Great Sales People can Race Cars

I recently got a call from a salesperson in my network asking for perspective as he was “going through a very big curve” in sales (The fact that he was reaching outside of his bubble to get different perspective puts him in a league above his peers in the first place but more on that later). After a series of questions he asked a big one: “What curve have you recently gone through and how did you get out?” I’ll share my answer and expand.


The truth is that you’re always going through a curve in sales and if you think your out of a curve, you don’t realize you’re right back in another one. The key is to not focus to the curve itself but the road in front of you. The quote that comes to mind is about race car drivers that I read in from Ben Horowitz’s blog titled The Struggle.

“When they teach you how to drive a racecar, they tell you to focus on the road when you go around a turn. They tell you that because if you focus on the wall, then you will drive straight into the wall. If you focus on how you might fail, then you will fail. Even if you only have one bullet left in the gun and you have to hit the target, focus on the target. You might not hit it, but you definitely won’t hit if you focus on other things.”

This brings up more than just not focusing on the curve but also highlights an even better point which is:

Great Sales People are Race Car Drivers


I bet you immediately drew the conclusion about both being risk takers. That’s not actually true. Research has shown that race car drivers who take personal risks are more likely to commit errors while racing resulting in more accidents than non-risk takers. Thrill seeking activities produce adrenaline and endorphins, which leave us with an exhilarating feeling, which some say is similar to sex. The good feeling we get from thrill seeking activities encourage additional thrill seeking activities.

Race car drivers are thrill seekers not risk takers. Salespeople are also thrill seekers and not risk takers. The adrenaline surges through your veins when you close a deal and immediately you want another. Risk takers or people who describe themselves as spontaneous tend to “wing it” often as they have a natural tendency to do. They enjoy going into a situation unprepared and figure it out as they go along. While fun is pretty much guaranteed, this quality will instantly be a sales career killer.

Focus and Concentration

Race car drivers, like sales people, also tend to be more independent, more confident, and more aggressive than people who do not race cars for a living. Race car drivers also have faster reaction times. Seconds count when drivers pilot race cars at more than 200 miles an hour alongside other cars traveling at the same break neck speed. In addition to faster reaction times, race car drivers possess an exceptional ability to concentrate.

Salespeople also possess an uncanny ability to think on their feet and quickly access information (names, companies, products) that will help them in a conversation. The ability to meticulously prepare for a gameplan during a lunch, call or meeting the ability to focus and utilize their senses to read tone, body language or other non-verbal queues and

Great salespeople also have the ability to concentrate and focus. Not be deterred by all of the tasks that come at them but remain steadfast in their approach. To do sales at a high level it takes a tremendous amount of concentration on what’s ahead as well as perspective on how to judge their performance in the past.

Steer ahead by Looking Back 

Race car drivers need to accurately judge their performance and make adjustments under stress. If something is not working as expected, drivers can quickly and accurately assess the situation and make immediate changes to improve their performance. You can see this during the frantic, yet very precise pit stops that are quite stressful to watch but if you see the driver, they are extremely calm, focusing on what’s ahead.

To loop this back to sales, every minute of every day counts. The pressure of hitting  quota whether it’s monthly or quarterly is tremendous. Spending time on the past makes sense to sharpen your skills on making the right adjustments that are around that next turn. The only way anyone improves is through perspective and an understanding.

Visualize the Finish  


Race car drives use imagery more than other athletes to hone their skill sets. Race car driving is a very expensive, which reduces actual practice time. Consequently, drivers must use imagery to mentally envision race track conditions and a wide variety of other driving scenarios including the actions of other drivers. The use of mental imagery is the next best thing to actually driving practice runs on a track. Imagery is a solitary, internal process, which further supports the notion that race car drivers, like great salespeople, are introverts.

More on sales people being introverts on a another post, but the idea of using imagery really resonates with great salespeople. When you plan through your year, then quarters, then months and so on, you have to visualize you hitting your target and what that represents. It’s not just how much money you get when you hit your goal or the fact that you would get a promotion. To make your goal real you need to visualize what that commission will get you as well as where that promotion can take you.

Pay attention to what’s real

Race car drivers pay attention to what is real. They focus on what is actually happening around them. They process information through their five senses. If they can see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or smell it, then it is real.

Pay attention to what is real, control what you can control and forget about what you can’t. Especially when selling SaaS, there are so many factors that can help or hurt you as in sales, if you get lazy from the help or blame the headwind you lose focus on what really matters: your ability to pay attention to what’s real and what’s not.

Experience is important, your Network is Everything


Drivers remember details. They remember facts that are important to them. Drivers take mental snapshots of previous experiences and can recall them in great detail. When a problem presents itself, they tend to look to the past for the same or similar situations for solutions for present problems. Their motto is: Experience is the best teacher.

One main difference here is that incredibly gifted salespeople that leap frog their peers are trying to hack ways to get that same experience, earlier. Regardless of where you are in your sales career, you should always consistently reach out to your network for perspective. Returning to the young salesperson in my network who reached out about “going through a curve”, the reality is that he found the road in front of him by making the call to me; not because of what I said to him but what reaching outside for perspective taught him even before hearing anything I said. In fact, if you are an AE, start this practice off right and call Daylan Swedlow at MickTec and I bet you he’ll put you in touch with folks that he’s collected great insights on just by asking these questions. 

The discomfort you feel in reaching outside to those not as comfortable for you already teaches everything you needed when going through a challenging time.  

When it boils down to it, you need to work on your craft and those who can help you get better than your job.

Sales is a wheel


For those that don’t know me well is that I absolutely love Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (revealing my inner nerd here). I blasted through 7 books at roughly 700 pages each (and an additional 8th added later) in 2 months. They speak about “Ka” as a metaphor for your fate or your destiny.

“Ka is a wheel; its one purpose is to turn. The spin of ka always brings us back to the same place, to face and reface our mistakes and defeats until we can learn from them. When we learn from the past, the wheel continues to move forward, towards growth and evolution. When we don’t, the wheel spins backward, and we are given another chance. If once more we squander the opportunity, the wheel continues its rotation towards devolution, or destruction.”

Now replace Ka with Sales in the quote above it resonates perfectly. Sales is a wheel.

Author: Tim Yandel

I'm Tim. I live in Cole Valley, San Francisco with my wife, Julie, and two daughters Addie and Audra. I tend to write a bunch about leading Sales teams, since that's what I've been doing since 2006. I'm particularly drawn to the psychology of selling, whether that be how people buy things or sell things, it's fascinating how decision-making is centered into the core of who you are as a person. I enjoy cultivating a culture centered around mastery of your craft and a genuine passion for winning together. Outside of professional learnings, I enjoy listening to epic sci-fi and fantasy books while I run long distances to decompress and obsessed with watching my two girls grow. For a good ice breaker, ask me about my Golden Retriever and my Bernese Mountain Dog.

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