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The Sales Athlete

With the Super Bowl around the corner, many of us have sports on our minds. Watching football players dominate on the field might not immediately draw a parallel to the sales industry but there are many similarities.

I dabbled in sports, mostly in high school and earlier childhood. I was a tomboy, but not athletic. I preferred playing over watching from the sidelines (or television). I was competitive, but definitely not an athlete.

The more I thought about it, the more I am convinced that I am more of an athlete today than I ever was when I played sports — I’m a sales athlete.

Think about it…high-stakes meetings vs. high-stakes games, reviewing strengths and weaknesses, considering the smartest approach, and laying out a plan to win— it’s not that far of a stretch to say sales and sports have commonalities. The most successful salespeople and the best athletes share many characteristics.

Here are 6 traits top-performing athletes and top-performing sales reps share:


When it comes to sports, your best can always get better. Every Olympics, new records are set. Whether it’s the fastest 100-meter dash in running or one of the many swimming events, athletes are always upping the bar for what can be achieved. They’re constantly improving. That’s because the best athletes never stop practicing and pushing. The best sales professionals never stop learning. You’re never too good for practice and there’s always something new to learn. If you want to be the best in your field, training and growth need to become a priority.


Athletes and sales professionals plan extensively to achieve their objectives. In sales, you hear “no” often. Sometimes more often than you hear “yes.”  It can be discouraging but persistence is key. If Michael Jordan didn’t persist after he failed to make his varsity team, we wouldn’t be talking about him today. Successful athletes are relentless. It may take two phone calls or ten phone calls, successful sales executives know when to keep pushing to reach their target. Stay motivated and keep pushing.


Athletes like Michael Jordan and Serena Williams have the drive to succeed. Take a page out of their playbook and find your purpose and push relentlessly in pursuit of it. What is your “why?” What motivates you? What’s your goal? Setting goals and finding purpose can be as simple as a short-term sales goal or as deep as a personal drive to achieve success.


You can’t be the best at something if you’re trying to be the best at everything.

It takes discipline to be a professional athlete. There were endless early mornings and late nights between the first time Jerry Rice, Tom Brady, or Lawrence Taylor played football and when they played their Super Bowls. The best sales executives also share this same sense of discipline. You can’t be the best at something if you’re trying to be the best at everything.

Part of being disciplined is focusing on what matters and what will make a difference in the big picture.


When you want to be the best, competition pushes you to rise up to opportunity.

Sales is a competitive business. Tracking, ranking, and top sales achievements are all a part of the industry environment. Athletes understand the drive to be first: first to the ball, first on the roster, first on the leaderboards. When you want to be the best, competition pushes you to rise up to opportunity. A fighting spirit and slightly overblown competitive streak can give you the motivation you need to keep trying when others might have given up.


Failure is not personal or permanent

— it’s inevitable.

Another key is resilience — the ability to pick yourself up and keep trying. You can’t win all the time. Every athlete has a bad game or a bad season. How do kickers handle the disappointment of a missed field goal? Athletes face constant competition and understand setbacks happen. Everyone has their taste of failure. Salespeople are familiar with rejection. Failure is not personal or permanent  — it’s inevitable. Learn how to be resilient in spite of it.

These are just some of the traits that successful athletes and salespeople share.

Fellow sales athletes, did I miss any? What trait on this list are you working on developing? 

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