What My Running Training Is Teaching Me About Working in Sales

I’ve started trying to train for a 5K…yet again. And there are a number of similarities between the process I’m going through on this training program, and my experience of working in sales.

I’ve complained, moaned and threatened to quit multiple times along the way, but here are some of the things I’ve learnt which also apply to the world of sales.

Trust the process

My running training has been much more a mental training program than a physical one. When things get a little bit tough, a little voice inside my head starts up to tell me that I ABSOLUTELY have to stop running right this second. A side note: when I say running, what I mean is an ambling jog. I regularly get overtaken by ‘real’ runners as I struggle on at my plodding pace.

I’ve been following the Couch25K program which is clearly set out and trusted around the world. And do you know what? It’s working. I’ve started this program a few times and abandoned it early on, giving into excuses like ‘maybe tomorrow’, ‘it’s raining’, ‘it’s too warm’, ‘it’s not warm enough’ and so on. But this time I’ve stuck with it.

Because of lockdown, my squash club is shut so running makes sense. And the program I’m following also makes sense: it’s proven and it’s gradually building my strength and endurance up, week by week, run by run.

I’ve put my trust in the process.

And I can definitely see correlations between that and my time in sales where you embark on what seems like an impossible mountain to climb of new business development – knowing you have to go in and make lots of cold calls, go to lots of new customer meetings – with no deal in sight. But you have to trust the process.

You have to trust in the laws of your sales funnel that tell you that X number of calls will result in X number of meetings, leading to a deal. That X number of cold emails is going to get you in front of a prospect who has a need.

Sometimes we give up before we get to the point where we trust the process – we think it’s not going to work, we aren’t seeing instant results, or we had a bad run and it throws us off track.

But sometimes we just need to hit the pavement, put in the time and effort and trust that those efforts will pay off if we just keep on.

Learn to recognise progress

Another thing that has stood out to me is learning to recognise progress. When I first started my training, jogging for a minute was doable but really hard. Now I am up to five minutes at a time (well, hopefully 8 minutes if tonight’s run goes to plan!) and one minute now seems like nothing. But still, I beat myself up if I’m wanting to quit near the end of a five-minute run section. The little voice pipes up asking how on earth are you going to run a whole 5K if five minutes is feeling difficult? 

But what I’m missing is being able to see the progress I’ve made from just a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, five minutes running without stopping was unimaginable. Now it’s just standard. I’m not finding it super easy, but I’m doing it each time.

And the same can be said for when I worked in sales – I’d be frustrated that I didn’t know how to do things that my more experienced colleagues did effortlessly, I’d worry about why I found some things so challenging and scary – without seeing that it’s impossible to learn everything about sales in a month – and that it takes a long time and lots of different experiences to pick up the skills, knowledge and perseverance that you need to succeed in sales and business.

Every customer engagement, every complicated customer quote, every hairy customer situation and every nervewracking customer presentation is a learning experience – and you come away from it equipped to go onto the next experience. It’s like a briefcase, and with each activity you do in your job, you’re going along to the next activity with another tool in your briefcase. You might not need to use that tool immediately, but there’ll be a situation in the not-too-far future when it comes in handy.

There’s support out there

One thing about running is that there’s a hell of a lot of support out there to help new runners. There are friendly beginner running groups, there are support forums, there are Facebook groups, there are apps to monitor your progress, and lots more.

If you want to find out more about learning proper running form, you can watch any number of really good quality resources on YouTube, or you can find a running coach if you’re really serious about it.

And again, it’s the same with sales.

There are so many resources online, both free and paid, where you can get access to help, support and guidance for any part of your sales job. From sales templates to sales podcasts, to a subreddit dedicated to sales and selling, you’d be hard-pressed to not be able to find an answer to your sales challenge online.

So, the message is – recognise that there’s a whole community of support available for salespeople, whether it’s emotional support to help you through tough spots, or technical sales support to help you win that deal, it’s there.

There’s always something more to learn

My focus at the moment is running for longer periods of time, so building up from five-minute run intervals to eight minutes, and then on to twenty (which right now seems frankly ridiculous).

However, I’ve realised that once I crack running a 5K without stopping, the goal will change to increasing my pace. Once I achieve my desired pace, I might then improve my running form. Then it might come full circle again to training for a 10K.

The point is: there’s always something more to learn. And that’s a good thing – it shows us that there’s always something extra we can figure out and add to our little briefcase of useful tools.

In sales, you might be a seasoned pro at Account Management, but how are your new business development skills? Do you need to skill up on social selling, or do you need to figure out how to incorporate some tools from marketing into your day to day sales role?

Sales is so fluid: the entire process is governed by your customer, and if customers change how they buy, then we as salespeople are forced to change how we sell – because of that fluidity, there’s always somewhere else to go in sales. There’s always a new challenge and a new chapter.

And that also makes it a great profession for those new into sales too – because it means that no one salesperson has it all figured out – you can still get really good at something and be a good salesperson, and then add to your skills over time.

Giving just a little bit more

And finally, my main lesson that I’ve learnt from my Couch25K training is that when you think you’re going to give up, you can always keep going a little bit longer than you thought. Then a little bit longer than that, until you’ve made it. Or perhaps you don’t make it on Monday, but you come back again on Wednesday and give it your all then.

Sales is no different. There are those long, drawn-out B2B sales cycles that can seem neverending – there’s always another roadblock, another contract, another admin issue to sort out. But if we just keep giving a little bit more and bringing the pep that we salespeople are known for, then it often pays off. Then before you know it, you get a little win and that spurs you on to keep going.

So, I now need to go and psyche myself up to do an 8-minute run interval – I hope that’s given you a little window into my world right now! 🙂

Edit: So I did my run, and instead of 8 mins, I did a 15 minute interval! So super pleased with myself for sticking with the program 🙂

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