“Am I a true sales professional or am I an accidental poser?”

To those of you who feel this question is overly harsh, I’m probably talking to you. But don’t despair. Don’t head to LinkedIn and start searching for a new career. And don’t stop reading. This is not about condemnation; it’s about improvement and growth. It’s about recognizing the pieces of yourself that might be holding you back from true sales greatness…and tackling them head-on.

Begin by considering five questions:

  1. How many sales articles/blogs do you read in an average week?
  2. How long has it been since you listened to/watched a sales skills webinar?
  3. How many sales books have you read in the past 12 months?
  4. Have you attended any in-person professional training seminars in the past 24 months?
  5. When was the last time you took a workout, DIY, cooking or other personal improvement class?

How’d you do? The first and last questions might have come easily. #1 only takes a few passive minutes at your desk and #5 is driven by personal interests and self-satisfaction.

Remember Under Armour’s #RuleYourself ad with Curry, Spieth and Copeland? What about Rory McIlroy’s latest #EnjoyTheChase spot for Nike? While few mortals follow the brutal regimens of a world class athlete, there’s one clear and direct comparison we should each remember—they’re professionals, and as such, they’re committed to building strengths, mitigating weaknesses and improving their probabilities of winning.

In an interview years ago, Will Smith spoke powerfully about the separation of talent and skill as one of our greatest misunderstood concepts. Talent, he said, comes naturally but “skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

Athletes. Actors. Sales professionals. To be the best at whatever your career, the process seems the same. What if sales professionals trained like athletes and engaged the same 4 rules of readiness? Let’s see how the crossover applies:

  • Build Mental Stamina. You’re going to be told No…probably a lot. While stats shift slightly by industry, the average sales person hears No 65% of the time. In an earlier post I talked about how a “winner’s mentality” keeps you bullish regardless of your current status. Sales will challenge your mental endurance. Building mental toughness means facing hits, getting knocked down and standing back up.
  • Study Film. New products. New competitors. New buyers. Business doesn’t stand still. From industry news to professional best practices, staying abreast of your field is critical. In football, Mondays are dedicated to studying film—not only to review and assess past performance but also to plan and prepare for what’s ahead. Reading Selling Power, The Sales Management Association and other professional pubs can keep you fresh and informed, but it’s not enough. Schedule time to attend webinars. Read books like Fanatical Prospecting. Invest in in-person training seminars. Take advantage of sales clinics and networking events and deliberately practice your voice, pitch, cadence and physical presence. Stretch yourself to go beyond the easy. Look for deeper opportunities to learn, apply ideas and grow your sales skills.
  • Workout & Train. I’ve known sales people who spend more time picking out a steak place to wine-and-dine prospective customers than they do honing and improving their craft. It’s like a golfer transfixed on the color of their ball towel. Perhaps important on some superstitious level, but nothing compared to the regimen of skills training and tactical improvements they’ll need to win. The golfer will hit a thousand balls in a single session, fine-tuning and adjusting with every swing. Sales professionals should do the same. Practice cold calling. Leave and analyze voicemails. Rehearse objection pivots and prepare rejection responses. Role play. Whatever the game, skipping practice never leads to championships.
  • Fuel Yourself. Tomorrow’s the big presentation. You’ve researched, prepared, practiced and nailed the delivery. You’ve considered every conceivable question or roadblock. You’re ready. In anticipation of the celebration certain to come, you enjoy the extra drink (or 2, or 3) the night before. You sleep a bit late and skip breakfast on your way out the door. You’ve sabotage yourself by default. Clearly not every day equates to a major sales pitch, but think about if you treated it like it was. Skipped breakfast and worked through lunch? Expect a midday crash. Eat well. Get some exercise. Sleep. Your mind and energy will follow your body’s cues. Fuel it well.

By its very nature, sales is a career of highs and lows. An accidental sales poser can, and will, close deals. They’ll have hot streaks, producing a banner quarter or maybe even a killer year. They’ll feel the satisfaction of winning. Until it stops. Until the roller coaster reaches its inevitable tipping point, and in that stalled moment, they realize their pipeline is dry and they’re unsure of what to do next.

Don’t get on that ride. You can avoid the unsettled and unpredictable path of an accidental sales poser. You can choose to build a career as a genuine sales professional.

The Summer Olympics are coming and it’s always fun to watch as the best of the best compete for that top spot on the podium. And from the Women’s Gymnastics Team to Michael Phelps, there’s no doubt those professionals are determined to rule their rides. Maybe there’s a bit of athlete in you, too.