Fight to Win: Sales Lessons from Sport

A few weeks ago I had the fantastic opportunity to present “Fight to Win, Sales Lessons from Sport” at the Riverbed regional sales conference at the Courtyard Marriott in Bali. There were three key themes that Riverbed wanted me to share, one of which was managing change. I believe that the ability to manage change on an ongoing basis is a crucial key to success in sales, business and indeed life.

Likewise, in my opinion, it’s virtually impossible to be successful in sport if an athlete and his or her team can’t respond appropriately to change. I think there are few athletes that manage the degree of change on a daily basis that professional cyclists do. A large part of my presentation focused on the recent amazing success of the Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro d Italia.

Expect the Unexpected

I started the pre-dinner talk by riding my bike to the stage from the back of the room to highlight that the ability to respond to the unexpected often determines success in sport, business and indeed life. How often have you walked into a client or sales meeting with a pre-conceived idea of how it will pan out only to be blindsided when the client rides in on their proverbial bike from the back of the room? Were you able to respond appropriately to find a successful outcome for both yourself and your client or prospect? What were the lessons?

Managing Change

 Similarly, I believe that the ability to manage change on an ongoing basis is another key to success. In my opinion, there are few athletes that manage the degree of change on a daily basis that professional cyclists do. I shared the recent amazing success of the Mitchelton Scott team at the Giro d Italia. Some people may have viewed Simon Yate’s loss of the pink jersey just three days from Rome as a failure but this would miss the incredible achievements of the team.

While the armchair viewer may have marveled at the constant change of topography, stunning scenery, weather and tactics as the teams rode over 3,500km with nearly 4,500m of vertical climbing many would be unaware of the never-ending change off the bike. Each day, after riding for sometimes as long as five hours, the teams often spend a few more hours transferring to the team hotel. This year that amounted to nearly 6,500km as well as two flights in a race that started in Jerusalem and ended 21 days later in Rome.

The athletes would have probably slept in around 20 different beds over the three weeks. They would seldom have been the luxury four and five star rooms that many sales teams are used to. Almost always two to a room, often single beds and regularly in two and three star pensions. Add to that drug tests, media engagements and managing falls and other injuries and know that it’s pretty much impossible to succeed if both the athlete and the team are not equipped to prepare for and respond to constant change. How well is your business prepared for daily expected and unexpected change?

Responding to “Disaster”

So three days from Rome Simon Yates started out in the Pink Jersey, within touching distance of the goal that the team had set before the season started when “disaster” struck. He had a terrible day to drop over 35 minutes on the leaders and not only loose the pink jersey but slip way out of the top 10 on the leaderboard. I shared a montage of four pictures which told a story that I believe is so relevant to business.

Management Support

Firstly, Simon riding alongside the team car being encouraged by team management in probably one of his darkest hours. How do you as a manager support your star performers when they are a having a bad day or week or month? Are you alongside in the team car coaxing them along and providing support or are you up the road looking for the next star. Are you only supporting your stars or do you support the entire team?

Standing up out of the Saddle

The second image showed him standing up out of his saddle struggling around a sharp hairpin on a rough gravel road with snow on the verges and a small crowd cheering him on. How does your team and business respond when the road gets steep and rough and the environment cools off? Do you get out of the saddle to give it your all or do you give up, get off the bike and walk? Do you get dispirited when the crowd that is cheering you on becomes sparse or do you push on hard for the summit?

“Sacrificing” for the Team

The next picture showed Simon struggling up another incline with two of his team mates just ahead waiting to encourage and “tow” him up the hill. Cycling is fundamentally a team sport. Winning a race is all about team work with “domestiques” sacrificing themselves on a daily basis to help the designated leader. This involves protecting him or her from the wind and rain, collecting food and drinks and even handing over their wheel or bike in the event of a puncture or mechanical failure. It is impossible to win a major race without strong team support. On occasion the role is reversed where the team leader sacrifices for another member to help them win a stage. How cohesive are you as a team? Are you prepared to “sacrifice” for each other? Is it only the “workers” who are expected to sacrifice or are the leaders prepared to play their part?

The Glare of the Spotlight

The final picture showed Simon on his own struggling up another incline being followed by the camera’s as they relayed his struggle to millions around the world. How do you as a leader respond when you are isolated and under the glare of the spotlight whether it be the media, the Board or senior management?

Bouncing Back

The team and personal dream of winning the Tour of Italy had been shattered but the very next day they regathered, refocused and another member, Mikel Nieve, went on to win the penultimate stage of the race. The following quote from Director Sportif, Matt White, sums it up. “The incredible win of Mikel Nieve directly after the disappointment of losing our dream shows the real character of this team”. How does your team respond when you lose a major deal that you have been working for months or even years on? How long does it take you to re-calibrate and focus on the next goal? Does it take days, weeks or months to re-gather momentum?

Chris Froome went on to win Stage 19 after an audacious “attack” on the day when Simon Yates faltered and ultimately won the overall race and coveted pink jersey. In the process Froome became the first Briton to win the Giro and only the third rider in history to win all three of cycling’s Majors, The Grand Tours, which include the Tour de France, the Vuelta a Espana and the Giro d’ Italia.

His win was not without controversy. He was and still is in the midst of a legal battle to clear his name after twice the permitted levels of salbutamol (an asthma drug) were found in his system at the Vuelta. Many people thought he should not have even started the race. I showed a picture of a couple of spectators running alongside him dressed as giant inhalers.

 Not Always a Level Playing Field

 My point had nothing to do with whether Froome is guilty or innocent, but to highlight that in sales, business, and indeed life it is not always a level playing field. Whether perceived or real the ability to focus on playing the hand that you have been dealt rather than wasting energy on what you can’t control can often be a determinant of success. How good is your team at recognising possible “inequalities” but then putting them aside and focusing on the objective at hand?

 Celebrating the Small Wins

 Whilst Mitchelton Scott ultimately missed the huge goal that they had set to win the Giro there was much to celebrate. Five stage wins, 13 days in the pink leaders jersey and many lessons learned both on a personal and business level. Do you take the time to celebrate the small wins in life and business whilst recognising their key role as building blocks to ultimately scaling the highest peaks?

 Sport is a Microcosm of Life

 A few years ago I was fortunate to help facilitate a media session in Singapore with LA silver medallist and BBC athletics anchor, Steve Cram. He made what I thought was an interesting observation. He believes “sport is a microcosm of life”. So if your business were a sport what values, rules, principles and character would it embody. What can you learn from sport and what can sport learn from you?

To listen to the full presentation, click HERE.

How to Better Manage People in Business

I recently made a guest appearance on the Business over Breakfast podcast, a popular Australian-based show by Andrew Griffiths and Bree James where I shared my experience of managing teams of 20 up to 5,000 and how important it is for small business owners to know how to effectively manage people.


Opportunities and Challenges of Mass Participation in Asia

Mass participation has seen tremendous growth in Asia in recent years, with many newcomers, both local and overseas attracted to the industry without fully understanding the business models or challenges it brings. While on one level, this presents risk to the industry from a reputation perspective, it also presents fantastic opportunities for good concepts that are well executed.

From an opportunity perspective, there is clearly an emerging middle class across the region that has more disposable income, is becoming more health and wellness aware and interested to enjoy experiences and concepts that have been successful overseas. My sense is that, in general, the level of authentic ongoing engagement with participants is limited which presents a huge opportunity for brands, events and agencies that are prepared to invest in making their participants feel valued. So often I see virtually the same communication being cut and pasted from year to year – “Dear Chris, we are excited to announce that entries for XXX event are now open, followed by some generic event information and ending with please click here to sign up” Every past participant on the database gets the same message no matter what distance they entered in or when they participated previously. Generic communication then happens at regular intervals until event day and post-event there may be one or two messages followed by months of silence until the next year launches with similar communication.

A step in the right direction can be as simple as “Dear Chris, congratulations again on running the 10k in 65 minutes last year. We are delighted to launch this year’s event and were wondering if you may be interested in taking on a bigger challenge in the half marathon – if so here is a 10% discount code as a valued repeat participant. If you would prefer to run the 10k again, here is a link to a free training program to help you improve your time and perhaps get under the magic one hour mark”. With the software and CMS systems available these days, it is relatively easy to create such customised engagement and much more is possible.

There is no doubt that calendars in many countries are becoming cluttered by, in the most part, “me too” events with little differentiation and basic levels of organisation and engagement. I was recently talking with Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman, and we both agreed that there is still plenty of opportunity in the market for top quality events that deliver value and a great participant experience.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges that the industry in the region faces is its business model. In general, entry fees are still relatively low compared to other parts of the world, partly because of the still emerging middle class and partly because of the point above relating to perceived value. This makes most events highly dependent on sponsors and government grants which creates significant risk should a sponsor not materialise or renew. Other challenges include the approval process and permits which varies hugely across the region both in terms of time taken and costs, also, the limited pool of experienced staff and volunteers in most countries and the significant operational challenges of delivering complex events.

In my experience working in Asia, where requirements can vary massively from country to country, a vital component to hosting a successful event is working with a reliable local partner who understands the cultural nuances and has a reliable network which includes key government agencies and reliable suppliers. I believe creating this partnership is of significant importance and overlooking it is the biggest misstep an organiser could make.

For example, a number of years ago, I was approached by a massively successful overseas concept offering me a licence for Asia and assuring me that they would be in ten markets in their first year. I cautioned them that was extremely optimistic and, in my opinion, highly unlikely but they were not prepared to listen. Years later they have delivered one average event and one terrible event.

I will be exploring this topic in depth when I deliver the closing keynote at the next edition of America’s largest running convention, Running USA in February 2018. Read more about my thoughts here: and if you’re interested to attend, tickets are available through their website: As a speaker, I have access to a limited number of discounted delegate passes. Please email me at if you are interested.

149.7 Metres – The Difference Between Good and Bad Publicity

Last week, a friend in London sent me a recent BBC article “Great Scottish Run half-marathon course found to be short”.

It highlighted the complexities of delivering successful mass participation events, especially in the heart of major cities, as well as the power of social media and wearables to keep organisers accountable.

The organiser of the event, The Great Run Company, is one of the most experienced in the business, having been around for over 30 years and delivered events for over 4 million participants. So if such an industry veteran can experience an issue, there are clearly potential lessons for others.

The event, held back in October, was won in what at first appeared to be a course and Scottish record time by Olympian, Callum Hawkins, and no doubt hundreds of runners also thought they had set personal and season’s bests.

Questions were posed soon after the race by participants who indicated that their Garmins and other devices showed the course to be about 200m short. Chatter soon started on the likes of Facebook and Strava and the organisers committed to re-measure the course –something that would have had to happen anyway due to a record being broken. The re-measure was only able to be done in late January.

The miscalculation of the distance was down to human error, with two problems identified. A small section of the prescribed route was not followed correctly on race day and in addition, when the course measure was conducted, the roads were unclosed due to essential utilities works. It is easier for measurers to take the exact line athletes will run when the roads are closed.

Measurement of road courses for running events is a complex process that has evolved significantly over the past 30 years. With such huge bonuses at stake these days for breaking of records, it is an even more critical component.

I was lucky enough to be involved in the route measure for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Marathon. A police escort helped close roads, often ridden in the wrong direction. One of the highlights was cycling diagonally across Sydney Harbour Bridge devoid of vehicles apart from a long line of stationary traffic on the lane closest to the Opera House. We were greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers and no doubt a good few people were left bewildered. The measure could clearly have not been accomplished without the support of a number of city agencies.

So what are some of the lessons that we can take from the events in Scotland:

  • Collaboration is key: for the safety of the measurers and to ensure accuracy, the support of city agencies to close roads or provide police escorts makes a challenging task far easier
  • Identify every possible way to eradicate the risk of human error: participants going the wrong way is almost always the result of human error. Look at ways to reduce this both during course set-up and whilst the race is on
  • Monitor your social media channels
  • Have a clear crisis communication plan that outlines how you will communicate clearly and in a timely manner with your stakeholders. This is likely to include sponsors, host city and of course participants
  • Try to resolve and clarify the issue/s as fast as possible
  • Accept responsibility and apologise, as happened with the Great Scottish Run
  • Appoint a certified course measurer and provide them with the appropriate information and environment to conduct the measure
  • Do a thorough debrief and identify how processes and procedures can be improved

Ultimately in this day and age, there is nowhere to hide as problems are aired and scrutinised in real time on social media. Robust and detailed event planning delivers many benefits including the opportunity to minimise the risk of negative publicity.

I believe that there are huge opportunities for our industry to collaborate and share best practices globally. It is one of the reasons why I started the Mass Participation Asia conference – to bring the industry together and learn from each other. If the operational aspects of such events is relevant to your line of work, perhaps you would be interested to attend our next edition:

Opportunities for Mass Participation to Look over the Fence

There is no doubt that the pace of consolidation in the mass participation industry is gathering momentum as large global players from both within and outside the sector make investments and acquisitions.

In August 2015 the world’s largest private property developer, Wanda Group from China, paid a massive $650m for Ironman. Late last year, ASO, the owners of the Tour de France, bought UK based Human Race and media company, DC Thomson, invested in another large UK based agency, Limelight Sports.

In the past year Ironman has made several acquisitions including the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa, Lagardère’s portfolio of mass participation events which included the Velothon cycling series and a number of marathons as well as Spectrum Worldwide which gave it the rights to the Singapore Marathon. A clear indication that it is moving beyond triathlon into the parallel verticals of running and cycling.

Perhaps the most closely watched play has been that of the Virgin Group. Back in May 2015 Sir Richard Branson announced that he had recruited Mary Wittenberg, CEO of the New York Road Runners and New York Marathon, to head up Virgin Sports. Virgin is in fact no stranger to mass participation with their sponsorship of the Virgin Money London Marathon and Virgin Active London Triathlon and Sir Richard is an active participant in mass events such as the Cape Argus.

The industry has waited in anticipation to see what the move would entail and two weeks ago Wittenberg announced that the program for 2017 would feature four “sports festivals” in Greater London and San Francisco with growth in future years to include cycling events and possibly more marathons and even ultra-marathons. The core focus appears to be events that provide platforms for strong engagement and interaction with not only hard-core runners but also their families and friends.


The fact that mass participation has captured the attention of such large global organisations seems to be an exciting endorsement of the potential of an industry that in many parts of the world is still fragmented and does not have a united voice with a common goal of lifting standards and adopting best practice.

When it comes to benchmarking and best practice my sense is that generally comparisons are made against other events in similar categories and geographical proximity. It seems that international standards from top tier events as well as other sports and industries are not often aspired to.

There are also significant challenges facing many sectors of the industry including tenuous business models, availability of venues, cluttered calendars, erosion of traditional events by novelty and short formats, increased compliance and regulatory hurdles and the ever present increased costs of risk management and security.

Working in mass participation events is challenging with staff generally working exceptionally long hours often in stressful situations. As more millennials enter the workforce looking for higher wages and more flexibility, staff turnover may become an issue in an industry where on-the-ground experience is just as important as classroom learning. It also seems that volunteers are getting harder to recruit and retain.


There are clearly also many exciting opportunities. The increasing power and reach of social and digital media, the insights provided by big data, the recognition by global and local brands of the power of mass participation events to engage with consumers as well as that of governments to drive community and tourism outcomes to name a few.

It is likely that some events and organisers may see the arrival of these new global organisations as a threat but at the same time others will see it as filled with upside.

I believe there is a massive opportunity to learn not only from the fresh initiatives that the likes of Virgin and Wanda bring to mass participation but also from other sports and indeed other industries that will help take the industry to a new level.


It is one of the reasons that I chose the theme of “Inspiration from Beyond Mass Participation” for the second edition of the Mass Participation Asia conference that took place in Bangkok in April 2017.

The conference featured an exciting line-up of speakers from other sports and industries together with many mass participation experts from the region as well as the United States, Europe and Australia including Victor Cui, Founder and CEO of ONE Championship as a keynote speaker.

In the space of just five years the Singapore-based sports media property has gone from start-up to a position where its shareholders include Temasek Holdings (Heliconia), one of Asia’s largest and most prestigious sovereign wealth investment funds, boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, plus several other prominent global businessmen and is on track for a US$1 billion valuation by 2018.

What many don’t realize is how fragmented the MMA scene in Asia was just five years ago. I see many parallels with the current state of the mass participation sports industry and am confident that the industry can take some key lessons from the success of ONE.

Over a brief conversation with Victor, he was kind enough to share some of his key insights.

“The biggest challenge ONE faced when starting off was to create a world-class level of sport entertainment in Asia that had not previously existed. Figuring out how to take the sport to a whole new level, breaking stadium attendance records and going into countries that had never hosted an event of this scale including a live global broadcast to 118 countries made it such an incredible operational challenge to be doing business in Asia”, Victor shared.

To overcome that obstacle, another presented itself – staffing. To hire the very best, Victor indicates that they sometimes go through at least 200 CVs to fill a role.

Through his collaborative vision, Victor has “united gym owners, event property owners, martial arts federations and athletes who were initially constantly pitting against one another, often cannibalizing and stunting their own growth. When ONE provided a global platform to showcase their talent, things quickly turned around. Competitors were united by their aspirations to be a part of the Championship and spectators were clamouring for more action”.

Perhaps the time has arrived for the mass participation industry in Asia and other parts of the world to “look over the fence” to learn from others and adopt a more collaborative and unified approach.

8 Keys to Wowing Your Clients and Staff with Events

Events present a wonderful opportunity to engage with your clients and staff as long as they are well planned and executed. On the flip-side they can create huge headaches if not properly thought through. Have you had experiences of events that were a ‘disaster’ or are you perhaps nervous about putting one on for the first time?

I think that the biggest problem is that some organisers don’t take the time to create a detailed plan. The reality is that even the smallest event has multiple moving parts which can be managed with an appropriate plan that will minimise the risk of failure.

In my 30 years of organising events ranging from massive marathons with 65,000 participants to small cocktail parties or conferences I have identified eight key areas that should be addressed.

1.  What does success look like?

Assume you are sitting in the debrief the day after the event. What are the key boxes that you will want to tick to confirm that the event was a huge success? Be sure that the objectives meet the needs of all stakeholders and are well documented and shared.

2.  Do you have the right budget and resources?

Whilst having an appropriate budget is critical it is equally essential to have the right resources to plan and deliver the event. I have seen many big budget events fail because they did not have the right staff resources. Even for a small event there will probably be a period where some dedicated staffing is required.

It is also important to ensure that internal staff not only have the bandwidth but also the appropriate skills and experience. Depending on the size of the event I would strongly recommend considering outsourcing to a specialist agency.

Do not overlook the key element of cash flow, especially if it is a public event where ticket revenue may only come in close to the event.

3.  Selecting the appropriate date

This should involve an appropriate amount of research to identify possible conflicts with other similar events as well as school and public holidays. Be sure to also consider global and national events that may impact aspects such as media exposure. For example, if the Olympics is on, whilst it may not directly impact your event, it will certainly take up huge media bandwidth and reduce your chances of exposure.

4.  Venue and suppliers

Be sure to consider a number of venue options and be very clear on the requirements that you need. Also, ensure that availability includes sufficient time for set up and tear down and that you have a clear understanding of all elements of the venue contract.

Do a thorough evaluation of the suppliers you need and try to get recommendations and multiple quotes. Be conscious that some venues may insist that you only use their authorised suppliers.

5.  Project plan and timeline

It is critical to develop a detailed plan, even for small and simple events, that identifies all tasks, a time by when they need to be completed and an allocation of responsibility.

6.  Create a marketing plan

Marketing is critical to the success of any event. It may range from as basic as designing an event invitation and sending it to a database to a far more complex integrated plan with multiple elements and a significant budget depending on the size and objectives. Don’t forget that one of the key opportunities that an event creates is multiple touch points over a period of days, weeks or months to engage and build a relationship with clients.

7.  Conduct a risk assessment

As with most aspects of business, there is an element of risk with any event, even a small one. Be sure to take time to identify the potential risks and document a plan to deal with them. This may be as simple as the CEO being called away and not being able to address a staff function to a guest injuring themselves or dealing with extreme weather if your event is outdoors.

A thorough risk assessment plan will help you to reduce possible issues and will also be invaluable in the unlikely event of a major incident. The fact that you have a detailed plan goes a significant way towards helping you in the event of an inquiry.

8.  Carry out a post event review

There are always lessons that can be learned to help improve your next event even if it is totally different one. Be sure to document them.

The devil is in the detail. By following the above eight guidelines to create a detailed plan you will give yourself a head start in delivering an event that will wow.

Ending Strong to Start Even Better – 6 Tips for a Powerful Evening Routine

Do you toss and turn at night with your mind buzzing over the things that you need to do tomorrow? Do you wake up each morning with a clear plan for the day? Do you get to lunchtime and feel that you have not achieved much having spent the morning jumping from task to task?

In the hyper-connected business environment that we operate in it may not be unusual to get to the end of the day feeling frazzled. Perhaps you feel that you are on a treadmill that never lets up and you race out of the office with a multitude of unfinished tasks at the end of the day. It may be to get to that last appointment or a work dinner or maybe a distracted evening with your family.

My life used to be something like that until I invested in creating an end of day routine which soon became a ritual. It had a massive impact on my productivity and most importantly my well-being. The key is that each morning I’m absolutely clear on what I am committed to working on first up at the most productive time of the day. Almost without fail, I find that if I get off to a great start the rest of the day follows suit. Below I have shared some of the tips that work for me.

6 Tips for Creating an Evening Routine and Turning it Into a Ritual

1.  Set a clear cut-off time

Identify the time that you will leave the office or step out of the home office or stop working in a cafe. It may vary from day to day and indeed from week to week but the key is to make a commitment to yourself each day with regard to the time that that you will stop working. It’s non-negotiable except in extreme circumstances. Rest assured there will ALWAYS be something left on your to-do list.

2.  Review the day

This may be last thing before you leave the office or after dinner. I prefer to do it after dinner and putting my son to bed. I spend some time writing in a journal where, amongst others, I address two key questions. Firstly, what three things made today great and secondly, what would have made it better? There are usually a mix of personal and business items. The first question is designed to practice gratitude as much as highlighting wins.

I also spend time writing a list of tasks that didn’t get done and key priorities for the next day.

3.  Create a plan for the next day

I take my key priorities and tasks and turn them into a plan for the next day – usually just timings and items jotted on an A4 sheet of paper that I leave in the middle of my desk or maybe entered into outlook.

The key is that the minute I walk into my home office, usually at 5am each morning, I’m absolutely clear what I’m going to start working on and can get straight into it at is what the most productive part of the day.

4.  Get outdoors and connect with loved ones

For me spending some time with my family, usually outdoors or doing some exercise is the best way to unwind. Pick what works best for you and ensure that you allocate some time to do it. Try your best to be fully present and not distracted by work thoughts or devices.

5.  Disconnect from devices

I believe this is crucial. Leaving my phone behind whilst I’m enjoying point 4 above and not using my phone or other device for an hour before I go to bed. I’m certain that it has had a huge impact on calming my mind and improving my quality of sleep.

6.  Prepare to sleep

Aside from disconnecting, try to work out what works best for you in that hour before bed that will help you to fall asleep quickly. For me its reading a book, turning down the lights and maybe having a warm drink (no caffeine). Be conscious of your sleeping environment. Cool temperature, comfortable bed and pillow and as dark as possible, ideally pitch black.

I have no doubt that having a clear and structured evening ritual combined with an equally strong morning ritual has had a massive positive impact on both my business and personal life. It requires commitment and ongoing refinement but the rewards are huge and I would encourage anyone to give it a try.