Bouldering: A Sales Career's Unexpected Ally


6 min read

Now that I've been at Paddle for a full quarter now, it only feels right to talk about how I'm growing in the world of sales. I also wanted to share one of my recent hobbies which is climbing, specifically bouldering, I hope you learn a thing or two about sales and/or climbing.

As a sales professional, I have always been on the lookout for how daily activities can translate into my professional life. I'm continuously looking for unconventional ways to boost productivity and achieve personal growth. While the concept may seem distant from the realm of sales, I stumbled upon a hidden gem that has transformed my approach to both work and play: the bouldering gym. Its underlying principles can surprisingly align with the challenges and successes faced by sales professionals, and why it's making me a better seller. If nothing else, I want you to get the following out of this: don't look too far for allegories between work, life, and everything in between. The lessons from bouldering apply to all, offering valuable strategies to navigate the challenges and triumphs of life, including a sales career.

The Beta: Finding Your Way to Success

In climbing a "beta" is a specific sequence of moves used to complete a route, it's an inherently personal strategy.

Bouldering, unlike other forms of climbing, focuses on shorter routes or "problems" that require climbers to find their own unique "beta" or method to conquer them. Just as climbers experiment with different betas to understand their strengths and weaknesses, we must continuously refine our sales strategies, exploring innovative methods to connect with prospects and tailor our approach to their specific needs. Every prospect wants to hear something different about the product, and every seller will present the solution to their problem differently.

In my team, we all approach sales differently, not because one of us is right, but because we are all different people and these styles are inherently ours, we all have our own betas. Some are more straight to the point, and some are storytellers. Find your beta!

The process of trial and error in bouldering serves as a powerful reminder that embracing experimentation and adaptability is key to success in sales.

Progression: Grades and Market Segments

When you first start your sales career you typically start with smaller-sized prospects (Startup/SMB) and work your way upmarket toward enterprise and strategic prospects. Similarly, bouldering problems are assigned grades, typically ranging from V0 (easier) to V8 (more difficult), allowing climbers to gauge the challenges ahead. In bouldering these grades are subjective, but they all will teach you something different, no matter how easy.

Some SMB deals will make you a far better seller than some enterprise deals, and some enterprise deals might close faster than other SMB deals. Grades in bouldering give you a clear sense of progression but they're not an exact science, in the same way that prospect sizes don't directly translate into what you learn from them.

Climbing through the grades symbolizes the growth and expansion of a sales professional's expertise and responsibilities, mirroring their journey through different market segments. It also just makes climbing fun being able to have tangible goals to reach!

Wins: Personal and Team-based

While bouldering is primarily an individual pursuit, reaching the top of a boulder problem often becomes a team accomplishment. Climbers support and guide one another, offering insights and encouragement to overcome challenging problems. In sales, the dynamic is no different.

While closing a deal may be seen as a personal accomplishment, the process leading up to that point is a team endeavor. Each member of the sales team plays a crucial role, contributing their expertise and insights to help figure out the optimal "beta" to win over prospects. The person who set the route for all other climbers was involved, such as the BDR that successfully reached out to that previously unreachable prospect.

Just as climbers rely on their team and their predecessors to succeed, sales professionals must be comfortable in a team environment, leveraging collective knowledge and skills to achieve remarkable results. The triumphs experienced by a sales team are not merely the sum of individual achievements but a testament to the power of collaboration and shared goals.

Persistence and Growth Mindset

Bouldering is a sport that demands persistence and a growth mindset. As climbers, we encounter challenging boulder problems that may seem insurmountable at first. However, by persisting, practicing, and embracing failure as an opportunity to learn, we gradually develop the skills and strength necessary to overcome those challenges.

In selling, we also face obstacles and setbacks, but it is our resilience and growth mindset that enables us to persevere. Embracing the mindset of constant improvement, viewing setbacks as learning opportunities, and maintaining a positive outlook are essential traits for both successful climbers and sales professionals.

You can't allow yourself to look at any boulder problem as impossible, but rather as a goal to reach when you're ready. No prospect should get immediately disqualified until you understand your capabilities and what they are asking of you and your product.

Conviction: Belief in you and your product

In climbing, half of the battle lies within ourselves. The ability to tackle challenging moves with confidence and conviction is essential. When faced with a difficult boulder problem, climbers need to trust their skills, believe that they can execute the moves successfully, and commit to each action without hesitation. This unwavering self-assurance plays a vital role in overcoming obstacles and reaching the top.

Similarly, in the realm of sales, conviction and confidence are key factors that contribute to success. Sales professionals must believe in the value of their product or service and have unwavering confidence in their ability to meet the needs of potential customers. Conviction allows us to communicate our message with authenticity, passion, and credibility. When we have confidence in ourselves and what we are offering, prospects are more likely to trust and believe in our capabilities.

What do I do with this information?

In the pursuit of professional growth, we should never underestimate the potential of unexpected influences. Bouldering, with its unique blend of physical and mental challenges, has proven to be a remarkable ally in my sales career. The "beta" in climbing mirrors the need for adaptive strategies to your problems, while the progression through grades aligns with market segments and stages of maturity in your life. The interplay of personal and team accomplishments underscores the collaborative nature of sales, while the importance of confidence resonates in both domains. By improving in one area, we inadvertently enhance the other, the mental models and principles derived from bouldering offer profound insights and growth opportunities in the sales world.

So, go ahead, grab your climbing shoes and harness the power of bouldering to elevate your sales career to new heights.