Everyone has their favorite metaphor for business and sales. Football. Basketball. Dating. Boxing.

Did you hear the one about the mountain climber?

Probably not, but I climb mountains, so here goes. I’ve been up Denali, Rainier, Mt. Whitney, and a whole bunch of mountains in California. In 2016, I even had a couple of deals close while I was climbing a mountain.

My CMO asked me the other day how is climbing a mountain like building pipeline, convinced there had to be something poetic there we could turn into a great piece of content that 1) gets us some interesting organic traffic and 2) shows off the colors of our leadership team. We’ve got some pretty interesting hobbies, guys. Ask Amanda about that time she got stuck in Canada for 12 hours after a particularly gnarly music festival, or Alex about the pizza onesie.

Back to climbing though, and how it’s similar to building a sales pipeline.

For starters, they’re both life or death situations.

Just kidding.

But they do have some commonalities that every sales development representative or account executive can learn from, whether you like mountains or not.


Grinding: Most of the Work Happens Before the Sale

Most of the work of climbing happens before you set foot on a mountain. Training. Mental preparation. Safety. Practice.

As glamorous as 2-hour sessions on a Stairmaster multiple times per week might sound, it can be a mind-numbing slog.

With sales, most of the work you do isn’t going to be glamorous. Slogging through data, sending out cold emails, growing your LinkedIn network, researching prospects, making calls… it can be a grind.
But, that’s the only way to build your pipeline and hit your targets.

If you skip out on the grind, you’re leaving dollars on the table and you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll miss sales targets. It’s like getting on a mountain with zero training. You’re decreasing your chances of reaching the top to almost zero. Or worse, you’re inviting disaster and serious injury. At least with sales, you don’t have to worry about falling off a cliff.


It’s All About the Process

Staying safe on a mountain isn’t just about knowing how to stay safe. You have to actually follow through. Most accidents in the mountains happen because someone just forgot to do something that they knew they should do.

In sales, how often do you know what you should do but then you get a little lazy and take shortcuts?

It happens to the best of us. We mismanage pipeline, send a poor email, don’t ask the questions we know we should ask, follow-up too slowly, send a templated response instead of a well-researched one. Sometimes you get lucky and you still bring in the deal. Other times, deals fall through the cracks and if you’re being honest with yourself, you know that you could have done better.

The problem is, you don’t know which sales you can slack off on and still win vs the ones you need to be 100% on.

Follow the process.


Mental Toughness

Let’s say you’ve put in the work and you get the mountain in top physical form. You still need to be mentally prepared for the fact that, sometimes, no matter how great your training and preparation is, you still might not make the summit.

In sales, no matter what you do, you’re going to lose some deals. It’s all part of the process.

Sometimes, you can do everything right and still not make the sale (or summit). That can be frustrating, but it’s all part of the game.

On a mountain, the only surefire way of maximizing your chances of summiting, assuming you’ve put in the preparation, is to spend more time in a position to make a summit bid.

With your pipeline, the more deals you are in competition for, the more likely it is that something in your pipe will close. But no matter what you do, some deals won’t close. You need to have the mental resilience to deal with that.

The mental toughness doesn’t just come in when you lose deals. Remember that slog I mentioned? That takes mental toughness too. Taking rejection after rejection can be hard to get used to if you don’t have the right attitude.

When I tell non-salespeople that a good salesperson might only win 30% of their deals, they can be shocked (this doesn’t even factor in the deals that never made it into their pipeline). The fact that you can fail 70% of the time and be great at what you do doesn’t always sit well with people. That’s why not everyone is cut out to be in sales.

But if you want to make it in sales, you need to develop that grit.


Building Pipeline vs. Climbing Mountains

Remember, to succeed in sales means embracing failure. It means grinding through the tough moments.

No matter how good you are, you won’t win every deal. But if you can stick it out, and stick to the process, you will start winning. A lot. And winning in sales is a wonderful feeling (doesn’t feel too bad for the bank account either).

One of the joys of launching RevenueZen is that we’re there to help so many different people find the success that comes from being able to find new customers. Sure, we may help alleviate some of the grind, but there’s still a level of mental toughness that is required, especially in the early stages.

As much as we can set a company up for success by building a new lead source, they still need to run their sales process on those deals, winning some and losing some. Tough it out. The wins will come.

And at least you won’t fall off a cliff if you have a bad sales meeting.