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What can Conor McGregor teach us about motivating salespeople?

Apply these new strategies that top performing athletes, like Conor McGregor and his coaches, follow to achieve a higher level of success with your salespeople.

There are so many sports clichés sprinkled throughout the sales process that after a while you start to wonder if salespeople are a bunch of Monday-morning quarterbacks trying to relive their glory days like Uncle Rico from the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

But today’s top athletes, the ones winning the big bowl games and standing on the podium with medals around their necks, are changing the game. There are new rules for what makes an athlete successful. Smart sales reps are using this new playbook to be more strategic, build lasting relationships, and close sales faster than ever before.

One such athlete who follows these new strategies to achieve success is mixed martial artist and professional boxer Conor McGregor. The entire sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has struggled to reckon with the force of nature that is Conor McGregor. He is a fighter seemingly created in a petri dish, an uncanny combination of Bruce Lee's artistry, Muhammad Ali's trash talk, and Manny Pacquiao's southpaw punching power. Along with being a world class fighter, some of McGregor’s biggest tools are his dynamic personality, his charisma, and his bravado to sell tickets.

Here are the new strategies that top performing athletes, like Conor McGregor and his coach’s follow to achieve success:

1. Don’t let someone else choose your goals.

Goals are highly personal and repeated research shows that top performers set their own goals. McGregor grew up with dreams of playing soccer for Manchester United. When he was eight years old, he'd pull on his United kit, walk outside and kick the ball against the wall of the family home. When he scored an imaginary goal, he launched into an imaginary celebration, running around the yard, and picturing 100,000 fans packing Old Trafford, all screaming his name. In that way, McGregor was preparing himself for his future life.

At age 12, McGregor stumbled into Crumlin Boxing Club in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland after playing soccer next door. During his soccer career as a teenager, he was a self-proclaimed 'goal machine'. At the age of 18, McGregor made his MMA debut. Despite a successful youth soccer career, his heart was with MMA. As he got more involved in MMA, he couldn’t make his soccer matches and his manager allowed him to skip training. Eventually, he focused fully on his MMA career.

Understanding that your organization needs to set goals is important, but don’t let those goals hold you back or intimidate you. Find the path, the vision and the goals that fit your strengths - even if they are a little extreme - and you will strike gold.

2. Take an honest look in the mirror.

How many people do you know who go through life almost completely on auto-pilot?  We use heuristics to make most of our decisions for us. Heuristics are defined as mental shortcuts – we couldn’t get through the day without them. But they often keep us heading in the same direction. McGregor fights are indicative of his overall mindset and one of the main heuristics which drives how he approaches his career. The basic idea which we think he lives by is ‘you pay attention to what you have to, and no more’. Ask yourself: What shortcuts do I take every day that is leading me away from my goals and not closer to them.

3. Don’t go it alone.

Gone are the days when a lonely athlete, training in silence, bursts onto the scene to break a world-record and capture the world’s collective emotions. It might work in Hollywood, but not in reality.

McGregor adopts a ‘military style’ training camp. His coaching staff and sparring partners work together to help push him even further.

The sales process may start with a lonely cold-call, but rarely do you get a contract signed without a team effort. Technical, legal, product, and marketing support is essential to sales success and building long-term customer relationships. The faster you build a team, the sooner you will build your book of business.

4. Be different.

At age 28, McGregor has shattered several Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ratings and financial records on his rise to the top. Just within the past year alone, has he headlined three of the four highest-selling UFC pay-per-views of all-time, with his UFC 202 rematch against Diaz potentially topping the long-held benchmark for pay-per-view success held by UFC 100. McGregor has done it all while still being one of the busiest top-tier fighters on the roster, competing an average of every four months since returning from a knee injury in mid-2014.

On August 26, 2017, the MMA artist and two-weight UFC champion will jump straight into a twelve-round non-title boxing bout against the undisputed champion of boxing, Floyd Mayweather.

“There's no one else out there. There's no one but me.”

Are you thinking differently? Going against the grain despite the odds? Challenging current thinking? And raising the bar for everyone around you at every opportunity – every day?

5. Stop trying to multitask.

The best coaches and players know there is a time to practice and a time to play the game, a time to strategize, and a time to execute. They know when to play it safe and when to take risks. And perhaps most importantly, they know when to be mentally tough and when to let their emotions go.

In a recent interview with, McGregor’s head coach, John Kavanagh, expressed the importance of remaining focused ahead of his bout with Mayweather. “So you can be doing movement drills and weight-lifting and running and all these different things that go with it, but No. 1 should be sparring as long as it’s sensible. To be able to do four times the amount of sparring, the progress we’re seeing.”

Juggling many tasks may impress co-workers but focused performers achieve their goals.

6. Bring on the competition.

The best way to raise your game is to take on the toughest competition. Since McGregor broke into the UFC in 2013, he has always spoken about wanting to fight and become the featherweight champion. McGregor, albeit new to the organization, has not backed away from adversity and has promoted himself as someone who is ready and willing to take any chance that comes his way.

“From the first day I signed that year, my eyes were on the gold. I don’t understand people who don’t think like that.”

After working his way through the featherweight division, and defeating UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo in 2015 at UFC 194, McGregor opted to move up two weight classes to face Nate Diaz in a non-title welterweight fight at UFC 196. McGregor suffered his first UFC loss at UFC 196, and afterward, appeared to be incredibly humbled by the reality of his situation.

"It's a tough pill to swallow, but we can either run from adversity or we can face our adversity head on and conquer it.”

In a rematch, McGregor defeated Nate Diaz by majority decision at UFC 202. Four and a half years on from his UFC debut, McGregor has prospered and is currently preparing for a super-fight showdown with the undefeated professional boxer of our generation, Floyd Mayweather.

Individuals and organizations that go head-to-head with the best-of-the-best emerge successful because they challenge themselves to dig deeper and perform better than they ever would without the competition.

7. Shut up already.

There is a growing Say-Do Gap in combat sports and in sales meeting rooms everywhere. We love to talk about our goals, our strategies, our ideas, our problems, and our plans. Leaders are especially likely to talk more than they act. Behavioural economists call this trend, “preference reversals.” When asked, we will say we believe what’s best for ourselves or what will motivate us to achieve higher performance – but when the talking stops and the actual performance begins, we change our story and ACT in a completely different way. Save the talking for the celebration after you achieve your goals – and you will get there so much faster.

8. Be picky.

Try to gain agreement on who the best athlete of all time is and you will quickly find yourself in an argument about what the criteria are and which skills are harder to master? Top performers don’t worry about WHO is the best – they first decide WHAT GAME they will play. The concept of idiosyncratic fit suggests: we will succeed when we perceive we have an advantage over our competitors in a given opportunity. Take a look at your strengths, be picky, and determine where you have an advantage. Then go for it.

Throughout his MMA career, McGregor took on all comers, often on short notice, and bested them with his idiosyncratic, mystery-shrouded training methods.

9. Reward yourself.

The promise of a paycheque brings us all to work but current research in behavioural economics confirms that individuals will work harder for a non-cash reward. If you are strictly motivating yourself or your team with only monetary rewards, you will run out of money before you reach your goals. Rewards like travel and luxuries that people have a hard time justifying buying for themselves make the best rewards. Lisa Jackson, author of “Running Made Easy”, has a beginner’s training plan that includes rewards ranging from treating yourself to a movie, splurging on a spa day or simply enjoying your favourite meal when you reach your goals.

Whether you are an athlete going for the gold, a sales manager or rep looking for a win, there are new rules and strategies that will help you separate yourself from the middle of the pack and achieve top performance. If you want to change the game, you need to stop talking about change and set new goals – your own goals – for where you want to be when the bell sounds, the “fight” is over and the champion is crowned.

BI WORLDWIDE Canada applies the science of behavioural economics to design, communicate and reward salespeople for the behaviours and results that make your organization successful. We offer a number of solutions to help our clients drive results, including GoalQuest®, the only patented incentive solution in the industry.

See what GoalQuest can do for you.

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