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Business Development Lessons from the Winter Olympics


Business Development Lessons from the Winter Olympics

As the Winter Olympic coverage starts this evening, the 2018 Games are more than half over.

Watching the spectacle of all the events from South Korea provides nightly doses of triumph, disappointment, and awe. The two-man bobsled final races across my television screen as I write, a fitting backdrop to my writing. First of all, racing down an Olympic bobsled track is high on my bucket list. Second, it is an oft-ignored sport here in the United States where the athletes pursue their dreams and passions for the achievement itself, not fame and fortune. It is the perfect Olympic event from which to begin learning the five key lessons for business development success:

1. Practice, practice, practice – A typical Olympic athlete trains thousands of hours in the four years leading up to an Olympic Games. While much of this time is spent on weight training, stretching, and mental focus the largest single time commitment is practice. Driving a bobsled does not come naturally. It requires constant, dedicated practice. The same is true for the skills required to succeed at business development. The most successful business development professionals put in countless hours of consistent, focused practice to perfect their skills.

2. Have a game plan – Do you have an annual business plan? Great! Many people I speak with have one. Do you have a game plan for each of your meetings – client review, sales presentation, or COI? If you are like the majority of business development professionals, you answered No. Olympians don’t just have a plan to get themselves to the Olympics. These elite athletes develop a game plan and strategy for every trial, practice, and event. During the downhill practice runs skiers try out various lines through the course and different ski combinations in order to form the best game plan possible for their one shot down the slopes in the actual event. The same holds true in the other events. Olympic athletes don’t leave their goals to chance, neither should you. Have a game plan for success in all of your interactions.

3. Seek and accept feedback, CONSTANTLY – What’s one of the first things you see Olympians do after completing their event? They immediately seek out their coaches for feedback. They don’t bask in their own glory, they seek information that will help them be even better the next time. All Olympic athletes regularly seek this critical feedback, in practice and competition, in their drive for constant improvement. Feedback is equally critical in business development, yet it is so infrequently available. When we do not get our expected outcome from a sales situation, it is rare to receive specific reasons from the prospect or client. Engaging our sales coach, manager, or teammate in role play exercises or joint meetings can provide the crucial feedback we need to constantly improve.

4. Attitude is HUGE! – It’s natural to have doubts. Olympic athletes regularly discuss their difficult periods and lack of confidence during stretches of preparation and competition. Yet, when the lights shine their brightest, when the whole world is watching, these Olympians get rid of their “stinkin’ thinkin'” as Zig Ziglar says and put themselves into the best frame of mind possible. They know that their attitude and confidence at the moment of competition will play as large a role as all of the practice and physical preparation they have put in to that point. Attitude is just as huge a component of success in sales. Your confidence, conviction, passion, and smile come through in every business development interaction you have.

5. Without action there is no reward – No matter how many hours of practice and preparation an Olympian puts in, no matter how perfect their game plan, even if they seek constant feedback and have the best attitude, it will all amount to nothing without taking action. There is no magic formula here. Staring down the large ramp of the ski jump, sitting in the starting shed at the top of the ski slope, or standing at the top of the luge track is the moment of truth. There isn’t enough time to run through all that you’ve learned or to play out every possible scenario. Olympic athletes take a deep breath and Go! Without action their medal dreams will never come true. It’s no different in business development. You will not make the sale, get a new prospect, or deepen your existing client relationship without taking action. If you don’t pick up the phone, make the presentation, or ask for the business your sales dreams will never come true.

Related: Three Reasons Why a HNW Client Focus is a Mistake

Enjoy the rest of these Winter Olympic Games. Only two more years until the Summer Olympics and more lessons we can learn from those athletes too. And what a finish to the two-man bobsled competition!

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