Michael Phelps Visualized Success

How to Flex Muscle on the Sales Team, Too

Michael Phelps wins the 200 individual medley at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.

When Michael Phelps was young, his coach, Bob Bowman, taught him relaxation techniques so he could visualize success.

“Once you get in a relaxed state, it’s like watching a movie. Sometimes it’s like you’re sitting in the stands watching yourself swim,” Bowman says in a video on Phelps’ YouTube channel.

From a flawless swim to leaking goggles, Phelps would rehearse vivid scenarios in his mind hundreds of times over. When his goggles actually did leak during the 200 Butterfly final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he didn’t panic. Instead, he knew what to do, winning his fourth gold medal at the games and setting a world record. “You’re always ready for anything that comes your way,” says Phelps, who won a total of 28 gold medals, including 23 Golds, before retiring in 2016.

Bowman and Phelps exemplify the power of developing a keystone habit, one that fuels the development of other techniques to achieve goals. In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg writes that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. “Belief is easier when it occurs within a community.”

Whereas Bowman and Phelps huddled at the edge of a swimming pool, sales teams are hardly ever in the same city. In the absence of frequent face-to-face meetings, how do executives share the corporate culture and impart best practices?

The answer is a podcast, say sales executives, including my sister-in-law Jeanine O’Dowd, director of business development, U.S./Midwest for Business Events Canada — part of Destination Canada, the country’s tourism arm. (She suggested I read Duhigg’s book, which is fascinating.)

Having worked in hospitality sales for 25 years, she says weekly podcasts can serve as an educational complement to the high-energy ambience of sales conferences. The convenience of tuning in keeps people on task after they’ve returned to their desks.

“It takes most people a month to develop and use a new sales technique on a consistent basis,” she says. “A podcast seems to be unexplored territory and a friendly medium for sales people who are on the road on a regular basis. It will keep your teams accountable.”

One podcast topic that corporations might consider is priority setting. “Each week, I write a list of three things I want to accomplish so I don’t feel like I’m ticking off administrative stuff,” she says. “I tackle the hard thing first and get it out of the way.”

In the pharma space, corporartions could use podcasts to teach sales reps how to use third-party research to speak persuasively with doctors, says Michael Ridgway, who has 25 years of sales and management experience. “A podcast would connect the team, so everyone can share how they’ve overcome similar selling situations. It builds trust, continiuty and teamwork, making everyone stronger.”

Enter Fieldcast, a Milwaukee-based podcast-production company, focused specifically on helping corporations improve sales performance.

“Given the immense popularity of podcasts, especially among millennials, corporate executives are beginning to use the medium as part of the internal communications tool kit,” says FieldCast Founder and CEO Gary Reynolds, a pioneer in experiential marketing who sold his company, GMR, to Omnicom. “Executives can use their voice — their unique sense of humor and personal stories — to teach and motivate sales teams wherever they are.”

Sally-Ann O’Dowd’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla., consultancy, Sally On Media, produces multimedia content for brands. As a contributing writer for Velocitize.com, Sally-Ann covers the intersection of business, advertising and technology. For luxury mag Think, she is a location scout and arts writer. She writes about health, science, art, wealth management, and Native American businesses for Lifestyle Media Group.