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A tennis lesson for all who work in sales

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Posted by , 12th June 2018

Tennis and sales. Salespeople can learn a lot about a winning attitude and its importance to success by watching top-level sports people in action.

Dan Evans warms up for his match against Jurgen Melzer at the Surbiton Tennis Championships 2018

I was lucky enough to be at the Surbiton Tennis Championship very recently, on a gloriously sunny day.

If you like tennis as I do, I can recommend it. It’s a great venue and a great day out. You are so much closer to the action and the players here than at a big tournament like Wimbledon.

And because you are so close-up you get to see a lot more about how a match is won or lost.

The very first match that I saw reminded me of an important lesson that sports participation at any level can teach us especially anyone involved in sales. Mindset when it comes to winning whether it be a tennis match or a sales contract is all important.

Here’s what I saw

It was a ladies match. On the court, a small British powerhouse was playing against a tall and very athletic looking Swiss.

At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that the smaller, less athletic player was at an obvious disadvantage and was going to have her work cut out to win this match. Especially as the Swiss girl had a massive first and second serve.

Yet the first set was won cleanly and efficiently by the smaller player who had great technique and seemed to be able to get to some really ungettable shots. She smashed balls back with an incredibly powerful forehand.

I mentioned that one of the great things about this tournament is that you are able to get so close to the action. You not only see things up close, you hear what’s going on too.

So what could we see and hear from the Swiss player as the first set progressed?

A lot of negative self-talk that’s what. This wasn’t working. That was letting her down. “I’m being killed on the forehand” she kept telling her coach among assorted swear words in German.

At that point in the match, she was talking herself into defeat despite the fantastic and aforementioned first and second serves she had at her disposal.

Well, the second set started a lot like the first one had ended. The little powerhouse won her serve games but unlike the first set she didn’t break the Swiss girl on her serve.

And then three things happened:

1. The heat of the day increased. It became really hot

2. There was a long rally in which the powerhouse lost the point

3. On losing that point the smaller player who had been in control showed obvious signs of tiredness, bending low over her racket and taking time to recover. She then started complaining to herself. Bingo. The Swiss girl sensed blood

Suddenly the Swiss player’s demeanour changed. There was no more talk. Just business.

She started to dominate. That athletic and fit appearance was not for show. Those first and second serves were now not coming back. The second set was won quickly and the deciding third was almost a formality. And she was through to the semi-finals.

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What has any of this got to do with sales or business?

To my mind, everything.

In sales, it’s easy to fall into the same sort of negative self-talk that sportsmen and women can fall into when things aren’t going well.

If you make numerous pitches and don’t win orders suddenly you’re on “a losing run.”

You’re being killed not by a blistering forehand but by the “their (the prospect’s) negativity.”

Or, by “the state of the market” or by having “an inferior product to work with” and other such self-harming phrases.

The danger of talking and thinking like this is that those beliefs can become embedded in your mindset.

The danger of them becoming part of your mindset is that your thoughts affect your physical demeanor and body language.

Your body language is what potential clients see. It registers subconsciously when they meet you and it can influence their decision making. Negativity of any sort is of no use to you in sales.

And if you make most of your sales calls by phone, the tone of voice is all important too.

In telesales of any sort, you can’t bring an off-day to your work. Flat tones, conversation without animation will just bring your calls to unsatisfactory endings.

If you find yourself in a rut what can you do to break out of it?

First, stop the negative self-talk immediately. It’s destructive and it won’t help you to turn things around. Watch for it. Note the phrases you’ve been using and cut them out.

Second, analyse what is really being said by the people who have said no to you.

What were the real reasons?

Analyse how your meetings or conversations have been going. Have bad habits crept into your sales game?  Things like talking too much about what you do and offer and not asking enough questions about the client and what they need and where they see their business headed. Have you been listening properly?

Listening in sales is SO important. Really listening. This means focusing on what is being said, not thinking about how you are going to get your next sales point across while the other person is explaining something.

When you really listen you ask meaningful questions. The answers received provide detailed sales intelligence. Information you use to show why your business is such a good fit with theirs. If not in that particular meeting or call, then in the next one when you will have built a stronger case.

This is the equivalent of you being truly match-fit just like the winning athlete in the tennis story.

You come to any sales meeting or call fully prepared. In your mind with a positive outlook.  And practically with the strongest possible sales case for your product or service.

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Be careful who you mix with

As in sport, your business coaching team and your fellow sales players are also very important to the state of your mental fitness.

If you find yourself working with negative, blame the world types, find ways to butt out of conversations. Better still, don’t get into conversations with these colleagues in the first place. Instead, find positive people and positive influencers. People like these will help you grow and prosper.

If there are none immediately around you look for role models outside of your business.

You might find them in successful clients, in online videos and blogs. In magazines and in places outside the business world.

Perhaps you’ll find them in your sports and hobbies. Wherever you look, remember that the first and most important place you have to find the font of self-belief is within you.

And remember, the route to being a champion in any sport or pursuit is made up of many, many hours of practice. So get to it.  Oh, and don’t ever give me those negatives vibes.

Posted in Mindfitness  /  Sales  /  Trade show sales

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