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Can Mountain Biking Teach You How to Sell?

(from left, Simon Lawton, Andrew Carges and author – Duthie Hill Park)

Early this fall, my friend Andrew Carges and I spent a day with Simon Lawton (the owner and chief instructor of Fluidride) to work on our mountain bike skills. Simon spent 16 years as a professional rider and today teaches advanced riding techniques to current pros and average Joes, like Andrew and I. Minutes into this lesson it was apparent that Simon takes his craft seriously which made for an eye-opening look at what makes the pros so fast. What kept his lessons approachable is Simon’s gift of breaking down complicated principles into basic concepts that we could start applying immediately. On our drive home that day, the conversation between Andrew and I shifted from mountain bikes to selling. We both remarked how many of the concepts we learned from Simon are equally applicable to selling. The similarities came up again on our drive 2 days later to Whistler. These thoughts formed the basis of today’s blog, How Mountain Biking Can Teach You How to Sell.

(author, leaning in at Whistler Mountain Bike Park)

Relax and Lean in.

One of the first principles that Simon shared with us is how our natural instinct to tense up and back away from danger gets us into trouble on a bike. When we follow these instincts, we naturally shift our weight back when riding up to an obstacle. This shift places our body weight behind the centerline of the bike (If you draw a straight line through the center of your cranks that is perpendicular to level ground you’ll find the centerline – see the photo below).

This rearward weight placement creates an imbalance that makes it extremely difficult to control your bike when covering difficult terrain. If the bike pitches forward when dropping off of a rock or tree root, for example, your weight will swing forward like a pendulum and possibly send you over the bars (don’t try this at home, it hurts).

Instead of following our instincts, Simon taught us to relax and initiate challenging sections by slightly leaning in. Although this may be counter-intuitive, this approach puts you in an athletic stance that centers you over your pedals and allows the bike to move around underneath you while your body stays still. Looking at the picture below you can see that the bike has followed the terrain while my body is loose and centered.

Relating this concept back to sales, I’ve observed that our sales instincts can create similar problems during a sales call. For example, many sales professionals I’ve met back away from conversations that could potentially kill a deal. They dance around the topic and later try to “close” their customer without addressing a critical facet of the deal.

Contrast this approach with the sales professional that stays relaxed and leans into potential problems. By staying centered and asking smart questions they uncover if it’s possible to overcome an obstacle (if it even exists) and if so, how. The customer experiences the sales professional as being credible and interested in finding a reason compelling enough to warrant doing business together. When the customer reaches this place they lower their guard and the sales process simply flows. I’ve also noticed that a relaxed and centered sales rep rarely gets last-minute obstacles thrown at them that “sends them over the bars” (to use a bike analogy).

Without missing a beat, Simon moved on to a new concept.

Focus Ahead.

In Simon’s studies of the fastest mountain biker riders in the world, he found that they always keep their eyes and their focus 2-3 seconds ahead. He explained that this technique gives them enough time to identify obstacles, see alternative lines and focus on where they want to go. Conversely, fixating on the obstacles directly in front of you (that’s a huge rock!) is the surest way to run right into it as your body (and your bike) will follow your eyes. This is a simple enough concept.

The obstacle in your mental path that makes it hard to not look at that rock, is trust. Simon emphasized that staying focused on where you will be in 2-3 seconds requires trusting that you’ll see the rock and that your brain and body will know how to get around or over it. On the subject of trust, I speak from experience when I say that it can be extremely difficult to keep your focus 2-3 seconds ahead of you when you are riding up on a dangerous obstacle. Until this concept is mastered, your brain will be screaming “Danger! Look at the rock right in front of you!” Once mastered, you’ll stop seeing the rock and start seeing “the line” to take and your riding will “flow”. Revisiting the photo above, ripping through this trail (Samurai Pizza Cat – video here) at speed is impossible without finding flow.

This same concept applies to selling. All too often I see even experienced sales professionals lock in on a customer’s objection or another potential obstacle to the sale. This obsession with overcoming this obstacle can lead them to waste valuable selling time crafting clever responses or push their manager to ok a price concession to “win the deal”.

Savvy sales professionals keep their focus on the bigger picture and trust that they will be able to overcome obstacles at the right time and in the right way. Take price objections, for example. While noting a customer’s price concerns, they stay focused on the bigger picture by driving to uncover a problem that their solution can solve. Solving that problem may be valuable enough to make the customer’s concerns over price a moot one.

Fill Your Toolbox.

Simon worked with us on several more techniques that day. As he did, he compared each technique that he taught us to a tool in a toolbox. He challenged us to practice each of these techniques until we’ve mastered them. With mastery, he explained that each “tool” or technique will be available to us when we encounter situations on a trail that would call for it. The more “tools” in the toolbox, the more situations we can handle on the trail without slowing down or worse, crashing.

The concept of a toolbox applies to selling as much as it applies to mountain biking. Each sales technique that you master (emphasis on master and not just learn) gets added to your sales “toolbox”. Applying the right tool or sales technique at the right time is what makes elite sales professionals appear poised, smooth and in control. Just as you can isolate a mountain bike skill, like learning how to wheelie, you can isolate and work on a sales skill, like artfully addressing a customer’s objection. With sales skills, this means “role-playing”. When you’ve “role played” your approach to an objection to the point where you’re confident, smooth and credible you can move on to a new skill. Earlier in my career, I would go so far as to record these sessions. Occasionally I still do.

Enjoy the Ride!

Before we left, Simon wanted to know if we had fun that day.

As you venture off on your sales career, which path do you plan to take? The safer, easier path like the one shown to the left or the riskier, more challenging (and rewarding) path to the right?

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. We post a new blog once a quarter on the 3rd Thursday of every January, April, July and Oct. These posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at:
[email protected].