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After spending 13 years playing racquetball competitively, at the open level, I decided to pick up tennis. I've always excelled at eye-hand coordination sports; racquetball, softball, and volleyball, so tennis seemed like a good choice. I felt like it was as important to pick the right sport just as it's important for you to choose the right sales job.

After a few months of group lessons, focusing on the basics, I learned that I had an unexpected secret weapon - my slice forehand. Thanks to my years of playing racquetball I have a natural and wicked forehand slice. It became obvious early on that what came naturally to me was not only a struggle for others to learn, but as an opponent, they had no idea how to handle a sliced ball coming at them. My slice forehand is my tennis secret weapon.

What's your sales secret weapon? The one skill or trait you count on to win the deal and outperform your co-workers and competitors?

Eventhough slice came naturally to me, I knew that if I further developed it, it could be the difference between winning and losing matches. I needed to create muscle memory. So, I found a private coach and spent hours practicing and perfecting my slice so that I could make my slice "move" more (if you play golf you get this concept, but you hate when it moves more).

Practicing your sales skills isn't any different.

After a few months, I decided to put my hard work to the test, so I joined a USTA team and started to play matches every week. As I started to complete, I sensed that my hard work was paying off. I started to "see" opportunities on the court and different situations where putting my slice in play would dramatically increase my chances of winning the point, game, set, and hopefully the match!

Putting in time developing your sales secret weapon will increase your win rate as well!

After playing tennis competitively for 15+ years now, the scouting report on my slice has gone viral and even though most of the local singles players are well aware of my slice strategy, it still causes frustration from time to time and always throws off the women I play when we travel out of town. I jokingly tell my opponents, when they bring my slice up, that there's a monthly support group and it involves cocktails!

I believe the keys to my success on the tennis court were:

  • Picking the sport that most closely resembled racquetball
  • Transferring my strengths from racquetball to tennis then helped me identify my secret weapon
  • Practicing and perfecting my secret weapon
  • Deciding to pressure test my slice in a competitive situation
  • Building a strategy around my secret weapon that I can count consistently

How I learned to perfect my tennis game is no different from how you'll go about mastering the game of sales.

1. Pick the right sport/job:

I could have picked any sport, but I reviewed my existing athletic strengths and determined that picking up another racket sport would be an easier transition than say deciding to learn to play hockey. Sure, there were differences, a larger court, a longer racket, and a much different way of keeping score, but I knew that I had some skills I built while playing racquetball that would transition to tennis.

It is important that you spend time picking the correct type of sales role that might build off prior skills and jobs.

2. Pick the right team:

I've played with the same core group of women; on the same tennis team for over 10 years now. They're my teammates on Sunday, match day, but they're also the ones I turn to when I need someone to talk to or lean on. Everyone needs to be part of a team that is supportive, encouraging, and that you can count on to pick you up when you've lost a deal or are behind quota. The right company and team can be the difference in success or failure.

3. Identify your secret weapon:

You probably have several sales competencies that you feel are strengths, but what one skill do you have that you feel is your secret weapon? The one skill or trait that you can count to be a game-changer for finding prospects and closing deals. Maybe you think that you have an innate ability to pull information out of people that they wouldn't normally share, or your negotiation skills are better than most, or maybe you feel that your strength is holding prospects accountable. Take your list of skills and determine which one behavior or skill is your secret weapon.

4. Find a Coach:

This decision truly can be game-changing. A good boss, mentor, "practice partner", and network really can be the difference between getting to 50% of your earning potential or 100%.

I've worked for several good bosses over the years, but no one has had as great an impact on me, in a short period of time, as Carl. Carl helped shape the sales leader that I am today. I knew the first time I met him, over coffee, that he would make me better. More importantly I just knew he wouldn't let me fail.

It didn't take long to confirm I'd made the right decision.  Two weeks into my employment, after a particularly impressive revenue day the day before Carl appeared in my door way and said, "Great day yesterday!".

“Thanks, it really was", I said.

He then asked, "What caused the numbers to be so high?"

What? My team had just kicked ass and you want to know why. I just stared at him. I had no idea. I was still basking in the glory of the day, like I would when I landed the perfect drop-shot. It had never occurred to me to ask why. That's when I knew for sure that I'd made the right decision; Carl was going to make me better!

5. Practice to get Perfect:

Now that you've identified your secret weapon as I did with slice, you need to dedicate time to perfecting it and creating muscle memory or in this case, Mental Memory. When I was perfecting my slice and creating muscle memory, I spent 2-3 hours a week at "The Wall". The wall was a 2-story concrete wall in the back of my local middle school. I would put on my headset, grab my tennis racket and one tennis ball, and head to the wall. For 30-45 minutes, I would practice my slice against the concrete wall.

You need to be dedicated to perfecting your secret weapon. This could be role-playing, committing to practicing your secret weapon in a social setting, or just entertaining the dog with the first thing you'll say when you get a prospect on the phone.

Find your own wall. 

6. Develop a strategy:

So, you've chosen and practiced your secret weapon, it's time to create a strong strategy around it. You need to determine under what circumstances and situations you will use your secret weapon to have the greatest impact.

Think back to the times when you successfully had a "win" as a result of using your secret weapon. There are going to be times when putting it in play will be more effective than others. What are those times? Who are the best people to use it on? And when in the sales cycle might it be a game-changer? Write these down and commit to ensuring that you are putting your secret weapon in play when the right situations appear.

7. Put it to the test:

So you've picked the right sales role, you've joined the right company, you're working for a boss that supports and inspires you, you've identified your secret weapon, you've spent hours perfecting it, and you've created a written strategy of how and when you'll put it in play, now all you need to do is to put all of it to the test!  Sounds easy, right? The only way to guarantee that you can count on your secret weapon under pressure is to pressure test it.

How do you do that? You put it in play when you're down 2-5 in the set. You need to be 100% certain that you can count on it when you need it the most. When you have to add one more deal to the pipeline or close one more deal in the quarter to hit your bonus. You're not going to really know for sure you can count on it until the chips are down. Why? Because when everything is going well you're relaxed, confident, and your performance is high. When you're behind quota or your pipeline is anemic you're stressed, tense, scared, and worried. When you are feeling this way everything takes more effort and is harder. You need to use a skill that you know won't let you down when you're feeling insecure, worried, or under pressure. That's when you pull out your secret sales weapon. Put it to the test. When it comes through like the champ then you'll know that no matter how stressful the situation, you can count on it to pull you through!

There's no better feeling than watching my opponent's eyes get big and see their body try to react as they realize I've just hit a drop shot during a crucial time in the match and they have no chance of getting to it. The confidence it gives me when I put my secret weapon in play when I need a point the most, is immeasurable. I want you to feel the same way. The excitement and pride you'll have when that prospect you thought would never buy, says yes! It's the greatest feeling!