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Novak Djokovic, David Brailsford and Sales Success with a Thousand Small Cuts

Jul 09, 2019 Red Flag Alert Updated On: October 4, 2022
Novak Djokovic, David Brailsford and Sales Success with a Thousand Small Cuts

I love the cut and thrust of Wimbledon, and while catching up with the news I came across a really interesting article in The Times by Matthew Sayed that had an interesting take on what makes Novak Djokovic so exceptional: Syed asserts that it is his cumulative brilliance that makes him a champion.

Sayed is fascinated by how Djokovic breaks down his opponents, describing his style as ‘subtle’ rather than ‘showy’. It may not win him the hearts of fans, but it does win him games – and lots of them.

In the article, Sayed describes how Djokovic beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6–3, 7–5, 6–3 with quiet confidence on Monday. There were no outstanding shots, rallies or games from Djokovic and the two players seemed to be on an almost equal footing throughout.

The difference is that Djokovic was consistently just that little bit better than his opponent. He was just “a tad more capable of stretching for wide balls, a bit more dogged in defence, a tad less likely to make errors [and] a bit more savvy in his management of the court”. When added together, these small differences were anything but marginal and led Djokovic to victory.

Sayed said: “Kohlschreiber endured death by a thousand cuts” – a brilliant description of Djokovic being a little bit better in every department and wearing the German down.

Marginal Gains

It’s this commitment to small details rather than grand strategic ideas that British cycling has deployed to great effect.

Dave Brailsford was hired as British Cycling’s new performance director in 2003 to turn around Britain’s decidedly poor reputation in the cycling world. At the time, British riders hadn’t won a single gold medal since 1908, and one of the top cycling manufacturers in Europe had refused to sell bikes to the team for fear of harming their reputation.

Things had to change, so Brailsford decided to use what he called marginal gains to improve every single thing that goes into riding a bike by just one per cent. Although the changes seemed insignificant on their own and even included determining which type of massage gel achieved the fastest recovery, by improving every single thing they did by just a little bit the results were astonishing.

During a ten-year period from 2007–2017, British cyclists won 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and captured five Tour de France victories in what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history.

Both Djokovic and the British Cycling team are inspiring examples of how looking after the details and being a little better in every department adds up to something special.

What Can Sales Teams Take From This?

Although the sales world is a little different to the tennis court or the world of cycling, there are some valuable lessons to be learned about how to gain an edge on your competition and use small changes to make a big difference.

Be a Tad Better Across the Board

Think about some of the elements of your sales process and make a conscious decision to be a little bit better than before. It could be improving your negotiating skills or pitching technique, or even just being more organised.

If there is one objection that always curtails your team, then spend time experimenting with different ways to handle it – the answer may not be simple, but by addressing the challenge and looking for options you may make a breakthrough.

Or perhaps you want more LinkedIn connections – spend ten minutes every day sending out personalised connection requests to high-value prospects.

These activities are unlikely to pay off immediately, but over time these small changes will help you gain traction.

Three Examples of Marginal Gains (There Are Hundreds)

1.      Change the background image on your LinkedIn profile to something that reflects clearly and professionally how you help your customers.

2.      Send every client a personalised Christmas card with a handwritten note explaining why you’ve enjoyed working with them this year.

3.      Make three cold calls at 10am every day to a list of potential dream clients, asking them what you could do to win their business.

Red Flag Alert is Brimming with Marginal Gains

This is a shameless plug – I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it.

Red Flag Alert gives sales teams an incredible edge; let me give you an example…

Our highly accurate SIC codes give you extensive data about companies, equipping you with all the information you need to create targeted marketing campaigns that give you an edge. Our data uses detailed industry-specific SIC codes so you can see specifically what sector a business operates in. Instead of a generic SIC code citing ‘dairy products’ think more specific: ‘raising cattle’ or ‘butter and cheese production’.

This provides incredible marginal gains. It helps you target the most relevant customers, saves time contacting irrelevant prospects, provides specific marketing collateral and cleans your CRM, so it’s more streamlined and easier to use. Red Flag Alert is full of examples like this where you can use business intelligence to give yourself a huge advantage – and beat your competitors with a ‘thousand cuts’”.

If you’d like to learn more about how Red Flag Alert ( could help your business to go from strength to strength, don’t hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn, on 0344 412 6699, or at to set up a friendly, informal chat or a meeting.

Published by Red Flag Alert July 9, 2019

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