On your marks, get set, go!

A prosperous life after sport is critically important to elite athletes as many of them have dedicated the best part of their lives (some into their 30s) pursuing excellence in their chosen sport, often leaving education or business pursuits to the side.

These elite athletes know that achieving excellence in sport requires dedication, determination, discipline and sacrifice. So what do you do career-wise after a life in elite sport? Or what can you do business-wise while still pursuing your sporting goals?

These are just two of the many questions asked by the ACE (Athlete Career & Education) advisors of the many Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) athletes when looking for this year’s participants in the third VIS Barrett Business Scholarship program.

For the last two to three months I have been working with 11 elite athletes from the VIS helping them develop their business ideas and actual businesses via the VIS Barrett Business Scholarship program.  And this week, three of the athletes stepped up and presented their vision and go-to-market action plans to a panel, looking to win a business/sales coaching scholarship with Barrett in 2013.

The process has been amazing for all concerned with some incredible insights, ideas and initiatives now in progress and of course, there was a winner.

What was fantastic about the 2012 program is we had athletes from many sports including able-bodied and paralympic athletes: Wheel chair rugby, track and field, golf, cycling, rowing, canoeing slalom, snowboarding and equestrian/para-triathlon. We had Olympic and Paralympic medalists and an athlete who had just returned from their third Olympics campaign looking at their fourth in 2016 at Rio.

What was even more amazing was the range of businesses that were represented on the program. Each was very different with each requiring a considered approach about how they need to get to market and position themselves effectively to win the hearts and minds of their customers and markets.

Using the Sales Essentials models, philosophy and principles coupled with brain science, we worked together developing viable go-to-market action plans for each of their businesses or business ideas.

The collective learning shared across the group really accelerated the understanding of how businesses can differ in how they need to go to market.   While there are common elements to be applied in all aspects of a functioning business, especially in sales, the real learning came when the athletes realised how they needed to fine tune their go-to-market action plans to hit the spot and get traction.

For instance, when we looked at prospecting and developing new business each participant  needed to consider how they would prospect for new opportunities and get new clients on board.  By comparing and contrasting businesses, we were able to see the weighting in direct calls to individuals or social media campaigns needed in each case and there were distinct differences.

Like the action and results oriented people they are, after each session these athletes would go out and applied what they learnt and examined, bringing back real life examples of the applications of their efforts to the group.   Each session they continued to build on solid foundations.  What helped is that we created a peer to peer learning environment, which is a fantastic way to accelerate learning. With four sessions run over two months, the athletes were able to gain entire group experiences, ‘positive interdependence’, face-to-face interaction, group processing, individual responsibility and group accountability while working on their own businesses.   We consciously orchestrated each learning exercise which allowed the participants to fully engage in peer learning and reap the benefits.

What I love about this program is the opportunity to work with high performance individuals, witnessing the ease with which they can transfer their knowledge and experience about being an elite athlete into the business arena.

Open to learning and not frightened to be challenged, here are some of the athletes’ insights from the program:

  • “I never thought I was into selling and then realised that indeed I am in sales every day. If I do not make those calls then nothing changes and I get nowhere fast. However, if I make the calls and the answer is ‘no’ at least I know.  But to my pleasant surprise, there are so many [people saying] ‘yes’ out there I just keep calling and guess what, there is business out there.”
  • “I realised that I had to pay as much attention to the prospect pipeline as I did to the customers we had got on board, if I didn’t we would have no business next season.”
  • “Getting the value proposition right and making it resonate with customers was crucial.  It is so important to see the world from your customers’ eyes.”
  • “I never knew really listening to someone was so hard – but when you do it’s really worth it.  The listening and questioning exercises are vital. “

Not all the athletes chose to go to final presentation evening; some were still working their way through the formation of their business ideas.  But those who presented did an excellent job. The panel was extremely impressed and it was a tough decision to choose the winner.

Our finalists were:

Warwick Draper was the eventual winner after a tight race to the finish line, so watch this space.  If you want to know more about Warwick, hear him speak about his preparation for the London Olympics.

Again, it has been a privilege to watch new businesses come to life and work with such an amazing group of people.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations.  Visit www.barrett.com.au


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