Phelps Shows Us We Compete With Ourselves

This photo captures an amazing moment of both Olympic spirit and also something even more lasting…the fact that each one of us competes with ourselves more than with anyone else. This photo is from the 2016 Rio Olympics and the blue cap is American Michael Phelps. He is absolutely focused on his goal, winning. His competitor is focused on Phelps. Who do you suppose won? (Answer: Phelps).

The picture highlights something that couldn’t be more true in sales. We spend inordinate amounts of time focused on beating the competition, but the most basic way we lose is against our own choices and limitations. Sure, there are plenty of companies selling against you, legitimately or otherwise, but in reality, you only manage yourself, and you do that through the following:

  • How much you study the customer’s industry and the customer
  • How much you know about the customer’s other choices, which include do nothing, your competitor’s offering, and do it themselves
  • How much you refresh and practice your selling techniques
  • How much you plan for a meeting based on the details you can discover about each participant
  • Your attitude and expectations about solving a customer’s problem (they’ll quickly see through you either for better or for worse)
  • Your willingness to focus in the moments that matter
  • Your drive to be absolutely excellent at what you do (which your customer will also recognize quickly either for better or for worse)

Only one of these points even mentions the competition, and only as a factor to understand and position against. The sales rep who is focused on all of these points is being Phelps-like and far more likely to beat the competition than the one who’s busy checking to see where Phelps is.

To make the point even more clearly, your competitor changes gradually, even in a hot marketplace. What we do, however, can change from meeting to meeting and from moment to moment, depending on our mindset and level of effort. We can do more, and more quickly, to beat our competition by focusing on ourselves than through any other way.