Being number one isn’t the challenge; staying there is

Being the top salesman feels much like winning the World Cup. It’s a double-edged sword. One edge cuts the air with jubilation as the world celebrates with you, while the other edge cuts deep with the realization that in the same instant, you are the defending champion. And here’s the thing: being number one is easier than remaining number one.

Do you know how many countries have won the World Cup three consecutive times? None! Three times was what was required to retain the Cup. That in the World Cup’s 92-year history, no country has successfully defended its win twice in a row, is testimony of which side of the sword cuts deeper; both in the World Cup and in selling.

Being number one is easy; then you ignore the basics

Being number one is easy; staying there is what most salespeople struggle with. Looking at the salespeople who rise from the doldrums of dismal productivity to the peak of a blossoming success, it is interesting to note that what they did to get to the top is precisely what the doctor ordered for the losing defending champions: go back to the basics. And the basics in selling are simple as illustrated by the sales cycle: Prospect, interview, demonstrate, validate, negotiate, close, ask for referrals. Repeat. 

As simplistic as this may sound, the salesperson who has defended the “Cup”, year in, year out, and becomes inconsistent ever so briefly, will lose his World Cup win to the contender who consistently did what the basics required of him. And therein lays the difference: consistency- or the lack of it. Consistency in prospecting, consistency in presentations, consistency in handling objections, consistency in closing and consistency in asking for referrals.

Being number one is easy

Indeed, salespeople who lose their top position admit to this. It could be, the winning got to their head and so they slackened; or they directed their attention to other interests; or they got tired of competing even against themselves. Whatever the reason, one thing is consistent-they took their eyes off the ball. And when the ball is not in your control, the opposing team doesn’t hand it back to you; no. They take it away from you; they rush to occupy your half of the field and before you know it, the stadium chants a thunderous, “GOAAALLL”. And in the snap of a finger, the defending champion bites the dust. Sales success contains in it, seeds of its own destruction.

Yes, selling is a competition

Now then. Is selling about winning and losing? Of course, yes! And the one in the defending position should be out to better his last performance. Even when one says they are not competing against anyone, the fact that they are in the game automatically makes them contenders. You are only as good as your last sale. You cannot gloat on yesterday’s glory. Have you ever noticed that when you meet your targets you are complimented just once? But when you do not meet them you are not reminded once or twice; you will be repeatedly reminded until you do. Even if you are not competing with anyone you should strive to better yourself.

The burden of leadership

There is no set path for the champion; he cuts one himself. The other contenders have several paths to choose from including that of the defending champion. They can afford to make mistakes, the champion wouldn’t dare to. The contenders are intensely motivated to get to the top and the defending champion is intensely motivated to stay at the top. The thought processes and consequent actions from these differing sources of motivation manifest themselves in the field. Both in football and selling.

France (who played yesterday) are in the FIFA Qatar 2022 World Cup Tournament as reigning champions, having won the tournament for the second time in 2018, and before that, 1998. They debuted 4-1 against Australia yesterday. Will they stay number one in 2022? What about you? Most probably you are defending champion too. How long will you last?

Read: What the World Cup teaches us about selling

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