Exploring the overlaps between Coaching, Sports and Sales

Daniel Robus, Go To Market Executive & Facilitator and Bryan Difford, NTT Ltd. Sales Director – UK & Ireland, join African Host, Dave Nel to explore the intersections of sports and sales and what sellers can learn at that intersection.

As we explored the overlap between sales and sport, the following key points were discussed:

  • The importance of work life balance in your overall success.
  • How structure will enable more productivity across the various aspects of your life (family, work, sport).
  • It is critical to put people into their best positions to win.  Great sellers are not automatically going to be great managers, as one example we have all seen.


These lessons apply fully to Enablement professionals and coaches. It’s about putting a structure in place and focusing on the whole person — not just the seller, but the seller and the human being doing the selling.

Give a listen and remain curious.

Check out all the great sales coaching content available on Trust Enablement.
And let us know, how do you want to help improve the Enablement profession?
Audio Transcript

Dave Nel
Africa and and I guess around the world a little bit today, we are honored to have to, for the first time on an African channel two collaborators at the at the same time, Brian and Daniel, we’re very excited to have you both on the show. And welcome to the coffee collaborate and enablement. Would you mind each of you just sharing a little bit about these two strange and amazing gentlemen who are on the call with us today?

Bryan Difford
after your death? Oh, you want me to go for a sec, I was going for age before beauty that like. So hi, Dave, thank you for having me. Appreciate it. Looking forward to it. It’s one of my first podcasts I’m pretty excited. So my name is Brian deford. Born and bred in South Africa. And I think for the context of this call, I’ve been lucky enough to compete at a world championship level in triathlon, as well as sell and manage a group of sailors at the same time. And so really, my forte is is around being able to motivate people and getting the best that we can get out of people given their circumstances. And so I’ve had some success in the past, which is, which has allowed me to sort of filter lessons learned on one side of the fence into sort of realistic games in the business world. So that’s, that’s my short brief intro.

Dave Nel
Lovely. Thank you. Welcome, welcome, welcome. triathlon, we will have to talk a little bit about that later, and forgot which one is your favorite leg out of three, I think I know. But we’ll get to that at the end. Thank you Welcome, Brian.

Daniel Robus
Daniel, and then I dive on Daniel robus, the founder and owner of Life rocks consulting. I’ve worked with Brian over the years at bigger organizations, and I’ve come from small, I tend to get put into sales. But I cannot honestly say the hunting side of sales really is not my forte, I prefer selling through people and engaging in a channel type of approach. I love all things to do with presentations and putting them together and how we change minds on that side. So taking a team like Brian’s and then arming them and equipping them with messages to take up to the populace, I like to get a lot done from one through many on the sporting side, where Brian’s usually on the podium and at the front, I’m usually in the middle over the back and known for being loud and proud and enjoying every step of the journey. I’ve done six comrades, five Iron Man’s and many, many ultra events. And that that’s really what I enjoy. I like getting lost in the mountains or for a long time. And getting into that area of the pain cave where not many people enjoy going and finding myself, strip bear and seeing what type of a man I am. Behind me, you’ll see there’s a picture. And that’s one of my daughters. And this is our travel wall for anyone who’s active because first and foremost, sport gives me the ability to travel to weird and wonderful places as the sales. And I’ve been to about 28 countries and presented on stages as small as one and two, and as big as 1000 from a perspective of, of changing hearts and minds from a sales perspective. So I really, really enjoy getting out there. And when people are the acceptance, I think that’s even better.

Dave Nel
Well, welcome Daniel. And for those of you who don’t know, the comrades is, if you don’t six of them, it’s it’s any 380 something kilometers. I know that 8999 in one day, well, hopefully in under 12 hours. That’s quite a it’s quite a feat. So we’ve got two sales, gurus, professionals, but also lifelong sports guys on the call welcome. And let’s get right into it. 2021 seems to have left many of our sales people sales leaders, sales enablement, people not knowing, you know, where do I go from here like things just like bam, they changed so quickly. And I know both of you really mentioned that I’m passionate about sales and sports. We previously spoke you said there’s there’s quite a lot of links and connections between the two. Could you give us a little bit of insight where you see those links.

Daniel Robus
And a day before Brian dives into that because I spoke about how to help and help Brian’s nature. One of organized, okay, I think the third leg which you which maybe you overlook is we share and I know, Brian, you’re just on this journey, but is that a family and sport and success at work, for me can’t happen without a successful balancing of family. So that tripartite is really important. And for any of your listeners, or members who are new on, on their careers, and I’m talking the first 10 years, and especially in sales, there is a very unhealthy attitude towards work, which is we need to work until we burned. And we almost were those burns or scars of success. And what that does is you’re going to let some thing fall, and nine times out of 10, it’s sport or family. And those are the things that add richness to our lives. So I just want to add that third leg is one that we cannot overlook, because when it comes to, to being successful at either being in the corporate world, or in the entrepreneurial world, and performing on a sports field, there’s always somewhere that you’re giving, you are making a sacrifice on one element. And that’s quite often family. So when I talk to younger folk about their journey, and especially sales, people that are chasing numbers, it’s don’t neglect that third element just because it’s the easiest to, because, you know, when the dust settles, and you’re 35, and you’ve got a drinking problem, and last falling apart, and you haven’t run it in your life, your family is the only one that’s going to be there for you. You know, drinks often work, maybe encouraged by some organizations, but they’re not the ones that are going to be there. If you get COVID. And you’re not hitting your number and you let go. Or if you are, you know, if you if you have a breakdown, they don’t catch you. So when I get through a an ultra event, I absolutely don’t do it on my own. And I have a strong crew behind me. And it’s usually with my wife leading that. And they are the ones that give you the drinks on the way and they’re the ones that give you the encouraging word. And they’re the ones that when you get up at four o’clock in the morning to go and do something, get woken up and inconvenienced, and these things don’t happen in isolation. Neither work nor sport. They’re there. They always they don’t overlook them. You overlook them at your peril.

Dave Nel
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s about balance. Ryan, I want to bring you in and ask you. Do you have anything to add to that?

Bryan Difford
Yeah, absolutely. I think those three pillars make up the foundation of you being able to be successful in your life, you have to have a balance across all of those things. And while Dan was talking, I wrote down something that shows just kind of a flow in my life that I’ve had to use. And the golden thread running through all of those things. Is is a couple of there’s a few things. But the main one for me right now in this context is around structure. Because what happens inevitably is you’ve got a ton of things going on in your work, you’ve got a whole lot of things going on with sport, you’ve got a whole lot of things going on with family, and you’re trying to juggle all these balls. And like Dan said, inevitably, you’re going to start dropping balls in one space or another. And typically you lean towards family or sport because works you’re dedicated to. And so I fully had to deal with that in my own personal capacity. And what I found is by bringing structure into what I’m doing, I’m actually finding a way to free up time. And this happens, and I saw it happen across sports or from from a sporting perspective, I was training on my own up until the 2016, World Champs for triathlon where I can fifth. From there, I moved to having a structured program with a coach. And over the next year, I went from fifth to first and managed to win World Champs because I had more time based on the structure that I put in place. And so I saw this as a gaping hole to use across every element of my life. And what I started seeing is that when I started applying structure to family to work and to sport, I was able to then pull out as much free time across all of that to spend with the people I’m able to spend on the sport that I love to spend building out an opportunity with a customer. So that had a really a really key role to play. And then I think over and above that, like Dan said that, for any one individual to be successful, regardless of the avenue that you’re looking at, it takes a team sitting behind you to deliver on that. Absolutely. And, and it’s so important then and and often that team against it starts with your family. And they they form the sort of foundation of your team. And then you’ve got friends and colleagues and other people that sit on top of that, that form that support structure. Yeah, and again, if you’re freeing up time, you then have time to spend with those people who are going to be either your number one supporters or your coaches or whatever the case may be. So I love those two concepts and fact that you have to balance the pillar to to be successful because I’ve used that in my own life.

Dave Nel
Absolutely. And, you know, when, when you when you’re speaking, I’m thinking for the sales enablement, professionals on the course on the call, and also sales coaches sales leaders on the call, there’s two key things that I’ve come up with three really at this point in time. One is, you know, a sales person is just that a person. It’s not just about sales, it’s about the whole person and the whole environment. So when you are putting support elements in place, it’s not just about the deal every single time, but think about the full ecosystem of your of your Salesforce and your guys that you’re enabling. And the second two are, the second one is structure is key, right? It’s a huge lesson from sport, if you’ve got structure, and you can see the results coming in and it can create time, at the end of the day. And then you both Slack, something in sneakily on the other side over there that I want to ask more about is you know, it’s not the salesperson alone, it’s not the sports person alone who achieves the success. It’s the whole team behind them. And and I want to go a little bit more into that when you draw parallels between, you know, a world class athletes and a world class salesperson. Can you maybe say a little bit more about the team and the support and the different types of structure that need to be in place for those guys to succeed both on the field? And I guess in the in the corporate world?

Daniel Robus
right to it, do you want me to take a dive in just an observation. My colleagues come in fifth to first with the introduction of a coach. And I’ve been through two quite hard years. And it’s almost been cathartic for me is that people want me to be a salesperson, because of the coaching role that I do. And because of what at what I do, and it doesn’t work, and then then they’re getting upset about it. And it’s because I’m out of position, it’s it isn’t my role that I should be there. And it’s it’s quite a thing to vocalize it’s quite a scary thing, because I trade on my name. And people lack what I do. But I, I firmly believe in positions for players. You’re either the Brian who’s going to represent or you’re the coach that’s there, or you’re the nutrition specialist that’s doing it. And so often, in our organizations, we make the mistake of thinking that a salesperson can be a good manager by default, because he can sell or he’s going to be a great salesman, because he can present. There’s so many other elements that you need to look at and getting those positions, right. I mean, if you swap from our sports, to cricket, the averages, the increase in averages between people who go for the boundary versus people who go for ones and twos is astounding. Because they’re going for ones and twos, they keeping the run rate ticking over. They’re not going for the big wicked beating, you know, and that’s a very subtle change in focus, I’m going to come back to try and and triathlon and stay on track, I can get distracted. I really, the role of a coach is underrated. And I think a good manager, who is coaching in from an organizational perspective allows you to get into your area of gifting and work with that fear. And what my observations of where Brian was amazing, was that he had complete focus, and he could step out of the the politics around him. And remember, I interviewed you for the MBA and and my question was whether or not your your reputation has an impact on a sale. And the brand’s comments were so profound to me, he said, Yes, there are in context, but I get stuff done. And the rest of the noise can carry on. And if we can allow that in those areas of gifting if we can put the people in the areas of gifting the results that we get just off the charts. The difference between stress and pressure for me is pressure is an amount going through a pipe. It’s good, it’s fun, everything else stresses when we’re trying to get the path through the bend. When you’ve got people in the wrong area. They’re not in the area of gifting, they get under under stress and they break and that’s not and that’s

Dave Nel
I want to ask Brian, I want to ask you this question. You know, we just spoke about the idea of right people for the right role. And in the great salesperson doesn’t necessarily make a great sales leader and a great sales enablement person or a coach. But in your experience, how important is it for the coach to know that rules of the game. Alright, so while you didn’t have to have been the best, I guess there’s an element that you at least need to know in that. And, you know, do you think you can be effectively? Don’t I? I’m interested in how you pull that parallel together?

Bryan Difford
Yeah, I think one of the parallels are definitely want to bring out here is that, you know, San Jose often is something that you end up landing up doing, as opposed to growing up as a little kid saying, one day, I want to be a sailor when I’m big. Yeah, you know, so it’s often something that you accidentally get into, but in order to be successful, you’ve got to be intentionally successful. And it’s similar saying of sports, you know, you kind of grew up figuring out which sport works, you try a whole bunch of them. But in order to actually get good at it, you’ve got to be intentionally successful. And I do think that there is an element of not always does a does a great seller make a great sales manager, I definitely think that comes down to the nature of the person and the quality of coach sitting behind the person. But to dovetail it into what we’ve been talking about today is that I think the role of coaching in a sales management position is completely underrated at the moment. And I think it’s underrated because the lack of structure is causing too much noise. And and managers are spending too much time fighting fires, and removing bottlenecks, and not enough time actually getting to coach their people. And if you think about where we are just in the sort of series of the world right now you a lot of our sellers are extroverted people by nature, they love dealing with people and people buy from people. Now they’re sitting in a circumstance where they can’t engage with customers face to face, they’re stuck behind the the laptop or the you know, whatever the making mechanism is of collaboration, and they aren’t able to get that, that human engagement. And so what’s happening is we’re dealing in a time where our ciders are at the very lowest in terms of the motivation. And so something that I’ve been trying to focus on lately is how do you really affect the motivation of the guys on your team? And I still have all the answers, but I can’t I keep trying to tie this back to me. And what I found is when I have a purpose, and and I’m just started reading a book now called selling with a noble purpose, and what I love about it is that you’re trying to understand what is the difference I’m making in the world today. So I don’t want to just go sell somebody something out of my business, because that doesn’t fulfill me, that helps me reach a target, but it’s not fulfilling, I want to know that I’m making a difference in the world. And what I’m doing is got a greater purpose. And if you think about sports, people that end up loving the sport, it becomes an addiction. And the reason why you get so motivated, is because when you start doing all the little things every day, you start noticing incremental increases in things, incremental pieces getting better. And so for me, my definition of success is not winning one or two big things, it’s getting a little bit better every single day. And that starts to build a snowball effect. And that’s what really allows people that’s the difference between a Basco plan and Jordan or a swimmer, and a Phelps or a golfer. And a tiger is figuring out how to make those small little incremental wins every single day and build that up. Yeah. And so I

Dave Nel
got an audition. No, no, you haven’t, because that’s not a journey. Again, we’ve just done the collaborator and sales enablement, has done a whole month, just dedicated to coaching and sales coaching. So we’re about just over halfway through that that month. So it’s interesting that you guys are raising that. But you know, that incremental movement as incremental shifts is something that a coach can help somebody with, you know, whether it be holding up a mirror, celebrating the successes with a person, holding them accountable, helping them think, you know, it’s not something that a salesperson has to do alone. And certainly not something that, you know, gold medal Olympic winners do a lot. Yeah, there is that fire inside of them, that it’s either there or it’s not right.

Daniel Robus
Yeah, you can’t. You can’t motivate people to do the stuff that needs to be done when you’re not watching LeBron Bryan that there. But you can show them, some people come they broken when they get to you because they’ve been through the corporate mode. And if you are lucky enough to get a manager like Brian, he can reignite that spark and that purpose. And I think that purpose, Brian, what you brought up is so critical, especially in a work perspective, we you were you hitting folks who have gone through their 10 year gap. And then now in that, that 12 to 20 years, where you know, I’m not going to be Elon Musk. A guy’s it’s it’s just, it’s I’m not going to have my name in lights above New York. I think I should have, but it’s not going to be there and how do we become CEO of our own lives in this environment and a good manager Who is managing to a purpose to something bigger, can give you that vision again, and can remind you that you are someone’s hero. And you can be part of this great thing. And you can be a great person on your own in that area. And I think that, that, that kind of forgotten generation, you know, we always mentoring the young people, are we looking at these big heavy hitters, the folk in between is where I think great things can happen. And it’s, it’s quite often overlooked. And again, I don’t have a crush on you, Brian, I just think he’s one of the best managers I’ve ever come across. And I think it’s because you do it with authentic dishes. And, and his way of just bringing people along, to let them make an impact, but not doing the job for them. And I just want to remind you of the difference between, and I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, a coach, versus a manager versus a mentor. And each, all three of them have a place in there do not sit in one person, if you’re lucky enough that they sit in one person, that’s okay. But the hardest thing for a manager like Brian, don’t be offended. If one of your team has a mentor, that is not you, you know that I actually I encouraged

Bryan Difford
it. Because everyone on my team to have a mentor and and my mentor within our business is is not my manager, by any way, shape or form. And I actually suggest that those are not the same people because you need different perspectives to to really grow as a person, you know? And if you keep that all within the same, same person, I think you might miss out on some of that.

Dave Nel
Yeah, well, I mean, what I what we started out with was 2021 is and to degree most of 2020 has been a year that has changed the lives of salespeople and sales leaders forever, right. And, and, and a lot of people are a bit like deer in headlights not knowing how to how do I help? Where do I go from here? What do I do, and one of the key messages that I’m taking away from the conversation today is you’ve got to see the person, right? It’s not about sales methodologies, and how many calls and sure those things help. But I keep coming back, every single thing you guys have spoken about is it’s about seeing the whole salesperson, right? Whether it be coaching with the understanding that their life is not just selling these other things going on, whether it’s the whole team that’s behind them, and their purpose for being there, they fire inside and make incremental change, everything comes back to it’s about the salesperson. And as a leader and enablement person, you know, it’s it’s easy to get distracted by the quick programs that you can do. But the stuff you’re talking about is is real hard work.

Bryan Difford
Well, you know, Dave, I read a stat this week, which I found super interesting in that happy people at their job are 20 to 30% more efficient, and more and better at a role than people who are unhappy. So if if before you even talk about what it is that you do you talk about how it is that you can help somebody as a person, you know that before you’ve taken a step into into whatever the job is, you can be 20 to 30% better off. Fantastic. So why not, why not approach it from a from from AD, it’s sort of its core root cause where you can you can really influence and you know, you build a relationship with people while you work with them. And then we’ll tell you the industry that we’re in, although it’s big in terms of revenues, and those things in terms of people, it’s quite a small village. And so it’s important not to kind of burn your bridges as you go along. And what’s really important is if you actually help someone in a row and in their life, you build a long lasting connection with that person, it goes a lot further than just being a manager, you know, and the best managers I’ve had along the way or people who I now have today is friends, too. And I’m not saying you need to be buddy buddy with your manager. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that when you truly help people, a going through times in their life with work with private doesn’t matter, but it’s talking to work on tapes, you really build credibility and trust with those people and that builds a long lasting connection.

Daniel Robus
Absolutely. I mean, Brian, that there is a difference between you and the teams that you’ve had an average normal folk. Brian, you are World Champion, you’ve put in shed loads of work and sacrifice for normal human beings. To put that in context. When we go home brands usually going for a swim or a run or a bike. And he does this relentlessly and he gets those results for how do you keep the passion alive from a work perspective.

Bryan Difford
So I flourish of blackberry kind of just spoke about I really flourish or for building connections with people, my forte or that sports is something I’m good at really what I love about sport is interacting with all these different people along the way. And that’s why I’ve grown to love coaching, because you can have an impact on somebody’s life, and those things are fulfilling to me. So what I do is kind of, there’s a couple of aspects to it. One is, I have a set of defined goals that I read every single day that I wake up, sits right next to my computer, and it goes through this 10 of them so that there’s not too much. And it’s, some of them are specific, and some of them are broader picture goals. And they’re not all working. And they’re not all personal letter, they’re kind of a mix. So that’s one thing. So I subconsciously bring myself back to which direction I’m moving in life every single day just to reset the needle even just a little bit. And that’s helped me tremendously. And then I work on, what are the things that keeps me motivated. So as a person, I know that for me to be modern, it motivated me to love what I’m doing or be engaged with the people that I’m that I’m working with, I need to have a purpose that I’m driving towards. So what you’ll find is, you know, a lot of people say they want to do a sport, but they’ll really only stock trading for the sport once they’ve entered a race. So that once I put a peg in the ground, it becomes much easier to then train for them thing. And because that’s the nature of the of human psychology is once you once you’ve seen it in your mind that you’re going to do it you then your brain naturally backwards plans, and then you find it easier to get up and trade. So why don’t we do that same thing in our work lives, let’s put a pig in the ground that we want to succeed at something by a certain point in time, and then use every single day as the training after that event. You know, if you think about sports, in the context of my life, it’s been this ability to save the short term goal, work your butt off and put the pieces in place to reach a goal and then rinse and repeat that. And that is the single greatest lesson I’ve taken out of sport in my life. And if you can learn how to repeat that, you can start figuring out how to make most of your days part a part of keeping you motivated. And that’s what happens to me. And I’m I’m a firm believer that energy leads to energy. And most people who deal with me, like you’ve said in the past, they don’t understand how I can write 100 Ks in the morning, some five K’s after work, I still have more energy than everybody at my day job.

Dave Nel
One to ADHD, definitely something strange going on there. So well.

Bryan Difford
I’ll tell you, there’s no secret it’s energy leads energy and and keeping yourself motivated.

Daniel Robus
I just want to get to one which which I’ve experienced now, I’ve been training for about seven months for quite a big event. Probably the second fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m really strong at the moment. Three days before the event, I have a cold that’s not going away. And on Friday before we’re going to leave much to my Can you see here, I can see that. And it was very hard. If this was just the three of us, I’d tell you how hard but because other people are on and it was very hard. And watching 26 of my mates go and do something out of this world was very tough. But you know on that when they achieved all I wanted to do was watch the success and enjoy it because I loved my training. I loved the seven months build up to get the the event is just the cherry on the top. So for the other thing that we probably don’t have time to deal with, but in this call, but is you going to fail. And it’s not going to be from lack of effort. It’s not going to be from lack of timing it you’re not going to close that deal. Not because you’ve done anything wrong, just because someone else was better than you or because it someone had a bad day or because their Wi Fi went down. Shit happens. And you know what, if you don’t love the training, if you don’t if you’re not committed to what you’re doing, it becomes even harder to stand up and get going again. I will go and find another one.

Dave Nel
You know that so sales guys, you close the deal. You get the bonus. But that’s a very small part of the of the sales journey and you sure better enjoy that other 99.9% that led up to it because that last little bit, doesn’t it doesn’t always happen. You guys said it. We are out of time, unfortunately. But I do want to just quickly put you on the spot, if that’s okay, or at least volunteer you because you guys have raised something today that is so key in in our profession. People are stressed teams are tired, and people are confused, they’ve lost a little bit of a way their whole world has changed. And what what rings so true here today is go back to the person, right? Make it about the individual make sure that this purpose make sure that this coaching, made sure that they’ve got goals in place structure was one of the things that that you brought in as well, Brian. So I just I want to I guess I want to ask if there are leaders out there sales enablement, people who are thinking, Man, that’s what my team is. I’m assuming they can reach out to you guys have a chat. Think With you around what they planning on doing and hopefully learn from the stuff that you’ve done with your teams and and businesses that you’ve worked with.

Bryan Difford
Absolutely. Reach out to me on reach out to me on LinkedIn, I will absolutely help where I can. Yeah, more than more than willing to talk about my experiences and see if there’s any nuggets of gold that can be reused in

Dave Nel
a blink. Lovely. Well, thank you so much for for making the time today. We’ll let Brian go and do his 10 Ks swim. And then I guess on the other side, Daniel, I’m waiting for you to not be the second fittest you’ve ever been in your life. We want to see when you’re going to be the fittest that you’ve ever been in. So hopefully that’s coming up in November, November, November. We will we will check in with you on that. Thank you so much, guys.