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team sky win tour de france


I completed my first 100 mile ride recently and it got me on to thinking about what I had learned in the process. Of course training was key, mental strength important and nutrition critical amongst many other things. It made me reflect again about the aggregation of marginal gains and how this sub-consciously guided my preparations.

For those that know about this I apologise if this is old ground but for those less aware of this here’s an overview. In 2010, Dave Brailsford took control of Team Sky and set out to win the Tour de France inside 5 years. In this time they have not won it once, or twice but three times with Sir Bradley Wiggins and twice with Chris Froome.

To improve performance he introduced a strategy he called the “aggregation of marginal gains” where the team looked to improve everything they did by 1%. As all of these small, and on their own somewhat insignificant, changes came together they delivered very significant performance improvement.

So what? Well I’m not the first or the last to say this approach can work in the business world. It will. For success you require focus and the discipline to embed new habits and behaviours. It requires belief that you can deliver long term and sustained improvement from something other than large visible programmes.

In cycling, Brailsford and the team looked at nutrition, training, clothing and bike design to start with but they didn’t stop there as they sought to fine tune adjacent areas such as pillows for better sleep and hand washing approach to prevent illness. Things you perhaps don’t associate with bike riding but all of which contributed to the team’s ability to train and compete more effectively. Simply put, better preparation. I didn’t go quite so far for my century ride but thought about many of the areas.

In the context of marginal gains in sales every one of your businesses will be different but they can be identified in some fundamental aspects of sales performance. I offer ten themes below to get you started with an example of a 1% challenge you might have;

Marginal Gains in Sales – 10 themes

  1. Sales strategy – can we focus 1% better on the right customer profile?
  2. Team structure, people roles and responsibilities – can we improve new hire ramp up time by 1%?
  3. Developing competency, skills and attitudes – can we be 1% better at presenting in an engaging way?
  4. Selling tools, collateral and enablement – can we be 1% more effective in helping a client with their business justification?
  5. Able to articulate and prove a differentiated value proposition – can we improve our case study and testimonial list by 1%
  6. Sales process – Can we be 1% better at consistently deploying our sales playbook?
  7. Make the right deal choices – Can we be 1% better at working on winnable deals?
  8. Data driven sales management – Can we get 1% better information/1% faster to support more informed decision making?
  9. Sales performance coaching – can we improve confidence in engaging senior management by 1%?
  10. Customer experience – can we improve the customer on-boarding experience by 1%?

Use these to encourage reflection and discussion and they will help you to empower your team to seek out and execute 1% improvements for you. Many sales leaders don’t encourage such an approach, preferring instead top down programmes of change. Which would you say is more effective in engaging the team in improvement?  Where would you focus to get your aggregated marginal gains in sales areas of your business?



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