On the Ball

By Renee Houston Zemanski

We are living and working in great times. Economically great. Yet sales professionals report that along with record sales they are also feeling record levels of stress. Well, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. True. But what if you could have it all? What if you could find a way to keep up with booming sales and still end the day feeling invigorated and mentally ready for even more?

“Every year companies ask their employees to do more. When will the performance bar be lowered?” asks Jack Groppel, Ph.D., a sports scientist, nutritionist and author of the book The Corporate Athlete: How to Achieve Maximal Performance in Business and Life (John Wiley & Sons, 1999). “The answer is never. Companies spend billions improving skills, but once you get to a certain level of talent and skill, the only way to enhance performance is to improve your health and happiness.”

What Groppel says rings true for many people who have discovered his common-sense method of enhancing performance. Groppel calls it becoming a corporate athlete. “Everyone is looking for the quick fix,” he says. “Yet, how long did it take you to develop into what you are now? You’ve been in training your whole life. If you don’t change your behavior, you’re right back where you started.

“The one complaint we hear from salespeople is ‘I’m pushed to my absolute limit and I truly don’t know what to do. How do you find balance?’ There is no quick fix,” adds Groppel. “The answer is to become a corporate athlete. It’s a change in lifestyle.”

How did this lifestyle evolve? For years, world-class athletes would come to Groppel and his friend Jim Loehr, Ed.D., a performance psychologist, for help. They worked with such athletes as Jim Courier and Eric Lindros to help them perform their absolute best through nutrition, technique and exercise counseling. After many years, both men decided that they could also help corporate employees. So Loehr, Groppel and Pat Etcheberry, former Olympian and fitness and movement expert, founded LGE in Orlando, FL, in 1992.

Are You a Corporate Athlete?

What are corporate athletes? Groppel defines them as people who can perform their absolute best under any circumstance and still have energy left at the end of the day. How can you become a corporate athlete? First, Groppel explains, you have to understand stress and accept that you can never reduce stress in some situations. Then you must develop a strategy to achieve balance.

“The same amount of stress that can affect athletes when they perform can affect the high-caliber salesperson,” says Groppel. “Let’s face it, when you get in front of a client, the client doesn’t care if you’re having a bad day or if you and your significant other are having trouble at home. To make that sale you must perform at the absolute top of your ability. You must bring your talents and skills to life on demand and access everything you’ve got. Stress reduction is not a viable solution.

“We are raised in a society were it’s go, go, go, go, go,” he adds. “The first thing salespeople may do in the morning is check email, then talk on their cell phone all the way to work. Then they go to one meeting after another, make sales calls, attend luncheon meetings, and then they’re on their cell phones again. It’s linear and it’s nonstop. When you live your life that way, you have no chance of being as good as you could be. So how do you work smarter?”

The strategy, says Groppel, is to cultivate routines or rituals that will enhance performance. To develop the strategy, Groppel says, “first, have a purpose. You need to get yourself excited about work every day. Know that you’re doing the right thing and that you’re in the right place. Then, understand who you are – your truth. Are you really productive? Do you exercise enough? Put truth and purpose together and your action plan will be a piece of cake. The action plan involves building oscillation, recovery time and rituals into your life. For example, adding recovery time throughout your day will help you have just as much energy for your family when you get home as you had for work that morning.”

Building these things into your life involves several lifestyle principles that professional athletes and thousands of corporate clients have learned at LGE. They are what Groppel calls the five keys to success.

Key #1: Motivate yourself and others – what works for you will work for those around you.

For, example, Darlene Hamrock, a Clinique regional vice president for the southeast U.S. and Puerto Rico, sets monthly and yearly goals for herself and her sales team. Then they measure the results.

“These goals keep me and the team motivated,” says Hamrock, who has attended many of Groppel’s seminars. “A positive attitude can also help motivate you and others. Even though you may not feel positive on some days, there’s a real benefit to acting positive. If you’re pretending to be happy, you can almost create happiness.”

“Motivation has never been a problem for me,” says Mike K. Seltzer, regional sales vice president for CitiStreet, who attended LGE. “Part of my job is motivating producers in the different channels I oversee. I do this by helping them understand how the pension business can help them in their own businesses. I want to help them build it into their daily routines. It’s good business, and in this industry that means it makes money – and making money is why they’re in business.”

Key #2: Train yourself mentally and physically – concentrate on growing 1 percent better each day.

Seltzer trains himself mentally and physically and by creating daily rituals. “Rituals can help you center yourself and get back on track,” he says. “For me, one ritual is daily planning. It can take as little as 90 seconds and rarely lasts longer than five minutes.

“In the pension business you’re only as good as your last sale,” continues Seltzer. “To grow each day, you need to look at what you did right and what you did wrong, to make your next meeting that much better. Every day must be treated as a learning experience.”

Tom Petrillo, senior vice president of sales, distribution and education for Aveda Corporation in Minneapolis, MN, also believes that creating daily rituals is key to enhancing performance. “Rituals bring an aura of calm to your life,” he says. “When things become repetitive in your life, they become easy to do. And when they become easy to do, they become simple, allowing you to focus on the big things.”

To Petrillo, enhancing performance is also an evolution. “The higher you go, the more pressure is put on you. You have to learn how to deal with it,” he says. “I really pride myself on keeping my stress level low by focusing on solutions, not problems. You’re performing at your greatest level when you’re focused on what matters. When stress gets in the way, you start focusing on what doesn’t matter.”

To improve her performance, Clinique’s Hamrock had to make time for exercise. “I really didn’t like to work out, but now I have to say that I really enjoy it, and I exercise at least five or six times a week. I look better, I feel better and I have more energy and drive because of it.”

For Richard Jackson, vice president in sales and marketing for Universal Orlando, the biggest challenge in becoming a corporate athlete was changing his diet. “I’m eating less saturated fat, I drink more water each day, and I take more breaks,” he says. “If you become a corporate athlete, you’ll find that you have unbelievable energy. I now have a road map to good nutrition, health and more energy.”

Key #3: Hone your performance skills – savor the moment and love the battle.

Stress is a battle everyone in sales faces. Managers push sales staff to the limit because they are being pushed to the limit. By approaching stress in a different way, you can learn to love the challenges you face everyday.

“Stress is necessary,” says Seltzer. “You can’t get things done without it. Use recovery time to allow you to deal with that next level of stress. Remember, stress is what keeps you going. It’s what pumps you up.”

“Instead of trying to eliminate stress on the job, use it to your advantage,” explains Hamrock. “When we’re feeling stressed and pushed to the limit at Clinique, we say, ‘Bring it on.’ It’s an attitude. We now can work our best under pressure. But, this can only be accomplished because we are fit – physically and mentally. I now accomplish more in my day and feel less stress. It’s not that I don’t feel stress – I just respond to it in a different way.”

“Visualize yourself having successes,” says Jackson. “That has helped me. When I’m in stressful situations like making presentations, I visualize myself doing a great job and role-play it out while presenting. I’m also solution oriented; I don’t dwell on problems.”

Key #4: Observe recovery time – development throughout life depends on the amount of recovery you get.

“What you do physically affects you emotionally,” explains Groppel. “And vice versa. Just as you recover your muscles after a day of lifting weights, you have to recover your mind. If you don’t have recovery in your life, you will have no growth.”

No one understands this better than Seltzer, who says that recovery is a major part of enhancing success. “I was one of those people who never used recovery time,” he says. “Once I had my first appointment, I was at 10 all day. I would be burned out at night. I now get through my days much easier and my performance is enhanced. I’m not dragging anymore.

“Recovery can be as simple as just sitting in my car a few minutes with my eyes closed or eating lunch by myself once in a while. Sometimes I do breathing exercises while I’m driving. It’s also a great time to mentally review what you’re doing during the day. Learning to relieve that stress makes it easier to go on to the next challenge.”

Aveda’s Petrillo builds recovery time into his day as well, and when he literally walks through the door at home, he’s off work. “I created a threshold. I won’t talk about work; it’s all about family and other things,” he explains. “If my wife wants to know how my day was, I call her on the way home. It’s a ritual. Recovery is an important element of the whole process.”

Key #5: Cultivate spirituality – value every second of every day.

“How we access and apply our spiritual side determines how we deal with stress and tough times,” says Groppel. “To some, being spiritual may encompass a religious belief. Whatever it means to you, remember that spirituality is the heart and soul of being a great performer.”

Seltzer reflects on his spiritual side while he’s on the road. His life on the road and activities on the weekends make attending formal religious services tough, but he feels that having a spiritual side is important.

To Petrillo, it’s about having his actions back up his words. “I promote strong ethics across the board,” he says. “You have to set up a win-win with everyone. We underpromise and overdeliver. People trust us, and sales is all about trust.”

“If you don’t practice spirituality, it will never happen,” says Groppel. “Say to yourself every morning, ‘All time is sacred time’ and it almost becomes a golden rule.”

Work It!

Developing into a corporate athlete takes time, discipline and, perhaps for some, a lifestyle change. But for anyone looking for ways to deal with today’s fiercely competitive, stress-filled corporate life, it’s a way to achieve high performance levels.

“Most of us in sales are very competitive by nature and we like to be in control, so the whole corporate athlete attitude should be easy for us to understand,” says Hamrock. “It’s become part of Clinique’s culture and it really paid off last year when our territory had the most accomplishments in the country. We were number one in sales and received many individual awards, including some for highest achievements in sales goals.”