713,026: The number of people who attended the U.S. Open last year, making it the most attended annual sporting event in the world and record numbers are flocking to Flushing again this year to cheer on the top seeded players and also root for the underdogs to witness historic upsets. But what does it really take to become one of the world’s best professional tennis players and how do the characteristics needed to win a grand slam tennis tournament like the U.S. Open relate to winning new business pitches?
Whether you’re watching Federer, Nadal, Querrey, Keys, Venus or Serena (although being a new momma, she’s sitting this one out) you’ll notice they all have two things in common aside from making it all look so easy on the court. They have immense discipline and the right disposition, both vital to becoming a champion in sports or business.
Disposition means the way a person views the world – positive or negative. There isn’t a single person that has accomplished anything noteworthy who doesn’t have an overarching optimistic attitude. It has been said many times that your outlook becomes your reality.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, and your values become your destiny,” Mahatma Gandhi.
And what separates long-lasting champions from the rest of the pack? It’s maintaining a good attitude. Point by point, game by game, set by set, tennis matches are filled with ebbs and flows, peppered with frustrations and mini celebratory fist-pumps. And through it all, players need to focus on the bigger picture by maintaining a positive attitude, remind themselves of the tactics and strategies to get to match point and not allow the smaller setbacks throughout the game rattle them. Watching the effortless grace of players like Roger Federer, makes it easy to forget that all champions have suffered their share of heartbreaking defeats. But they regroup. They learn from their mistakes. They preserve their positive disposition. Each time they return, they put those lessons into action and ultimately, prevail. As Sharapova stated in her interview after winning her match at 11:30PM EST in the third round, “I will go to the practice courts tomorrow to regroup and think through the unforced errors.”
In terms of new business pitching, it’s the same rollercoaster ride. Just as professional tennis players construct point after point to win a match, a pitch isn’t a one and done meeting. It is a pyramid of one conversation after another, tactful debates, retrospection, and modifications, culminating in a final pitch presentation all built on what has come before – and most importantly all while maintaining that positive, can-do attitude. After all, clients are not only selecting a new agency, they’re selecting a team of people with a confident attitude that they want to work with and partner with to help solve their brand challenges. At the end of a recent pitch, I witnessed a client grapple intensely over their final agency selection. They were truly torn between two of the four finalists standing. The final decision was made on the basis that one agency not only listened at each and every meeting, but also built subsequent meetings upon what was learned at the previous sessions and passionately cared about the brand, as well as its impact on consumers’ lives. They also offered “little extras” between meetings showing the prospective client their authentic interest and passion for the brand. Watching Federer or Nadal isn’t just about watching them play the point. It’s also about watching what they do between points in order to keep the momentum of the match going. It’s not rocket science; however, we often forget that business relationships are simply relationships first and like any other relationship – they thrive on positivity and drive.
As essential as disposition is without discipline even the greatest attitude can only go so far. As Jim Rohn simply states, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” And it’s hard core discipline that got Madison Keys, seeded number 15 in the world, to upset Elina Svitolina, the number four seeded player in the world or Juan Martin del Potro, seeded number 24 in the world, to beat a fever and defeat Dominic Thiem, the number six seeded player in the world for an astonishing win in order to reach the quarter-finals.
"The key to my achievements was more than just 'talent,'" Rafa Nadal writes on his tennis academy website. "It was the result of adhering to certain values without which I would not have had the consistency, discipline or the winning spirit to be successful. This can be taught, just as it was taught to me."
Discipline, perseverance and resilience all go hand in hand. And if a player mentally shuts down for one game in the set, it could be the difference between winning and losing the entire match. To succeed as a power player, being able to execute under pressure is vital.
The same applies in a new business pitch. There are ups and downs in every pitch but the discipline to maintain control, grit and buoyancy are all keys to winning. The ability to build the relationship step-by-step without skipping a beat could be the difference between a win and loss for an agency. Remember, the prime objective throughout an agency review is simply to get invited to the next meeting. Point by point. Step by step. It takes real discipline not to let the pressure of a review cause you to lose sight of that goal. Milking a live cow as part of the Ben & Jerry’s review or having a real lion in one of the Royal Bank of Canada (their logo is a lion) pitch meetings are not examples of staying focused and showing mastery along the pitch process. “Sometimes you can over talk the match, go into too much detail, and you make it like a chess match,” according to Roger Federer. The same applies in pitching new business. Sometimes you can outsmart yourself by being too creative just for creative-sake. It takes discipline to remain disciplined. Instead, it’s solid research, core insights, differentiating creative concepts that are share-worthy and analytics that can help to tell a story in real-time are what prospective clients need coupled with a an agency team that they can trust to help them move their brand to the next level. “Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing,” according to John Maxwell and many clients that I’ve worked with over the years searching for the best agency for their needs.
So whether you’re up for the challenge of a tennis match or new business pitch, remember disposition and discipline will help get you the win you want.
Lisa Colantuono is the Co-President of AAR Partners, an agency search consultancy since 1980, helping marketers to find the best communications agencies for their marketing needs and assisting agencies with branding and new business growth. Her book, @AARLisa: New Biz in 140 Characters (or Less), offers more than 1,200 quick business lessons in the form of Tweets.