The Michael Phelps of Your Sales Team

Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian ever, and many say the best all-around athlete to ever compete in the Olympic games. Phelps is not just dominant at the age of 31, he’s been doing this for years. Michael Phelps burst onto the scene at the 2000 summer games in Sydney and made a name for himself when he placed fifth in the men’s 200 meter butterfly. He was only 15 years old, the youngest athlete ever to compete for the United States men’s swim team.

Nine months later, not even 16 years old, Michael Phelps set a world record breaking time at the World Championships. It was in this moment that Phelps forever changed the face of swimming. The world knew something amazing was about to happen with this young kid, but nobody imagined the bright future that was ahead of him.

The Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be Michael Phelps’ fifth Olympic games, which is a huge accomplishment for any athlete. One thing that separates Phelps from all of the other athletes to compete in five or more summer Olympics: he keeps winning.

This week we’ve watched Michael Phelps and the United States swim team lock up more gold medals. As of right now Michael Phelps has 21 Olympic gold medals, unbelievable. Skeptics are saying Phelps has been carried in the team events by Nathan Adrian and other dominant young American swimmers. I call bull****. I watched Michael Phelps pull a full body length ahead of the next swimmer in the pool in numerous races this week. After losing the gold 4 years ago in London, Phelps took back the top of the podium in the men's 200m butterfly, a race that he first swam in the olympics sixteen years ago.

At 31 years old, Phelps is making waves in Rio (literally and figuratively), and it’s exciting to watch the greatest Olympian ever win over and over again. So what do the best salespeople and Michael Phelps have in common? They both love to win, and are motivated by big wins.

Phelps retired after the London summer games in 2012, and went through some personal challenges during his time away from swimming. At the age of 30, Phelps amazingly declared that he wanted to swim in another Olympic games. He is motivated by the big stage, and by big wins.

Just like Phelps, the best salespeople want the big deals. They want to close the huge contracts, and are motivated to be the best. Here are the winning qualities that the best salespeople share with Michael Phelps:

Vision - Ambitious Goals

If a salesperson wants to make big deals, they have to have big goals. Sales teams naturally set numbers that they want to reach, and that specific salespeople are expected to reach. The best salespeople ignore these goals. They set higher goals, maybe even too high. Salespeople who are the most successful are also the most ambitious. People may even laugh at the difficulty of achieving their sought after sales goals.

Don’t think that people didn’t laugh at Phelps. He had dreams early in his career to conquer a goal that seemed unachievable. Michael Phelps wanted to break the all-time record held by Mark Spitz of seven gold medals in one Olympic games. Most athletes are lucky to get one medal, and we are not even talking a gold medal. If an athlete is fortunate enough to make the podium, many say they have accomplished their goals.

Michael Phelps set out to win eight gold medals and conquer a goal that, to many people, was impossible. In 2008 in the Beijing National Aquatics Centre, Michael Phelps made history and accomplished this goal. Eight gold medals in one olympic games.


“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” - Michael Phelps


The best salespeople do not let other people set their goals. They set their own outrageous goals, and they blow peoples’ minds when they hit their goals. Sales targets are set to motivate salespeople, and the average salesperson can often hit their required projection. The best salespeople blow this number out of the water, because they weren’t even looking at their targets. They are looking so far past their “required” team sales target because their own sales goals are much higher.

Dream big, set big goals and surprise people when you’ve met these goals. Michael Phelps is a master at continuously surprising the world—he keeps winning. Famous motivational speaker, and sales expert Zig Ziglar says it best:


“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” - Zig Ziglar


Ziglar is saying that goals must be so challenging that a person may only accomplish half of what they set out to do. You can’t always win or hit your projections; even Michael Phelps has missed the podium before. Not every goal is reached, but the big wins are never won unless the goals are ambitious. Challenge your sales team to work outside the confines of their comfort zone, and challenge themselves.


We get it, sometimes salespeople can be a little too confident. Some might even say cocky. However, if you don’t truly believe that you’re the best, how can you be the best? The best athletes in the world, the most successful businesspeople, and likewise the most successful salespeople know their strengths and they believe in their minds that they are the best at their craft.

Michael Phelps is no exception. He knows he is good, he came back from retirement to swim in Rio de Janeiro because he was confident he still has the ability to further decorate his trophy cabinet. Last night we watched Michael Phelps roll into the finals with some jump in his step, and a smile on his face. He was laughing with teammates literally seconds before the horn sounded, his confidence has him unphased by the big moment.

Just like Phelps, the best members of a sales team are confident in their abilities to close deals, sign contracts and make money. Some sales are tougher than others, but the best salespeople close the deals no matter how long and/or difficult they may be to wrap up. Salespeople who continuously win know that they will win, they are motivated by tough sales, and they are confident that they will turn prospects into customers.

So if you notice a little bit of swagger in the step of a salesperson, you’ll understand why. Confidence is key in sales—deals are closed when the salesperson is confident that they will close. Go take a walk on Wall Street, breathe in the confidence from the air, and you’ll see what I am talking about. Some of the salespeople walking that street are the most successful salespeople in the world, and like Mr. Phelps, they exude confidence.

Determination - Drive to Be the Best

Athletes and salespeople are competitive; it’s in their nature, and it’s a part of their everyday lives. A salesperson who is most successful uses every single person in the room to motivate them to be the best. Co-workers may be friends, but that doesn’t stop a competitive rivalry between the best salespeople.

Michael Phelps had a decade long rivalry with Ryan Lochte that has recently winded down, and they are team mates. In many cases they have competed in team events together, but nonetheless they have competed together for the same country. This didn’t stop the two swimmers from motivating each other to get better. If one guy slows down, the next guy is right on his heels. Competition is a good thing for athletes, especially the best athletes—it makes them better. A great athlete like Michael Phelps is never satisfied or comfortable at the top, they are determined to stay the best.

It’s the same thing on the sales floor: every salesperson is determined to be the best salesperson. The goal is to hit the big numbers and make the most sales. Know your sales team, and recognize that each person wants to beat the next. It doesn’t have to be a nasty competitive rivalry where co-workers envy one another, it can be a fun rivalry between team mates and co-workers. At Vendasta, salespeople compete to wear the belt for the month. Winning is an honor, and other salespeople congratulate the winner.

Whether a company likes to admit it or not, their sales team is competitive. The most successful salespeople are constantly determined to lead the way, and to beat every other person on the sales floor each sales period.


I think this one speaks for itself. Great athletes and salespeople are consistent. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Michael Phelps were all consistently winning at the top of their game. A salesperson can have a breakout month in sales, but then follow up the next month with a lackluster performance. The best salespeople are consistent, and sales managers can count on them month in and month out.

The toughest thing to find in any great performer is consistency, whether it’s in athletics or sales. Professionals in any industry that are constantly winning, constantly closing and constantly working at a high productivity are the people you trust the most with your big opportunities.

Team USA did not waiver when they chose to start Michael Phelps on Sunday night in the men’s 4x100m freestyle, despite having not swam in the qualifying race. Why? Because Phelps has consistently performed his best on the biggest stage. Clearly this was a decision that paid off as the Americans held gold medals around their necks late Sunday night.

It’s the same with a team's most reliable and consistent sales members, they are trusted with the biggest contracts and in the pressure situations. Consistency shows dominance, and the salespeople who are consistently closing are the ones who are trusted with the biggest opportunities.


Here is what businesses look for and see in the strongest members of a sales team:


  • Self-confidence, noticed in the way a salesperson talks and acts
  • Confidence in sales ability, willingness to take on challenges and confident they will excel at any task

Vision (Goal Setting)

  • Willingness to set ambitious goals; big goals = big results
  • Works well outside of their comfort zone, doesn’t set easily achievable goals
  • Not afraid to fail, not all goals are met


  • Salesperson wants to be the best on his/her team
  • Determined to lead the team in sales every single sales period
  • Competitive in nature


  • Reliable.
  • Productivity does not change from sales period to sales period.

Michael Phelps is confident, determined and has incredible vision for his goals. Not to mention over five Olympic games and more than 20 gold medals, he has shown astonishing consistency competing with the world’s best. These winning qualities are something to look for in a salesperson, and a business can see these traits in their best salespeople.

We look forward to watching the rest of the Olympic games and seeing Michael Phelps dominate, just like a business’s best salespeople do every day.

About the Author

Zach is a former content strategist with Vendasta. He is fascinated by digital marketing, international studies, and exploring the relationship between technology and business.

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