Tuesday, February 08, 2011

What Sellers can learn from Skiers

The announcement of a  new book claiming to give you the wisdom “how to sell anything” and the opening of the  Alpine ski world championships inspired me to this post.  Here is why.

Ski athletes adhere all to the  International Ski Federation (FIS). This makes some sense. To exercise this sport, one needs snow and some form of long small planks to glide on the snow. But this is where the commonality ends. Specialized world championships. are held for Alpine disciplines and  Nordic disciplines in different geographical locations

In Alpine disciplines, gold can be won in  races lasting at maximum a few minutes. In Nordic disciplines, the time span to win gold is much wider, it can go from a few minutes to closer to an hour or longer.

The terrain needed for those two disciplines is different. As the name says, for Alpine skiing long and steep mountain slopes are needed. Nordic skiing can be done on a  flat terrain.

The material and skills needed to win a Nordic ski race and an Alpine ski race  are thus very different.

Sports metaphors applied to sales have their limits and are often blatantly wrong. I have written about this before . As an example, of a major difference, there are no silver and bronze medals to be won in sales . Either you win and get gold or you are out.  Yet there are some useful analogies between skiing an selling.

The snow needed for skiing is equivalent to the customers needed for selling. Basic people skills could be taken as the equivalent of the small long planks needed for skiing. Yet I doubt, that these two things are sufficient to be a successful seller in today's world. Specialization is needed as in skiing.

 I associate Alpine skiing with B2C selling. Deals are more of a transactional nature, not taking terribly long. The slope and gravity needed for skiers is provided by marketing for sellers.

Nordic skiing looks to me more like B2B selling. Here you can have  transactional type deals closing fast. This is like the Nordic ski jumping. This sport requires a specific infrastructure, the ski jump platform. This to me is equivalent to B2B Marketing that catapults the seller into the deal. Success then depends on the ability of the seller to fly and to land properly.

The Nordic discipline of cross country skiing, looks to me more like selling with long sales cycles. Infrastructure requirements are minimal for cross country skiing. The same is true for selling solutions requiring long sales cycles, sellers often cannot depend on marketing and have  to find their own leads and then follow a deal through with tenacity.

In Nordic skiing there are races to be won alone or others only  as a team (relay races). The same is true in B2B  selling where in complex cases, team selling is needed to  be successful.

Would you not think that being successful in those different types of sales situations requires  specifically adapted tools, skills and methods?  Yet we continue to see books like the one I mentioned above trying to convince us that in sales there is a silver bullet of one size that fits all.

For the craft of selling to progress, I think we finally must forget the myth of one size fits all and be very specific by describing the context for which we give  advice or believe why a given initiative can be successful.

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