6 Lessons Salespeople can Learn from Michael Jordan and the Last Dance
There’s been no shortage of great television over the last few years. ESPN kept this trend going when they released The Last Dance into the emerging pandemic, giving sports fans and non-sports fans alike hours of exceptional documentary filmmaking to enjoy. The Last Dance tells the story of Michael Jordan’s famous last season with the Chicago Bulls, interposed with flashbacks covering Jordan’s career while also giving attention to each his teammates, coaches, and team executives.
While The Last Dance is a sports documentary, it also offers valuable life lessons that can be applied to the competitive world of sales. The barrier to entry and required athletic prowess is, of course, much different in sales than professional basketball, but the mental challenges aren’t as dissimilar as one might think. Here are the six lessons that salespeople can take from the indomitable Michael Jordan and The Last Dance:
1. You have to start somewhere
Michael Jordan wasn’t born the best basketball player in the world. In fact, he wasn’t even an exceptional one before he spent years fully committing himself to the sport. As a high school sophomore, Jordan didn’t make the varsity team, which sent him running home to cry. But he used this to fuel his commitment to practicing, and, well… you know the rest. Remember this when it’s your first year in sales and you’re not breaking any records. Great things take time (and hard work) to build.
2. To win, you must hold yourself accountable
One thing that’s clear from Jordan’s storied career is that he never took the outcome for granted. When he lost or had a bad year, he doubled down on improving himself. When he was getting thrown around early in his career, he spent the off-season lifting weights and putting on mass. When his comeback after a hiatus in baseball didn’t go as planned, he spent the offseason training like a madman and getting his body back into basketball shape. Salespeople need to do the same. If you’re not achieving your goals, ask yourself why and then do something about it.
3. A great team can make all the difference
While Michael Jordan was arguably one of the best basketball players of all time, he wouldn’t have been able to win six championships without a strong team. Sales might seem like an individual job, and in some ways it is. But to reach the highest heights, you need to not only work for a company that provides the right product(s), you need to find a place that will give you the support and tools to help make it happen. Even an exceptional sales rep will hit a ceiling if they’re with the wrong company, so choose your employer accordingly.
4. Play to your strengths
Dennis Rodman was a complicated person who made trouble for the Bulls off the court. But his defensive skills were unparalleled, and Phil Jackson and the rest of the team were willing to put up with it because Rodman played to his strengths. Similarly, we all have individual strengths that we can maximize to improve our numbers, whether it’s our personalities, our focus, or our ability to see the angles. Play to your strengths so that you can become the best salesperson that you can be.
5. Sometimes, you have to take a break and recharge
After Jordan’s father was tragically murdered, Jordan shocked the world and retired from basketball at (what seemed at the time) the height of his career. He went on to play professional baseball before eventually staging a comeback. While Jordan’s downtime might not have been real downtime, the lesson is the same: when you’re burnt out, take time off and recharge. If you don’t, you’ll start to suffer, and eventually you’ll pay more than a vacation would have cost.
6. Find your motivation
One of the most interesting things revealed in The Last Dance was Jordan’s intentional self-deception. He would convince himself that his opponents had said or done things to him in order to motivate himself to play at the top of his game. As bizarre as this sounds, it seemed to work. We are all motivated by something, the challenge is using that “something” to keep us performing at our highest levels. Jordan understood himself well enough to pull it off, and we should all work toward learning enough about ourselves to be able to do the same.
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