Friday, May 20, 2016

The Difference Between Gold and Silver

This past week I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Charlie Houchin, who won a gold medal in the 4x200 meter freestyle relay with the US team at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Charlie achieved the highest level of success anyone can reach in that sport. The world doesn’t recognize anything higher than Olympic gold.

So I asked Charlie: what’s the difference between gold and silver? To be the best at what he did, better than a whole field of outstanding athletes, what made him unique? Was it effort? Attitude? Talent?

Charlie’s answer surprised me at first: he said it’s “technique.” He explained that every athlete competing in the Olympics works hard, spends long hours practicing and had a highly competitive attitude. Those are table stakes. Without those elements an athlete won’t ever compete in the Olympics. To win, however, the athletes have to have the ability to execute the proper technique for the sport as close to perfection as possible.

When I thought more about Charlie’s answer I realized I should not have been surprised. In the language of sales, he was referring to “best practices.” The sales team that will win the gold medal is the one that executes as closely to best practices as possible. The difference is, in sales, there’s no silver medal! You either win the deal or go home with the other losers.

I don’t know the proper technique for swimming a leg of the 200-meter freestyle. But in a competitive engagement I know to focus on best practices in:
·         Preparation for the engagement
·         Building and managing a high-performing team
·         Establishing a strong, trusted relationship with the client
·         Achieving success for the client first

Adherence to those best practices in deal-making is the difference between us getting the gold (winning the deal) and silver (nothing).