How Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Michael Phelps share four key traits to winning — and how we can emulate these in sales to close more deals.

I love sports. I love what it teaches us about ourself, our life, relationships and even business. In fact, there are numerous parallels between sports and selling. Competition, overcoming adversity, being part of a team, communication, winning, losing and much much more.

But I’m a hack. I barely made my high school soccer team. I grinded for years until I finally secured a single digit handicap in golf. I love to run and continually push to get faster and run longer. I’m super competitive and the quest to continually improve is too attractive to ignore.

I guess that’s why I’ve embraced my profession in sales. There’s something enticing about competing and amongst inevitable heartache – winning. It also means I can compete against the BEST without relying on physical abilities. The playing field is much more equal in sales.

So naturally when we talk of what it takes to be a top closer in sales – my mind reverts to examples of top sports closers (past and present) and what we can learn from them to help us perfect our craft here in sales. There is something amazing and inspiring about witnessing the best in the world compete AND WIN against their counterparts.

My GOAT list of closers in the sporting world?

Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Michael Phelps.

Trying to place my fandom aside (I grew up a Utah Jazz and San Francisco 49ers Fan), I HAVE to acknowledge the greatest of all time list may not include some of my childhood heroes. But the lessons are too appropriate to ignore.

When I think of Mt. Rushmore of Sports Champions, these names are the first off the tongue.

Why? What can their stories teach sales people about closing deals?

I’d never get this post out if I were to combine all the books and biographies, documentaries and stories of each athlete below. I’ll likely add more tidbits in time for part two. But from my untrained and admittedly unfinished research – here are a few points I’ve identified from each and what they all share to make them each the GOAT at their respective sport.

First – a look at the GOAT Stats:

Tiger Woods

Resume:

  • 82 PGA Tour Victories (Tied with Sam Snead for most ever)
  • 15 Major Victories (3 behind Jack – argument for GOAT himself)
  • 14–1 when going into the final round of a major with at least a share of the lead.

Michael Jordan

Resume:

  • 6 NBA Championships
  • 5 NBA MVP Awards
  • 14 All Star Games
  • 49.7% Career FG Percentage while averaging 30 pts per game (all time record) over 15 seasons.

Tom Brady

Resume:

  • 6 Super Bowl Championships (All Time Record)
  • 4 Super Bowl MVPs (All Time Record)
  • 58 Game Winning Drives (All Time Record)
  • Most passing yards and most passing TDs (All Time Records)

Michael Phelps

Resume:

  • 28 Olympic Medals (All Time Record)
  • 23 Olympic Gold Medals (All Time Record)
  • 7 Separate World Records

So what are the key traits that set these all time closers apart from the competition?

  • They have relentless drive to become the best.
  • They have enormous self – confidence.
  • They are coachable.
  • They have a plan and vision to accomplish greatness.

Let’s dive in to each of these a bit further…


DRIVE

Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps are the best in the world at what their craft. But they are also relentless at this key trait: Drive. Call it practice and work ethic. Exhibit ABCD:

Why would you mess with something that is a proven winning formula? To get even better. Tiger Woods has gone through an unheard of 4 swing changes so far in his career. Why? To get better. This is also the same dude who won the US Open in a winner take all 18 hole playoff – ON A BROKEN LEG!

“People don’t understand that when I grew up, I was never the most talented, I was never the biggest, I was never the fastest, I certainly was never the strongest. The only thing I had was my work ethic, and that’s been what has gotten me this far.” -Tiger Woods

Tom Brady organizes “optional” workouts and retreats with his receivers in the off-season to hone his craft. He’s done this for year – even after already winning multiple Super Bowl rings. Because he has the drive to be the best.

“If you want to perform at the highest level, then you have to prepare at the highest level.” – Tom Brady

Michael Phelps is known for a remarkable work ethic. He didn’t miss a day of training for 5 years straight. Holidays, sick – he didn’t miss a day of training.

“I went five straights years without missing a single day of workout. 365 days a year. Every single day I was in the water.” – Michael Phelps

Michael Jordan -as we saw in the documentary The Last Dance, educated us on the relentless drive and competitive ambition he possessed. After losing to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, Michael Jordan calls his trainer and tells him to plan on getting started the following day so he can start preparing for the following season.

Takeaway:

What does that say about us as closers and leaders? It’s never done. Top closers never coast. They continually practice their craft to get better and sharpen their game.

What are we doing as sales reps and leaders? What drives us to improve? How are we working on this? To me, the best closers I’ve had the privilege of working with – have immense drive to be the best. They put in the effort required to outperform others.


CONFIDENCE

In moving deals through the pipeline to close – confidence is crucial. It breeds success. Jeb Blount says that you need to negotiate from a position of strength.

The number one reason salespeople are in a weak position and lack emotional discipline at the sales negotiation table is an empty pipeline. When you have an empty pipeline you get desperate. When you get desperate, you get up close and personal with the Universal Law of Need. 1. The more you need to close the deal, the more you will give away to close it. 2. The more you need to close the deal, the less likely you are to close it.

Tiger is 14-1 with a share of the lead in a major.

“I’m aware if I’m playing at my best I’m tough to beat, and I enjoy that.” There’s no sense in going to a tournament if you don’t believe that you can win it. And that is the belief I have always had, and that is not going to change.” Tiger Woods

Michael Jordan displayed extreme confidence in the face of adversity. He believed when seemed like no one else did. After winning his 6th and record NBA Championship he hugged Phil Jackson. Jackson joyfully prodded: “Can you believe it?” Michael’s answer is seared into my memory:

“I had faith! I had faith! I believed in it. I never gave up. Every-time we were close, I knew were were going to do it.” – Michael Jordan.

Tom Brady has been vocal about a “chip” on his shoulder. But he’s relentless with his work ethic AND confidence.

“You have to believe in your process. You have to believe in the things that you are doing to help the team win. When I’m out on the football field, I have so much confidence in what I’m doing. I would never do anything outside of the rules of play. You Push your body to the limits, but you have to train your body to deal with the limits. – Tom Brady

Michael Phelps

So many people along the way, whatever it is you aspire to do, will tell you it can’t be done. But all it takes is imagination. You dream. You plan. You reach. There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.

Takeaway

Confidence stems from overcoming things that are hard or scary. It comes from doing. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you succeed. But if you’ve experienced something before – you have confidence in THAT- but also- in future challenges and trials as they come up. The best closers have extreme confidence in closing the sale – because they are prepared and have put in the effort to see it through to close.


COACHABLE

Michael Jordan needed Phil Jackson. Even though he wasn’t fond of him at first. But he eventually did and the rest is history. He needed to trust in Phil’s Triangle offense and his teammates to win. Once he embraced his leadership role and trusted in his coach, the dynasty started. Without him trusting his coach – and his teammates like John Paxson or Steve Kerr – the history books may have read differently (Utah Jazz fan sad face).

The main reason we do so well is Phil. I like him because of the atmosphere he creates. – Michael Jordan

Tiger Woods has enlisted the expertise of four swing coaches and other specialty coaches. If the best golfer in the world realizes the need for a coach -what does that say about us as sales leaders or reps?

Tom Brady has said that Belichick is a “football genius”.

“Bill Bellicheck is the greatest coach of all time”. I feel like he’s the best coach in the history of the NFL. He’s an incredible coach,” the quarterback continued. “He’s been an incredible mentor for me. He’s taught me so much football.” – Tom Brady

Michael Phelps credits his long time coach Bob Bowman for much of his success.

“Without Bob I have no shot at achieving the records I’ve achieved or winning the medals that I’ve won,” – Michael Phelps in the forward to Bowman’s book.

Takeaway:

Mark Roberge (co-founder Hubspot and Author Sales Acceleration Formula) says that the #1 trait he looks for in a sales rep is Coach-ability. Top closers are coachable and want to be coached. This is how they continue to improve.


VISION

Michael Phelps was notorious for setting (and smashing) goals. He un-retires (MJ anyone?) and decides to come back for the 2016 Olympics and a chance at history. He dreamed of doing something no-one has ever done.

When I feel tired, I just think about how great I will feel, once I finally reach my goal. – Michael Phelps

Tom Brady knows what he wants to accomplish when all is said and done in his career. In fact, he was so intent on winning that after the Patriot’s lost to the Broncos in 2016 AFC championship game he had a countdown clock installed in his home gym.

“I feel that I have a belief in who I am. I chart my own course and then I live the life I want to live. Being physically fit and emotionally stable and spiritually sound.” Tom Brady

Michael Jordan was fixated on continuing the dynasty and winning his 6th Championship. He also is quoted on record as saying his goal was to score 30 points per game. If you look at his career average – he tops out at 30.7 points per game which to this day – is an NBA record. Fascinating.

“The game has its ups and downs, but you can never lose focus of your individual goals and you can’t let yourself be beat because of lack of effort.” – Michael Jordan

Tiger Woods has been vocal about his goals in the game of golf. No surprise when in 2019 he matched Sam Snead for the most victories on the PGA Tour and said this win was one of the sweetest. In fact – in this clip, as a 14 year old – he talks about being “The Michael Jordan” of golf – even potentially bigger than Jack Nicklaus.

Takeaway

Top Closers hold a vision and plan to achieve their goals. They don’t settle. Top closers maintain a focus on what needs to be done to accomplish what they set out to do – close the deal.


In summary – the arguably best closers, with the game on the line – all share 4 key traits that propel them to greatness. Confidence, Drive, Coach-ability, and Vision.

Those same traits are often found in the top closers I’ve worked with in sales. Train and coach on these – and we can all move toward becoming clutch when it matters the most.