What The Tour De France Can Teach You About Winning More Sales

Jul 13, 2015 | Sales Blog

Improving just 1% will help you win you more deals.

cycling raceIf you watch the Tour de France, you’ll quickly realize that professional bicycle racing is a highly technical sport. The technology involved in the design and construction of the bicycles, as well as the advanced technology employed to train and measure the fitness of the riders themselves, have evolved to the point where there are no sizable breakthroughs left to occur that will enable one team to enjoy a sizable, sustained competitive advantage over its competitors.

I first published this article about four months ago. But after watching the exciting action of Team Time Trial stage of the Tour de France yesterday, in which the five riders of Team BMC defeated Team Sky by a mere 0.62 seconds over a 28km course, I thought it would be useful to provide my readers the opportunity to learn its lessons again.

This razor thin margin of difference between the winner and the second place team is the same competitive dynamic affects most sellers today. The pace of technological innovation has made it extremely difficult for any one company to establish and maintain any degree of meaningful product or service differentiation. Increasingly, when customers survey vendors to evaluate new products and services for purchase they see a field of competitors that virtually all look alike. The question is: how do you breakthrough?

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains
Dave Brailsford, manager of the British-based Team Sky, aspires to have his riders win the Tour de France. In preparing for the 2010 Tour de France, he decided that the path to victory would be based on his theory of the “aggregation of marginal gains.” What he meant was that since there were no secrets or revolutionary innovations to be made in the sport, his focus was going to be on making continuous small, one-percent (1%) improvements in every element of his team’s process for preparing its riders, bicycles and strategies and executing its race plan in order to gain even the slightest advantage over its competitors.

Brailsford believed that if his riders continually focused on improving every aspect of their daily routine by 1% then they would develop a small, but sustainable, advantage over their competitors. Team Sky applies this level of discipline to every aspect of their daily routines, both large and small, including their fitness, their aerodynamic positioning on their bike, their recovery and sleep habits, their personal hygiene to prevent illness and lost training time and even to the clothing and helmets they wore during races. And, it’s paid off. Sky’s lead riders, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, won the Tour de France in 2012 and 2013 respectively. And, a year after being knocked out of the Tour by injury, Froome currently wears the famous yellow jersey of the race leader after the Team Time Trial.

What’s Your Margin of Victory?
Let me ask you. How much did you win your last order by? Were you 5% better than the competition? 10%? 25%? Do you even know?

In the Tour de France, which is contested over 21 days and during which the riders race over 2000 miles, the average margin of victory that separates the winner and the 2nd place finisher is almost always less than one-tenth of 1% of the total elapsed time of the winner. (In the 2014 Tour de France, the winning rider, Vincenzo Nabali of Italy, crossed the finish line more than 7 minutes ahead a the second place finish, a modern record for the winner’s margin of victory. However, against Nabali’s winning time of 89 hours and 59 minutes, that represents a margin of victory of slightly more than one-tenth of 1%.)

As I describe in my most recent book, Amp Up Your Sales, sellers need only be 1% better than their competition in order to win an order from a prospect. Perhaps even less than 1%. In crowded, competitive markets where buyers struggle to draw distinctions between sellers, they look beyond the product or service they are evaluating for tiebreakers that provide value to them.

Marginal Gains for Sellers that Add Value
Here just a few examples of some marginal gains that you can aggregate into your sales process establish a 1% advantage over your competitors:

1. Promptly Follow-up Sales Leads:
According to research from Insidesales.com, a very large fraction of inbound sales leads, reportedly up to 73%, are never followed up. Many buyers have given up on the idea that a salesperson will ever respond to an inquiry. But the salesperson who follows up in a responsive fashion will be perceived by the buyer as providing value and will create a marginal gain that separates him or her from their competition.

2. Accelerate Your Responsiveness:
It is not enough to just make the effort to respond. Being responsive in sales means that are quickly providing the information that your buyers need to move forward in their decision-making process. You have to continually tweak and refine your sales processes in order to find ways to respond faster and with more valuable questions, answers and insights. More often than not it will be the first seller with the answers who wins the deal.

3. Maximize The Value You Deliver on Every Sales Touch:
The standard for every sales touch, no matter how big or small, is that it must deliver something of value to the prospect that helps them move at least one step closer to making a decision. Your prospects invest their time in you. If a prospect becomes trained to expect value from you in each and every sales touch, then that represents a marginal gain that provides a real competitive advantage to you.

4. Invest Your Time to Acquire Specialized Knowledge:
Increasingly buyers want to deal with salespeople who have the specialized product knowledge, industry expertise, business insights and acumen to help them develop a better solution to the problem they are trying to solve. Become the salesperson who invests 1% of his or her time (just 24 minutes per week every week) to develop their knowledge, skills and expertise. Read books and blogs, attend webinars and conferences and spend time with your company’s technical experts. It takes just 1% of your time to become a sales resource that your prospects will recognize as a source of value that is worth the investment of their time. That will set you apart from nearly all of your competitors.

In the end, it is all about having the discipline and the commitment to take the necessary steps to continually improve all aspects of your selling. What will it take to make them 1% better? Because, in the end, you only need to be 1% better than the competition to win your customers’ business.

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