to success in sales, and will be discussed in future articles.

So let’s bring it back to sales. On the one hand very simple, put focus and energy into the early part of the sales process, “the first mile”, or “Above the Funnel”, and it will not only improve your overall results, but will likely shorten your sales cycle.

Getting past the obvious, that is if you put an extra effort above the funnel, you can realize exponential results in your sales efforts. It does not necessarily make things easier; you still have to run the race at your base pace. Again, in the future we will discuss how you can continuously improve your “base pace”, and once you are at the peak, how you can become more efficient in the execution. I continue to be amazed at how little most sales people fail to focus on and improve their prospecting; but also how many don’t even work on maintaining their “base pace”, or even prospect at all. You may find this posting by Jonathan Farrington ‘The True Cost of “Fear of Calling”’, of interest.

Taking into account that reps are challenged daily to be proactive rather than reactive, time and client demands do make this a difficult task. If one follows the tack suggested for running, imagine the results you could achieve by putting greater focus and energy in to that crucial area “Above the Funnel”. Let’s say we put five percent more effort into prospecting and related activity, assuming a 10 hour day, we’re talking 30 minutes, if the pay off is anything like the results realized by the study, or the ones I realized running my last half marathon, you should be able to not only get more sales, but also reduce your cycle, and reduce stress in the process, which itself creates more advantages as you run your sales.

Not to leave things in the abstract, but I tried the strategy in my prospecting activity as well, adding just a bit of extra time every day to my activity above the funnel, and not only do I have more prospects, I have better prospects, and greater choice, or better yet, the freedom to choose.