6 Common Traits High-Performing Athletes & Sales Professionals Share
High-performing athletes, whether football, baseball, golf, tennis, swimming, etc. share common qualities and traits.
While it’s true that many of these high-performing individuals have a few innate characteristics and skills that give them a natural advantage over others, there’s one key thing that contributes to their long-term success: they are dedicated to practice and training.
Athletes don’t just train when they feel like it and then hope for the best on game day. They have schedules that stretch far in advance to plan out their every move towards attaining their goals. They know when, where, how, and what they need to do along the way to eventually reach the target.
The pros also have a playbook that helps them follow a consistent process. The team captain or coach calls a play from the playbook and the whole team knows exactly what to do. They know their role and the actions they need to take.
As a sales professional you have to do the same thing. You have to prepare and plan by effectively setting goals, managing your time, following a playbook and process, and tracking your results.
So, what traits do athletes and sales professionals have in common? Let’s explore six common traits and examples of how each applies to selling.
Being coachable is one of life's most important skills and attitudes.
Whether you're an athlete or not, being coachable means you're ready to do what it takes to change, transform, improve or excel in your specific situation. whether that’s on the field or in a meeting.
High-performing athletes put pressure on themselves to be the best but they keep themselves open to support and guidance from their coaches and mentors. The best salespeople are the same. They understand that if they want to grow, learn, improve, excel or reach peak performance, they have to keep their mind open to feedback and input from others.
Applied to Selling:
Being coachable in sales means you’re open to feedback, and you seek it out. You do this because you want to improve and you know the only way to improve is to learn from those around you.
As a sales professional you need to continually refine your approach based on what’s working or not working. This requires feedback and input from your manager and colleagues. If you’re not receptive or willing to listen, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. The very best performers have coaches and mentors who guide and support them while developing their skills.
Athletes tend to be very resilient and determined because they face constant competition and occasional setbacks. This allows them to keep things in perspective and not take failure as permanent or personal, but rather continuously strive for success.
Similarly, salespeople face a continual barrage of rejection and must be able to overcome failure in order to maintain the mental strength needed to succeed.
Great athletes and salespeople alike recognize that failure is inevitable and must treat setbacks as speed bumps rather than stop signs.
Applied to Selling:
Resilience is about accepting your losses, then moving on to prepare for the next win.
The key to becoming a more successful salesperson isn’t running away when things get tough. It’s about accepting no for an answer, but not letting it stop you from making that next call. It’s about figuring out why that client suddenly left — and not letting it happen again. It’s about taking silence as a good sign instead of bad. It’s about hitting those numbers because you believe you can. Resilience is about standing your ground and changing how you respond to rejection.
Competitiveness is not simply wanting to win. Everybody wants to win. Wanting to win is like hoping to win. It isn’t action-oriented.
Top athletes are well-equipped to stand out in deeply competitive environments because they intrinsically enjoy competition and embrace activities and actions that lead to victories. That could be extra practice and conditioning or reviewing the video from your last game to spot any weaknesses in your performance and then creating a plan to work on those areas before the next game.
Sales works in the same way. Going the extra mile to make one more call at the end of the day or reviewing the last 6-months of your pipeline to spot patterns in your sales process.
Competitive people are wired to be better, to do better and they link success to improvement.
Applied to Selling:
Competitiveness in sales manifests itself as a strong desire to win. It shows up in your beliefs and behaviors. It’s your natural desire to win that drives you to take action, to continue to fight.
For example, your competitiveness shows up in your desire and willingness to prepare and plan. How much do you know about the prospective client you’re meeting with tomorrow? Did you do your research? Are you prepared to share a compelling story about how you’re different than your competitors?
People typically work better when they are a part of a team. This is true in professional sports and in business. Being part of a team means you share a sense of purpose and belonging. You’re all working towards the same goal.
In sports, that could mean you want to make it to and win the championship game. In business, that could mean you want to expand your business to a new territory in order to grow your revenue by a certain percentage.
A team has the unique ability to either foster or impede vision, momentum and growth and can be a valuable weapon or a destructive force in accomplishing a mission.
Comradery is a shared understanding among teammates. It’s a common perspective that you are stronger and more capable when working as a team. You help inspire and motivate each other, which produces better results.
Applied to Selling:
On one hand, you have to be competitive in sales. On the other, you have to establish some type of comradery with your teammates. You’re all working towards the same goal. That means you need to help one another.
You’re selling the same solution and going after the same types of clients, leverage this as an opportunity to share your knowledge with each other. Share success stories about how you’ve helped clients achieve their goals. Exchange email templates that are getting great response rates. The stronger the comradery on your sales team is, the more successful and productive you’ll become.
When you think of a high-performing professional athlete, you most likely think about their strong physical appearance. However, to be a top athlete you have to have a sharp, creative mind as well.
Athletes are constantly put into situations that deal with the need to think quickly on your feet and adjust when presented with obstacles. This requires creative thinking and problem solving.
Sales professionals are no different, especially in today’s business environment where your prospective clients are harder to reach and continue to adopt new buying behaviors and expectations.
Applied to Selling:
Sales is both an art and science. When it comes to the art of sales, it’s all about being creative. Whether you’re thinking of unique new ways to connect with a prospective client, developing a compelling value proposition story, or crafting a proposal, your ability to think creatively helps you stand out and gives you a competitive advantage.
Athletes work exceptionally hard to get to a professional level. They’ve been dedicated to their sport from a very young age and have had the self-discipline and focus to keep going.
Athletes thrive when they have goals. Both short-and-long-term because they are motivated by reaching the next level and then moving on to the next one.
High-performing salespeople are the same. They are goal-oriented and self-motivated. They set benchmarks and focus diligently on reaching or exceeding them.
Like elite athletes, great salespeople continually push themselves to meet increasingly ambitious goals, aiming to outperform the numbers they put up in previous months, quarters or years.
Applied to Selling:
In sales, being focused comes down to being organized. When you’re organized, you’re able to focus on the goals you’ve set and the priorities you’ve identified.
For instance, let’s say you need to make two more sales to reach your goal for the month. Being organized will help you plan and prepare for what you need to do to get those sales. Perhaps that’s setting aside a dedicated time on your calendar to prospect and fill your pipeline with first appointments. Or, conducting pre-meeting research before your next first appointment.
Being focused means you’re not trying to do a hundred things at once, but you’re organized around a specific task or goal. This will ultimately help you eliminate distractions, increase your productivity, and achieve your goal.
Practice and Never Give Up
Think about all of the grueling, high-stress training that all great athletes do. They spend hundreds if not thousands of hours, day in and day out for years, pushing themselves to do better in their sport. They know what it’s like to work hard. No matter how much they want to take a break or give up, they keep going in order to be the best.
The very best salespeople share these traits and attitudes toward their work. They have the self-discipline, resilience, and perseverance it takes to overcome obstacles and meet the quotas and sales goals that you’ve set forth—or those they’ve created for themselves.
Just like athletes practice every day. Top performing salespeople are the ones who practice every sales pitch, presentation, and demonstration until they’ve perfected it. They have a game plan before going into every meeting. And they take instant replays seriously—they’ll figure out how they can improve by studying their past work.
About Molly D Protosow
Molly Protosow is the COO and Training Strategist for DMTraining. She manages the day-to-day business and training operations while helping research and develop new training programs as well as refreshing signature programs to reflect the newest sales trends, technology, and best practices. Molly utilizes her wide-range of skills to create sales and marketing assets focused on delivering value to DMT’s clients. Molly has a passion for learning and leveraging new knowledge and experiences. Outside of DMTraining, Molly is a hard core Pittsburgh sports fan, enjoys staying active by running and golfing, and unwinds by reading and playing the piano.