What Michael Phelps’ 2008 Olympic Victory can Teach us About Sales


Although it happened 8 years ago at the 2008 Beijing Games, seeing Michael Phelps win 8 gold medals (and thus taking the record away for most gold medals won at any single Olympic Games from previous American swimmer Mark Spitz) still serves as an inspiration for the world. His awe-inspiring athleticism and likability seemed to take the country by storm, and his reputation stands even 8 years later. Despite the fact that Mr. Phelps is a professional swimmer, we can all learn a lesson from his 2008 victories and apply them to our professional sales lives.

The Race

Before we go in to a discussion about his record-setting year, let’s take a look at the actual event that everyone talks about – the 100 meter Butterfly. It’s worth noting that prior to the Olympic games, Michael said that he would train for this event “like any other meet” and that he would “prepare himself the best that I can”.

Prior to the Butterfly event, Michael had 7 gold medals from various swim events and was looking to take the world record for most gold medals won. His main competitor, a Serbian swimmer by the name of Milorad Čavić,  publicly said the following- “It’d be good for him (Michael) if he loses. It would be nice if historians talk about Michael Phelps winning seven gold medals and losing the eighth to ‘some guy’. I’d like to be that guy.”

Michael responded with “When people say things like that, it fires me up more than anything.”

In this event, if you watch the video, you will see that Michael is actually losing to Milorad Čavić for the entirety of the race, except for an apparent miracle that happened at the end.

At the very end of the race, Michael pulled ahead and won by a mere one hundredth of a second. That’s 0.01 seconds. It’s a really infinitesimal amount of time, almost comically so. Was it a miracle that he pulled ahead and won? Were the “swim gods” on his side and allowed him to win the race?

Absolutely not.

If you watch the video closely, at the very end when they were about to touch the end of the pool, Milorad Čavić was coasting in (like he was trained to do, along with every other swimmer). He did not have the room to take another stroke, so he did what the natural thing to do is and coast in underwater.

Michael, on the other hand, refused to give up and refused to stop trying, even when there was not enough room for one more stroke. He took a half a stroke. He lifted himself out of the water and took a mere half a stroke. That extra effort landed him the eighth gold medal and allowed him to seize the record for most gold medals won in Olympic history.

Alright, well that’s a great and inspirational sports story which is probably going to be taught to every swimmer from now on, but how can this be applied to sales?

Practice, Practice, Practice

Michael was already a world-record holder prior to swimming at this event. During his qualifying races, he occasionally broke his own world record, setting another milestone. Did he let this get to his head? Did he feel the need that since he is breaking world records before the Olympics that he can just take it easy? The answer is no on both accounts. Remember, he said that he would train for this “like any other meet”. He practiced and prepared and trained to to his very best, even after he broke his own world records.

A top salesperson who often sets records is never complacent and never feels that they can “take it easy”. Much like Phelps, they want to prepare for every sales call the best that they can and will never stop learning or practicing, even after a record setting month or year.

Credit to http://2012books.lardbucket.org/
Credit to http://2012books.lardbucket.org/

Get Fired Up when the Competition is Tough

Most of us work in extremely competitive environments where our success is measured against our coworkers or competition from other companies. When Milorad Čavić said he wants to be the guy who basically wrecks Michael’s record setting year, it didn’t bother Michael at all. He didn’t get flustered or angry or distracted. Rather, he said that it “fired him up” and essentially inspired him to put forth that extra effort.

When you have coworkers who are gunning to take you down for top salesperson of the month, you should be getting fired up and should be ready to put forth your best effort. Sabotage is never, ever acceptable, but trying your absolute best and not getting distracted or upset is key.


Put Forth the “Extra Stroke” of Effort

We have all been there. It’s been a long, rough day. After numerous sales calls (some good, others bad), it’s really tempting to say to yourself “I’ll just head home now, I did pretty good today.”

Doing “pretty good” didn’t win Michael 8 gold medals, and it won’t allow you to be a top performer either.

Much like his extra stroke at the end, top salespeople will go on one extra sales call at the end of the day or call one more person as their call center shift is ending. It’s extremely tempting to just glide past the last 3 minutes of your shift, but what separates the record setters from the rest is the extra effort to put forth one more opportunity at the end.


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Author: Jason Karaman

Hello! I’m a marketing, sales, and customer service expert, trainer, author, and doer. I live in the South Carolina Lowcountry with my wife, Ashley. I enjoy reading (history, philosophy, and science are my favorite topics), writing, hiking, kayaking, and all things beach. For media inquiries, send an email to JasonKaraman@ExpertCaller.com

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