For the benefit of American readers who may be unfamiliar with the sport, rugby sevens is a variant of traditional rugby—so named because teams are made up of seven players versus the standard 15. One of the sport's major international tournaments is the Dubai Sevens, held annually in its namesake city.
I've been to the Dubai Sevens a number of times now. But with Dubai itself hit hard by the global recession, this year's installment (held earlier this month) suffered accordingly. Nevertheless, there are various lessons to be learned from how the organizers dealt with the challenge—lessons that can be applied to business, and particularly to sales. Have a look below and see what you think:
1. Don't be afraid of downsizing. In the past, the Dubai Sevens has attracted around 50,000 people. This year, it was more like 30,000. Since the stadium was only going to be two-thirds full at best, the organizers took action accordingly. They put netting over the top tiers of the stands and cordoned them off, forcing people to sit in the lower tiers. This resulted in the stadium looking busier, creating far more atmosphere than having people dotted about all over the place.
Crucially, the smaller turnout didn't affect the experience or the enjoyment of the event. This is something critical to retain in your own business, even if you have to downsize in terms of capability, people, or offerings.
Many businesses have had to look particularly hard at themselves over the last few months: Looking at operations and how they could become more efficient. Looking at their service offering and how it could be "tweaked" to get a better response from potential purchasers. Looking at their staffing levels and seeing whether people were in the best positions, or had the best responsibilities, to get the best out of themselves and add the best value to the organization.
As a result, many organizations have had to downsize. Others, however, have been hesitant to take this step, hoping instead they just need to "ride things out" a little longer. In the end, however, it's the companies that are able to deliver a good service efficiently that will be among the best-placed to take advantage as the market goes back up.
2. Don't give others a head start. In rugby, just as in business, you can't afford to give your competitors a head start. By way of example: In this year's tournament, after playing solidly and looking good as they moved into the semi-finals stage, England came unstuck against Samoa in the semifinals.
The problem wasn't that England weren't capable of beating them—they were. The problem was that Samoa had scored three tries before England had woken up. It's very difficult, in a game lasting seven minutes each half, to come back from three tries down early in the game.
England had the skills, the players, and the capability to win. Nevertheless, giving Samoa that kind of head start ultimately cost them the gameߪand the chance to play New Zealand in the final.
In your business, are you giving competitors a head start right now? Ask yourself whether you've been saying things like "We're in survival mode at the moment," "No one's got any budget to buy from us," or "Let's just get through the next few months." If so, you could well be giving your competition a head start on new prospects (or even your existing customers).
Perhaps you or your team haven't been prospecting for new business as much as you could have over the past few months. That's certainly going to have an effect on your business pipeline for the next few months, isn't it? Which begs the question: Where else have you been giving your competitors a head start on you recently?
3. Pick your team carefully. Rugby sevens is a different kind of game compared to its 15-a-side equivalent. The pace is faster, with more emphasis on explosiveness and the ability to keep and run with the ball. Far less emphasis is placed on kicking.
The teams who do well at the sevens game are the ones that pick their team carefully. Just take a look at the players selected by the successful teams: There's an obvious focus on individuals who are quicker than their opponents, with speed from a standing start a vital attribute. Ball handling skills are also key, as many turnovers happen in sevens.
When it comes to your business, how have you picked your team? Have you consciously picked the right blend of people with the right blend of attributes to succeed in the current market? Or are you left with people who are just doing that job because they've been there for a number of years?
How about if you were to start your business again tomorrow? What would you differently? Who would you assign into the job roles you'd create? Why would you pick them for the roles over others? What skills do they bring to the table that makes them ideal candidates for those roles? Are they the sort of people you can rely on in a difficult market to lead your company back to where you want it to be?
4. Make it easy for people to buy. Far too many companies make it too difficult for people to buy, especially when it comes to cross-selling or upselling additional items.
Two common problems encountered at sporting events involve the purchasing of drinks. One involves customers having to stand in long, slow-moving lines. The other involves the temporary staff hired by the organizers pocketing large amounts of the cash takings.
At the Dubai Sevens, they've eliminated both problems through one simple solution: Tokens for food and drink are purchased at special booths. Hence, lines move much more efficiently, and the threat of theft is eliminated.
So, how can you apply the same principles in your business? How are you making it easy for people to buy from you (or buy more from you) currently?
Think about the customer experience of people buying from you. What are you doing before or after they purchase that makes you stand out from your competitors? Lastly, identify the bottlenecks in your process preventing you from getting more business from your customer. Armed with that information, you can set about eliminating them.
Andy Preston is an expert authority on selling for small businesses. Visit him online at www.andy-preston.com and www.salestrainingbreakfastclub.com.