How to Succeed in Inside Sales: Lessons from a 1984 Olympic Medalist

There’s a reason sales people are usually former athletes or those with a strong competitive nature – our work demands it. As sales people we know competitive pressure, starting with the second we pick up the phone.

As the Olympic Games kick off in London today, we wanted to take this time to reflect back on a gold medalist from the 1984 Olympics, Jeff Blatnick, who happened to speak at a 2011 American Association of Inside Sales Professions (AA-ISP) conference. Blatnick, a wrestler for the United States, was the first US Olympian in history to win a medal in the super heavyweight weight class. He is a prime example of how honing his skill, overcoming challenges and coming back with a positive attitude helped him achieve what he did.

At the AA-ISP conference, Blatnick shared three tips to succeeding in sales and life that he had learned from wrestling. One of those key factors was having faith and a good attitude that you will succeed.

Two years prior to Blatnick’s success in the Los Angeles Olympics, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymph system.  Blatnick faced the cancer head on, enduring a series of radiation treatments and surgery to remove his spleen and appendix before the cancer went into remission. Soon after the news that the cancer was in remission, Blatnick restarted his vigorous training to join the Olympic team.

“Faith and attitude go hand and hand,” Blatnick said to the audience. “Faith is a blind trust – you can’t find the answer under a book … If you have faith that everything is going to work out, you’ll have an attitude that, ‘yeah, this is going to work for me and I can get it done’.”

Blatnick went on to say that attitude and performance are linked. Our sales reps here at have discovered this as well. “How you perceive it will be, the majority of the time, is how you perform it,” Blatnick said. It shows in our sales room. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy,” confirmed the Business Development Manager (BDM) at XANT. “When reps have a bad attitude, they don’t perform well.”

It’s no secret for those who have been involved in sports that 80 percent of competing is mental. Watching the final moments of Blatnick’s match against Thomas Johansson of Sweden, you can see as soon as Blatnick scored the first point that it wasn’t just a physical victory of the match, but also a mental one as Johansson’s mental barriers crumbled and Blatnick soon scored the second point of the match. Blatnick’s attitude and outlook can be summed up with one of the quotes from his first interview stepping off the mat: “I’m a happy dude.”

But attitude isn’t the only thing that drives success. Another factor for success, Blatnick said, was that “what you truly give, you‘ll always get back”.  The more work you put into something, the more results you’ll see, he continued.  For example, after Blatnick won the gold medal and then fought cancer for a second time, he started sharing his story of how he survived his ordeals with the disease on the speaking circuit. Often times, after a talk, others would come up and inspire him with their own experiences.

Brandon Byrge, one of our sales reps also had an experience of getting back what he put in. When he was first hired at XANT, he would go home and study the company product off the clock so he could sell better. “My friends and family would often ask why I would dedicate so much time to my company after hours especially since I wasn’t getting paid,” Byrge wrote in a published article. “What they didn’t understand was that while I may not have been paid for the hours I spent studying, the hours I spent definitely paid off.”

The common principle among this Olympian and sales professionals are that effort and efficiency are linked when it comes to working hard for your dreams.

“Working hard involves your pride,” Blatnick said. “You don’t care what other people think, it’s important to you and you want to get it done to the best of your ability. That’s effort. But effort needs direction.” That direction is your dreams, said Blatnick.

Our BDM says this is vital for the sales reps. He sits down with each individual on his team and asks them: “What is your dream?” and helps them connect that to the next step: “How are you going to get there by performing well?”

It all comes down to knowing your products, your company, and the sales process inside and out. Then you can apply effort. It takes time, patience and a good attitude to be a great sales rep.

“A dream isn’t something you just go over and pick up,” Blatnick said. “I’ve got to find a way to get a hand around that goal and make it mine.”

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