If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you’re familiar with the 10,000-hour rule. First proposed by a Swedish psychologist, the rule states that exceptional expertise requires at least 10,000 hours of practice.
Tiger Woods would probably tell you it took well over 10,000 hours to achieve his latest Masters jacket. His was a journey that started at 3 years old. I’d venture to guess that the last five to 10 years have been the hardest, and required far more than practice.
To be exceptional requires practice, but also focus and sheer drive. Practice alone won’t get you to extraordinary.
Deliberate practice is focused. You have to have the drive to be exceptional. That is what keeps you going on the days you aren’t as motivated, when you’d rather sleep in. It requires that you seek outside feedback and reflect on your performance. And yes, it probably takes some help in the genetics department. At 5’3”, playing basketball every day for hours likely won’t turn me into Michael Jordan (although sheer determination, practice, and science can get you pretty far).
“I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.” – Michael Jordan
Isn’t this a sales blog?
Here’s how this translates to sales. If sales is your chosen profession, you already have that dose of “nature.” Hopefully, you enjoy what you do and you are passionate about it. If not, that may be another conversation.
Assuming that, let’s focus on practice, focus, and drive. How can you leverage those to be exceptional in sales?
Who here nailed their first cold call? Me either — but the bar was low. I felt like I won when I didn’t get sick to my stomach my first time out. With practice, we all get better and more confident.
Most of us heard “practice makes perfect” from coaches or parents growing up. It still applies as an adult. Beyond the practice built into onboarding, be deliberate in doing it throughout your career. As Tiger once said, “No matter how good you get, you can always get better.”
Try sparring with your teammates or sales leaders. This can be a fun activity; salespeople are naturally competitive. Individually, make a video of practice sessions. Observe yourself from the outside looking in. No doubt Tiger has watched thousands of hours of tape! No matter what it is, make practice a scheduled event. There’s nothing more deliberate than a block on your calendar.
Don’t just go through the motions. Playing hours of half-assed golf didn’t make Tiger who he is. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Instead, be intentional about learning, and sharpening your sales or sales management skills. You need regular feedback and practice that focuses on your weaknesses. Slow down and do it again. And again. Ask for more feedback. Rinse and repeat. Deliberately increase the difficulty of your practice. Raise the bar for yourself, and bring in others who can help you level up.
When you get in front of customers, apply those skills and carefully listen so you can identify problems, develop relationships, and help them be a leader of positive change who truly makes a difference to their organization.
At the end of the day, you have to want it. You have to have the drive to be the best version of yourself possible. Think about everything Tiger went through in 10 years — scandal, addiction, and spinal fusion surgery. He had the drive, the mental strength to come back and play what he called “some of the best golf I’ve played in my life” to win the Masters. In his biography, Tiger said, “I am the toughest golfer mentally.” He just proved it.
What gets you fired up? Talk to a mentor, visualize success, listen to a motivational podcast or TED Talk … whatever gets you fired up, do it! Keep yourself motivated.
By all means, practice. But don’t stop there. Don’t stop at 10,000 hours. Apply focus. Maintain your drive. Put in the work it takes to achieve the extraordinary. And never look back.
Be a Tiger.
Want to learn more about the behaviors that separate top sales performers from their peers? Download research on the Best Practices of Top Performing Sales Reps here!