Sales Is a Sport: How Teams Win With a Healthy Competitive Mindset

Five main components to achieving a healthy competition.

Sep 29, 2021 - 5 min.

By: Johann Sparfel
Reader mode

Winning a new big customer is a victory. In fact, it’s the Olympic gold medal of sales activity.

Getting the deal sealed is the perfect mix of a sprint and marathon. You need to move fast to close the deal, but you also need to do it in a measured, strategic way.

The most successful salespeople are great at the sprinting side, but they also embrace the marathon by keeping opportunities open so they can easily move into the next phase.

However, there’s a difference between simply being competitive and encouraging a healthy competitive mindset in your team.

Competition alone can create discord, while healthy competition can strengthen relationships, nurture pride in the workplace and importantly, maximize sales performance.

Here are the main components to achieving a healthy competitive mindset.

1. Have a strong captain at the helm

A sales leader is like a sports captain, leading and driving the team forward to the finish line. A powerful sales leader will understand that each of their team members plays a valuable role in the process, and the team as a whole.

Knowing each team member’s strengths and weaknesses is paramount, so you can get the most out of them.

It’s also important for a sales leader to discourage competition among team members. There needs to be a culture of collaborative work, with the success of one not being at the expense of the others.

When a sales leader can create this healthy competitive mindset, it powerfully improves sales performance with the team pushing their own – and collective – limits.

2. Recognize effort across the board

Recognizing effort is as important as recognizing the results. And if you can get your team to realize that the end game is to become better, not only winning, you will see a big increase in motivation.

Make sure you’re rewarding the efforts of the whole team, not only your top performers as this will raise the bar for everyone concerned.

Recognizing effort will encourage salespeople to try new things that they might not have had the confidence to try previously, and push out of their comfort zone.

3. Coach like a pro

Coaching, just like in sports, is a combination of pushing and feedback. Both of these together work harmoniously to create a winning mentality. With the right coaching at every step, the team will be geared up to win and drive forward with the right level of intensity.

Coaching also helps to unblock mental barriers that individual team members can put on themselves.

By mentoring with the right feedback, a coach can:

  • Show new ways to produce positive results
  • Focus on improvement areas to focus on higher performance
  • Instill a ‘never give up’ attitude that will encourage resilience

Remember, always consider the glass ‘half full’ rather than ‘half empty’, this way team members will always have the motivation to attempt new avenues and never give up.

4. Set realistic targets

Knockbacks are hard for new salespeople and can be incredibly demotivating. You wouldn’t encourage a new athlete to compete for the gold medal straight off the bat if they weren’t ready. You would expect them to work up to it, with coaching, feedback and training.

Realistic targets need to be fair and attainable, so team members can reach them and move beyond them.


You may want to call a meeting with your sales team and bounce the new sales target you come up with off them, to see if they think it’s realistic. If not, adjust your goal or ask your team if there’s anything else you can do to help make this goal more attainable for them.

The more they feel involved in the process, the more motivated they will feel.

5. Communication

Communication is crucial for creating a healthy competitive mindset. If there’s no communication, there’s no progression. If a sales leader isn’t clearly communicating what they need (including sales targets), then the team will flounder.

This will involve the sales leader – and management team across the company:

  • Actively listening. Pay close attention to your team and where they are struggling and where they are excelling.
  • Thinking collectively, before individually: it is important that your messaging is always focused on pushing personal or team performance to the next level, not about winning over others.
  • Not only communicating with the top performers, but also rewarding individuals or teams with the most improvement in their metrics. This will encourage employees to focus on their own performance and push their personal limits.
  • Maintaining transparency at all levels. Create visibility around everyone’s achievements and most importantly – celebrate! Making competition fun will help make it memorable and inclusive.

The right communication strategy will help keep your sales team informed, engaged and motivated to perform.


Healthy competition can bind the team together and strengthen relationships. It’s this strengthening of relationships that drives productivity, efficiency and overall job satisfaction.

The most successful salespeople have mastered the sales theory and practice, but it’s their mindset that makes them so successful.

Just like the greatest sports champions of all time who push themselves to perfection.

Subscribe to the Leaders At Scale newsletter

Don’t miss out on advice, thoughts and ideas from those that know scaling. Sign up to our newsletter today.
At Scale