I work in sales development, a (somehow) relatively unknown and misunderstood profession. I also play Ultimate Frisbee, a relatively unknown and misunderstood sport. While the two are obviously very different, my background in Ultimate Frisbee has certainly helped me shape a career path and identity with my sales development position.
Yes, I play competitive Ultimate Frisbee. Yes, we wear cleats while we play. The tournaments are put together through a ton of planning by large organizations, and they involve other competitive teams. There are pro leagues, amateur and college leagues, even a worldwide presence. Basically, take your pre-conceived notions about the sport and throw them out the window (no shoe-less hippies tossing a disc in the quad). As someone who’s been part of the sport and its movement for the past 10+ years, it gets increasingly more annoying to break these stereotypes. I love to play the game, so I continue to work at it and give it the exposure it needs.
The same goes for a sales development position. As soon as people hear the word “sales” it conjures up negative connotations like “sleazy” and “pushy.” Breaking these stereotypes is key in legitimizing the profession as well as progressing any further down a career path. Coming up with a solid way to differentiate yourself from those negative connotations will help separate yourself from those stereotypes. Personally, I like to take a more consultative approach to my sales development process — I hate being pushy and I hope people don’t consider me sleazy — and that helps separate myself from my counterparts in the space. I also pour over as much research material as possible before reaching out to my accounts, because I want to get the most complete picture of that account before I contact them. Anytime I can separate what I do from what you think I do, I will.
Using Everything to Help
Ultimate Frisbee is a game that combines speed, power, and finesse. It also incorporates a lot of aspects from other sports like the continuous movement and hard cutting of soccer, the pass and catch of football, and the quick pace of basketball. That means to become an elite Ultimate player you need to include the play and training of other sports. By playing and training for sports like basketball, soccer, and football you condition yourself to get better at Ultimate (plus lots and lots of running).
The same can be said for sales development — use everything at your disposal. There are tons of tools out there designed specifically for simplifying the sales process, and for putting you ahead of the competition. The growing field of sales enablement tools allows you to test out which technology works best for you and how you want to use it. Using a CRM to help you manage your accounts and set scheduled followups is a big help as well, because organization is key when you reach out to multiple accounts on a daily basis. With personalization becoming more and more the trend, it’s also important that you use databases like LinkedIn and DiscoverOrg to get a better scope of the person or account you’re reaching out to.
Being Part of Something New
As far as fast growing sports are concerned, Ultimate is close to the top of that list. You might think that growth is just on college campuses (where almost 17,000 students play each year), but you’d be wrong. Across the US with professional leagues, and across the world with the World Flying Disc Federation, it’s becoming increasingly popular each and every year. We might even see it in the Olympics one day! Current participation rates sit at close to 8 million people, and being part of that number can be exhilarating. Seeing the progress of your hard work and the level as to which it’s paid off is definitely a rewarding experience.
Sales development is a growing field of its own. Only a small portion of companies effectively use a sales development team or process, and those that don’t are beginning to see the folly of their ways. By positioning myself as more of a subject matter expert or taking a more consultative approach to the whole “sales” thing, it allows me to cultivate an opportunity and help set expectations before passing it to an enterprise sales teams. According to Openview Partners, I have a 74% close ratio if I reach out to a decision maker before anyone else, and 50% of all buyers end up choosing the vendor that responds first. You can bet that a sales director is going to get excited when an SDR passes them a lead, versus waiting for that lead to come to you.
Whether it’s starting out a new career or testing out an upcoming sport, a similar mindset is needed to see success. Tenacity, flexibility, and a bit of patience is required — all hoping it pays dividends in the end.
We talk about this on our podcast! Not just Ultimate Frisbee, but Rugby players (and all club athletes) face similar challenges.