Last updated: SaaS sales: Train like an Olympian, sell like a pro

SaaS sales: Train like an Olympian, sell like a pro


While sales is often portrayed as a cutthroat, hyper-competitive sport, the job, in practice, can be extremely tedious. The majority of SaaS sales work—calling prospects, updating your CRM, presenting data, building a strong business case—is a grind, and the majority of it happens behind the scenes.

But if you can befriend the repetition, that’s where the magic is. That’s where the winning happens.

It’s well documented that companies love to hire former college and professional athletes. They understand the effort and repetition required to excel – and the (often imperceptible) small changes developed through training and practice.

Most SaaS sales cycles are at least 84 days, and many of them are much longer. It’s a long, daunting, and tiring road. Frankly, it’s easy to lose motivation.

There are days when making 30 prospecting calls before 10 a.m. feels like torture. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep and the caffeine just isn’t hitting. Or maybe you work from home and have kids and other family members vying for your attention.

The point is: you can’t rely on your innate motivation because there will be days when it’s just not there. Instead, take a cue from the world’s best athletes and focus on what you can control: your training.

Visualize the finish line

Athletes love to win. Who doesn’t? But how do they continually push themselves to go beyond the limits they thought were possible? It starts with visualizing success.

Distance runners visualize their routes to prepare for the curves, to figure out where they’ll gain and lose speed, and adapt to their competition.

In sales, we can map the course of the relationship through thoughtful scenario planning:

  1. Who’s your prospect?
  2. What are their challenges?
  3. Can you partner with them to achieve mutual goals?
  4. Who are your competitors?
  5. How do you stack up against the competition?

Preparation is everything in SaaS sales

“The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” – Bobby Knight

As much as I wished I were Dominique Moceanu in the 1996 Olympics, sadly I’m not. But, she remains a big source of inspiration in my life. I know the training she and other Olympians undergo is based on discipline, not motivation.

The same is true in sales. Creating structure and routine that keeps you on-task, regardless of motivation, will set you up for more sustainable success.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Create a schedule by time-blocking your day.
    At the end of each day, take 10-15 minutes to look at your schedule for the next day and upcoming week. I time block everything in my Google Calendar – from workouts to project deadlines, to lunch and travel time between appointments. If you’re new to time blocking, apps like TickTick and ToDoist are a great way to get started.
  • Focus for the entire amount of time you’ve blocked.
    Put on noise-canceling headphones. Turn off all notifications on your phone and laptop. Then, channel Nike’s motto, just do it.
  • Gamify your task.
    Do you need to make 150 prospecting calls per week? Break it into smaller chunks. Set a goal to make 30 calls a day, then time yourself to see how quickly you can make it through the list. Make bets on how many prospecting calls will turn into opportunities. Then, increase your goal each day, and track how many times you win. Whether or not you’re an athlete, winning is always satisfying.
  • Be flexible.
    There are some days when the calls don’t happen. A prospect unexpectedly calls you. There’s a complication with a contract. You get sick. Things happen, and that’s ok. Berating yourself doesn’t change that the task is still incomplete. So, dust yourself off, and try again because your next opportunity is a chance to be better.

Goal setting and mini-wins

“I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.” – Mia Hamm, Double Olympic Champion, Soccer

Moving an opportunity from prospect to close can a long journey fraught with rejection, setbacks, and days where it feels like no progress has been made. Does that mean you’re a failure? Absolutely not.

If athletes only measured their success on game day, they’d be ignoring all their smaller accomplishments along the way.

Similarly, without milestones and the potential for mini-wins throughout the SaaS sales cycle, there’s a 100% chance that most people (me included) would have given up after their first prospecting call. The frequent rejection salespeople experience is, at the very least, discouraging, if not a one-way ticket toward burnout. (Not to mention that without small goals, nearly everything would be considered a failure.)

Set milestones throughout the deal cycle to show progress, and collect wins. This will help sustain your motivation, even when a deal stalls or is lost.

Learn from your losses

Mindset and motivation are inherently different. The same goes for losses and failure.

Mistakes happen. Tenths of a point stand between silver and gold. Do we want the gold? Hell yes. Similarly, not all opportunities close. A prospect may choose your competitor because of a specific feature or price.

Missing the mark stings. Feel it. Learn from it. It’s an opportunity to recalibrate and figure out what can be done differently. Every attempt is a chance to learn, and it’s only a failure if you fail to try.

Practice makes profits: Crossing the finish line

Whether your goal is to win the Olympics or close a SaaS sale, the fact is that games are won in practice. Yes, drive and motivation are necessary. Yes, you need to give it your all when you’re called to perform.

But when you start with your end goal in mind, develop a plan, and celebrate the wins along the way, there will be far more wins than losses.

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