Going for gold – how the channel can ‘make the boat go faster’

The principles of competing and winning in high profile sport can have direct lessons for business

 Going for gold – how the channel can ‘make the boat go faster’

All resellers or service providers are continuously looking to remain competitive and add value for their customers. Each year, they reflect on go-to-market strategies they can put in place to stand out in the crowd. It is an ongoing quest for excellence that would be a familiar concept to sporting legend Ben Hunt-Davis.

Following the disappointment of finishing eighth in the Cologne World Championships of 1998, Hunt-Davis and the rest of the GB’s Men’s Eight rowing team realised that their tactics and strategy needed to change. The team decided to find a new way to make ‘their boat go faster’.

They adopted three clear principles: Focus on what’s important – Find your ‘concrete’ and ‘crazy’ goals, and ‘what floats your boat’; Focus on performance, in order to get results – concentrate your full attention on driving improvements in performance; and work effectively with others to achieve goals – Work out who to listen to and what attitudes to avoid. No one does it alone.

The strategy paid dividends at the Sydney Olympics of 2000 when the GB Rowing Eight won Gold. The result was sensational, but it was the work done leading up to the final that was the determinant factor, not what happened on the day itself.

The same principle holds true in business. Companies need to focus on performance that drives results rather than results per se.

The Eight recognised that to go from solid performances in 1991-98 to winning Gold in Sydney was going to require a fundamental change in approach and unswerving commitment to the new philosophy.

In line with this, every exercise and training routine was analysed to ask: how did we do; what went well; what less well and what can we learn from it to make sure we do better next time? It was all about setting up a culture of learning and improvement.

> See also: Why the future of sports is in the cloud 

The plan required total honesty from all members of the crew. Every member had to be prepared to continually challenge the approach. There was no room for compromise or ‘meeting in the middle’. A decision was taken on how to proceed and then all members of the team fully committed to, and supported that decision.

When the team was on the starting line in the Olympic Final, they were aware of how much they had changed; how far they had come; and that gave them the confidence to win. 

It was an approach that worked perfectly for Team GB as they ended up clear winners of the race and the gold medal. Success was achieved through complete commitment to the three key goals. 

The good news is that all the lessons of ‘making the boat go faster’ in elite sport can be transposed to the world of business. Here are our top tips for ways in which channel players can win gold. 

Focus on what’s important

In a business context, it’s critical to ensure that when people turn up to work they are clear about the goals they are working to; Whatever the size of business, people need to be working on what is important rather than simply what is in front of them;

To work effectively, they need to be aiming at specific goals and they need to be ‘crystal clear’ about the direction of travel;

It is important for IT channel services players to also have clear goals – ‘look at what others are doing that they are not’.

Focus on performance in order to get results

Just as in a sporting context, players being interviewed typically focus on how they performed; what they did to get the result they achieved, business people also need to concentrate on the performance that led to the result rather than the result for its own sake;

They have focused on getting the execution right and that is critically important.

Work effectively with others to achieve goals 

The two principles outlined above are relatively obvious in theory but hard to execute well in practice, especially if working in isolation. The practical difficulties of achieving the first two principles helps to explain the importance of the third.

It’s important to get help wherever possible, towards achieving core goals; In the case of the Men’s Eight, it was key that they were able to draw on significant support from many people that were not actually in the boat during the final.

What was vital was building mutual understanding across the wider team and making sure everyone was working towards that common goal.

Bennett concludes: 'again, this key sporting principal applies equally in the world of customer service. Vendors can provide help to end-customers’ service teams both in the form of technical advice and know-how and through practical assistance to help drive the sales and engagement process.'

Making the connection

It’s clear that many of the key players operating in the customer communications channel services market instinctively understand the message behind Ben Hunt-Davis’s Will it Make the Boat Go Faster presentation and closely identify with it.

The three key principles: focus on what’s important; focus on performance in order to get results; and work effectively with others to achieve goals, which brought Gold in Sydney translate seamlessly to the equally results-driven world of customer communications.

> See also: The five key technology trends businesses must embrace to stay ahead

Businesses across the sector obviously share an interest in making their particular boat go faster. However, they also appreciate the importance of following the guidelines outlined by Hunt-Davis in order to achieve success.

As the above examples demonstrate, there is a broad understanding of the need  to set clear objectives and focus on making incremental changes in approach to achieve the level of performance needed to meet those stated goals.

However, there is also an awareness of the importance of carrying out a continuous process of monitor and review based on the key questions: what do we stop doing, what do we start doing and what do we continue to do because it is going well?

Of course, the lessons intonated by Ben Hunt-Davis apply just as much to the salespeople themselves as they do to the businesses they work. Just like the Men’s Eight at Sydney, they get up every day and make sure ‘their boat goes faster’.

Equally, it is worth highlighting that the ‘boat’ itself will be different in each case. For CEOs and MDs, it’s the business itself; for sales directors it’s their sales teams and for the individual salesperson, it’s the sales proposal they are trying to steer past the competition. In each and every case, however, the individual focus on personal performance helps drive the success of the business as a whole.

Both in sport and business, that success also typically involves trust, honesty, and sometimes difficult conversations, but critically too, shared goals; a shared commitment to enhancing performance and a willingness to work together to ‘make the boat go faster’.

Sourced from Gary Bennett, Channel Sales Director, Enghouse Interactive

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