Salespeople are one of the most performance focused groups in the world, with over 84% of all salespeople being strongly goal oriented; and an even higher percentage of the top performers (Silver, 2006).
This isn’t surprising. Because as a salesperson your personal success is directly linked to your performance; with every deal you close contributing to your commission.
In fact, sales is the only career where a salary can range from the bottom 1% of the population to the top 1% in the same role; and you can climb to any level within this range just by improving your own ability.
This is the reason why salespeople are one of the most likely groups to commit to ongoing personal development, and why an abundance of personal training seminars have been developed solely for salespeople.
But with all these sales seminars and a long-standing focus on performance, one important question remains…
Have we reached a peak of sales performance?
Or is it possible to extend the limits of salespeople even further?
To address this question, we looked toward the epitome of elite performance; The ones who put their skills to the test in the public arena and compete on a daily basis… Elite athletes and sportspeople.
I think we can all agree, athletes serve as a great example for pushing the limit of what’s possible.
As you dive deeper into how they achieve these feats of human potential, it’s impossible not to see similarities between those who are at the pinnacle of their respective sport; Similarities which span across almost every discipline and through every era.
Today, I’d like to look at one of those similarities that often goes overlooked.
The way elite performers move.
If you watch someone performing at the highest level, whether that’s Usain Bolt sprinting, Roger Federer playing tennis, David Beckham taking a free kick or Tiger Woods driving, there’s a universal “feeling” delivered with every single movement.
Yes, you’re watching someone generate extreme amounts of force and power, pushing the limits of what the human body is capable of.
Yet, when you look closely, you don’t see force and struggle. Instead, you’re faced with an undeniable sense of ease, elegance, and grace in every one of their movements.
This isn’t something that’s gone unnoticed.
As early as the 1920’s, Red Grange, an outstanding half-back earned the nickname galloping ghost, due to the fluid beauty and grace with which he moved.
Not to mention perhaps the greatest example in modern history, Mohammed Ali, who moved his heavyweight frame as if it were weightless.
So what’s so special about the way these athletes move?
It can be summed up with one-word, efficiency.
Being mechanically efficient is essentially “taking the shortest path toward the attainment of the desired goals” (Simon, H.A. 1976). In other words, it describes the amount of outputs you can get from a movement, given a certain amount of input.
Efficiency = output/input
Since our input is normally energy, when you increase your efficiency, you get more output for every unit of energy you spend.
It’s not by chance that we enjoy watching this style of movement; We are evolutionarily primed to find a natural beauty in anything which performs its role successfully, and therefore both admire and aspire to the elegance of efficient movement (Da Silva, 2017).
And elite athletes are the true masters of efficiency
The successful athlete’s obsession with trying to win through constant improvement and training, has brought their movements closer and closer to “perfection”; where almost no energy goes to waste. Because at this level of competition, efficiency of mechanics is not optional.
A simple example of this can be seen by looking at the high jump.
The goal in the high jump, is to jump over the highest horizontal bar possible. This means an efficient high jump involves trying to minimize the amount of energy used to produce the jump, and therefore minimise the distance by which you clear the bar.
This allows the highest jump with the least effort.
For hundreds of years, there were multiple approaches to the high jump. You would see Eastern cut-off, western-roll and the straddle technique among others; all of which involved running toward the bar, launching and rolling the body downward-facing over the top.
This was until 1963…
In 1963, a high-school student Dick Fosbury, developed a new technique for the high jump, soon to be known as the Fosbury Flop. As opposed to previous jumping styles, this had a curved approach and used a backward facing somersault.
With these technical adjustments alone, jumpers were drastically more efficient, and could gain anywhere from 5 to 7cm more clearance over the bar (Dapena 1980, Dapena 2002).
This was such a vast improvement and gave such a huge competitive advantage, that every competitive athlete today uses this technique.
This level of efficiency became necessary to compete.
The advantage of efficiency doesn’t end with athletes
All the way back in 1766, in his book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith claimed efficiency should be at the heart of an organisation and was the key to gaining a competitive advantage.
This was both inspired by and continued to drive the industrial revolution which had only begun a few years prior; helping to guide the restructuring of the manufacturing process to take advantage of machinery which saw industries becoming 5-100x more productive and would change the world forever.
It seems obvious we all want to improve our efficiency. We all want to achieve more with less work, even if we aren’t elite athletes.
I’m sure you’d love to achieve even 2 times more sales with the same amount of energy, let alone 100 times.
But exactly how to achieve this in your own role is far less obvious – and the blinkered pursuit of efficiency above all else, can lead to unforeseen catastrophe.
“Where the field of sports psychology has helped us learn about the mentality needed to facilitate high performance – The efficiency of athletic movement offers us the mechanics needed to achieve this high performance in practice.”
– Will McCabe *Tweet-me
This has all too often been overlooked.
How do athletes achieve an increase in efficiency?
Step 1: Understanding the process
When looking to improve the efficiency of any process, the first step is always understanding the process itself. In sport, this is often understanding the physical laws of the sport.
Or more simply, the outcomes and the costs involved.
Because in the search for efficiency, it’s easy to accidentally remove important actions, and create catastrophic downstream effects.
For example, consider we were trying to pitch a baseball more efficiently. I could make the movement more economic than any athlete simply by removing the process of throwing.
That’s right, just don’t move.
But then the ball wouldn’t go anywhere, we wouldn’t win the game… and clearly this isn’t what we’re aiming for.
I use this extreme (and rather silly) example to make a point. There’s always a goal we want to complete – and getting the best outcomes often requires us to go through certain steps, even if they seem difficult or burdensome.
Simply removing steps, such as removing the use of one leg during a run, isn’t going to help get the outcome we want, in fact, it will very much hurt the final process.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of companies crippling themselves with this very mistake, making overwhelming cutbacks and redundancies – until their results plummeted.
The jobs-to-be-done framework can help us avoid these mistakes.
Jobs-to-be-done as a concept was created by Clayton Christensen back in 2003 and has become refined by Anthony Ulwick in a recent book, surprisingly titled, “Jobs to be done”.
The premise of the book is that every product, task or activity has a “job” which it must fulfil.
In its essential nature, a job is a detailed outcome that must be achieved. Specifically, Ulwick defines a job-to-be-done as a Task, goal or objective a person is trying to accomplish, or a problem they are trying to resolve. These jobs can be functional, emotional or associated with product consumption.
He goes on to give detailed descriptions of each part of the job, including the inputs, using what he calls a universal job map (the specifics of which are beyond this paper).
He builds a lot on previous methods of task analysis, but the most important thing to take away right now is that a single process will have many jobs to do.
Following a jobs-to-be-done framework makes sure none of these jobs are missed.
Let’s return to the example of pitching in Baseball.
When pitching in baseball, you may think that the goal of the pitcher is to generate speed of the ball while throwing, but this would be a huge oversimplification.
It would be more appropriate to say the goal is to generate speed and power with a given degree of accuracy, without signalling the direction of the throw.
Equally, the costs must also be carefully considered and expanded beyond the obvious basic expenditure of energy.
This could be increasing the risk of injury, increasing mental strain, and increasing recovery time.
We are still only scratching the surface, but with these descriptions in mind, we can see the process of increasing efficiency is much more complex than simply removing an action. Which is why we can only begin looking for efficiencies, once we have a good understanding of the jobs-to-be-done involved in each task.
Step 2: Gaining efficiency in practise
After analysing the jobs to be done, and fully understanding the process, we can now begin trying to make these jobs more efficient.
In athletics, experts have identified four common areas where efficiency can be improved:
1. Physiology of the athlete
2. The technique available
3. Coaching methods to learn the technique
4. Quality of the venue and equipment
Improving any one of these areas, will lead to improvements in performance.
However, when all of these factors are enhanced simultaneously by new technology, there have been pivotal moments in history where the top-performers shot past what was previously deemed possible.
Take the example of the Klapskate.
Ice skating had gone largely unchanged for generations.
Years of competition meant that athletes had pushed the limit of skating speed close to what was believed humanly possible. This was until 1987.
In 1987, a team of scientists led by Van Ingen Schenau decided to observe the biomechanics of the skating movement in more detail.
While investigating the skating mechanics, they began to gain a complex understanding of the motion, and they realised that when using traditional skates (which had a blade fixed along the length of the boot) the skater wasn’t able to use a powerful knee extension often seen in other activities like running or jumping.
In other words, the skaters were limited by their tools.
Upon discovering this crisis, the team carefully designed a new tool to fix this, the Klapskate, which had a detached blade at the heel, allowing plantar flexion; unlocking this powerful knee extension (Van Ingen Schenau et al. 1987).
Over the following year, a combination of access to this new tool and being trained to use a new technique meant skaters were able to generate more power from the knee and in turn generate faster motion in the final moments before the skate left the ground.
This improved elite skate times by 4% on average.
An insane improvement for peak performers, who are normally overjoyed by improvements of as little as a fraction of a second.
It goes without saying, the year following the introduction of the Klapskate, every world record in skating was broken.
A similar story was seen in cycling
For years, cycling went much unchanged.
The cycling gear system was circular, meaning that cycling involved circular leg movements where even force should be applied throughout the motion. This is despite the well-known fact that different muscles in the leg are available throughout the different positions in the cycling motion, each with varying strengths.
The potential for improvement to this system was highlighted as early as 1970 (Harrison, 1970) but was not directly implemented until another team led by Yoshihiku and Herzog were able to improve the modelling and manufacture of the system (Yoshihiku & Herzog, 1990).
They suggested a system where the crank-rotation velocity, seat height, crank length, and seat angle were optimized to maximize power output based on the individual cyclist’s muscle lengths and velocities – so the cyclists potential energy wouldn’t be wasted.
Since then, a simple implementation of this concept has been executed, involving non circular front-chain wheels which facilitate progressive variation of the primitive radius of the toothing.
This has not only been put into practice, but has become the mechanism of choice for many elite athletes; including Bradley Wiggins when he became the first Britain to win the Tour de France and Chris Froome.
And these are only a few of the hundreds of stories where new technology and new techniques led to explosive improvements in efficiency and unimaginable improvements in results.
What do you notice about these examples?
What stands out to me is that although both of the examples involved new technology, at no point is the technology itself doing the work.
In our modern age, we’ve been led to believe that technology needs to do our jobs for us; that people are inevitably going to be replaced and that artificial intelligence is the only way forward.
But this isn’t the only way to create radical improvement.
There are important aspects of many jobs which simply can’t be replaced by robots (or even ai). But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t innovate, and it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t change the limit of what’s possible in these areas using real intelligence.
All these examples involved new equipment which allowed the athletes to access more of their potential; potential that already exists within them.
This improved efficiency meant that ANY athlete’s performance would improve, even if the athlete themselves didn’t get any stronger, fitter or work any harder.
This is the power of working on mechanical efficiency.
So now you’re probably asking yourself the question…
Can we use the same approaches used to improve elite athletes to help increase sales performance?
This is the question we asked ourselves at Touch. And the answer is…
There’s no argument the average salesperson has room for improving their efficiency, when the latest figures show they only spend 34% of their day actually selling (State of sales 2018). In fact, salespeople have more room for improvement than any athlete because the mechanics of sales have been horrendously overlooked for so long.
But in order to improve your efficiency as a salesperson, you need to start from the beginning, by understanding the jobs to be done in your role.
Jobs to be done in sales
As you are no doubt aware of there are a huge number of jobs to be done in any sales role.
It’s nowhere near as simple as just “closing the deal”. You need to:
– Learn about the customer
– Build rapport
– Represent the company professionally
– Display high levels of product knowledge
– Support your brand image
– Instantaneously adapt to high pressure questions
– Handle customers objections
Just to name a few…
So whether you’re following the processes of the challenger sale, spin selling, or simpler 6 step selling process, you are often expected to be a private investigator, an entertainer, a psychiatrist and a financial planner, on the spot with clients who may not even want to talk to you.
You may find this complexity creates a temptation to change your jobs-to-be-done
It happens to all of us.
As you review your own jobs-to-be-done, you’ll surely realise how much work you have to do. The first instinct you will likely feel as an intelligent person, is to try and remove whole steps from your process – and even remove entire jobs.
While it’s possible to remove whole elements of these processes to gain efficiency, I won’t lie to you.
It’s hard… and it’s dangerous…
Because these techniques have been carefully crafted over years of practice and often involve complex yet subtle psychological benefits.
This means there’s a high risk of damage. And even if you can appreciate the finer details of the sales methodology, it’s all too easy to remove something of incredible value, to yourself or someone else on the team.
For example, while creating Touch, we spoke with hundreds of salespeople to discover where we could deliver the biggest improvements; and we would often hear a similar complaint:
CRM’s came under incredible assault. With some salespeople even arguing for the complete removal of the CRM, because they felt the long tedious hours of data entry was radically harming their performance, costing them sales and sizeable commissions.
But once again, this is like removing one leg from the race, or taking the arm off the pitcher. Because I’m sure when you think it through, you do appreciate CRM’s serve a useful purpose.
Even if the data entry doesn’t help you today, it will help management and analysts understand the overall sales process as a whole – which in the end, also helps each member of the sales team.
Luckily, a radical CRM-ectomy isn’t required to enhance your mechanical efficiency.
You don’t need to change the job to get results, you need to change the mechanics within the job.
To avoid this temptation, we created a new term to focus our journey for performance, job-to-be-done-speed.
We define job-to-be-done-speed as:
The time it takes to complete a workflow(job), without any sacrifice of quality at all.
Focusing on improving job-to-be-done-speed is much more powerful for a salesperson, because you can avoid the risk of damaging your sales process altogether and still benefit from improved efficiency.
At Touch, we knew that removing steps of the sales process was not the best way forward.
This is why jobs-to-be-done-speed became our gold standard for improving the sales process. It’s one of the key metrics we are always monitoring in every single system and integration we create at Touch.
We want to give salespeople the fastest way to achieve any sales activity, and jobs-to-be-done-speed helps us do it.
It means that salespeople using Touch can define their own process and use flexible sales methodologies that work best for their clients… while still performing better than anyone else on their team.
This comes almost entirely through improved mechanics.
Where do salespeople have the greatest opportunity for improvements in job-to-be-done-speed?
Just like Van Ingen Schenau made a study of skating, we took a deep dive into the mechanics of selling. Carefully identifying each job required of the salesperson and teasing out the specific mechanics involved in each workflow… down to the single click.
This made it clear exactly where the biggest mechanical leaks were in sales, and we saw first hand that they were damaging sales performance much more than we ever expected.
We can’t go into the detail of every leak in performance in this one article, but we found three huge efficiency leaks that were hurting the performance of almost every salesperson we spoke to.
Three big mechanical leaks we think all high-performing salespeople should be aware of.
Mechanical leak 1: Using the keyboard and mouse
We want to start with the big one, and the one that people often find the most surprising, and that’s the way salespeople are interacting with their computer.
It goes without saying most salespeople today are using a computer regularly; to manage email, messaging communications and CRM tasks. Despite this being a huge part of their role, the process has gone relatively unchanged since the introduction of the computer. which comes at a horrendous cost to efficiency.
But what does efficiency look like with a computer?
Since most of us are inefficient with computers, you may not realise the potential there is for greater efficiency. Many people even begin to think that simply knowing how to complete a task makes them a top performer.
To get an idea of how efficient a process can be, we need to look away from the average user, and observe the computational equivalent of an athlete: the power user.
This is the expert who seems to perform seemingly impossible feats with just a few keystrokes.
In seconds they’ve managed to copy and paste key information, compare that with another document, schedule a calendar appointment and email you confirmation.
This was my first experience watching some of my programmer friends in action.
And I was left sitting there like… wow.
The reason a power user can achieve such high performance is because they use the computer differently from the rest of us. While you’re looking around the screen, pointing and clicking with the mouse to navigate through your tasks, power users focus on keyboard inputs and shortcuts.
Without going into the complexities of this, you instinctively know you can press a button faster than navigating through a menu on the screen. But to put some numbers to it, even the simplest task like bolding a piece of text has been shown to be over 50% slower using the mouse (Streitz, Spijkers, & van Duren, 1987).
As the tasks get more complex, so do the improvements of efficiency by focusing on shortcuts and keyboard control. This comes with a hidden benefit which disproportionately enhances your performance: Maintaining the flow state.
If you haven’t read Sachin’s content on flow it’s worth looking up as this is the crucial psychological aspect athletes use to win.
The act of transitioning from the keyboard to the mouse in particular, is one of the most energy intensive moments and is the villain that will steal both your mechanical efficiency and your flow state; increasing the chance you get distracted and lose your peak performance.
The good news is most software packages have keyboard shortcuts already built in.
This means that with nothing but a little effort, you can start actively learning these shortcuts.
If you’ve never used a shortcut before, at first this may seem slightly unnatural. But it doesn’t take long to master, and you should start reaping performance benefits after only a few uses of the shortcut.
Mechanical leak 2: An isolated CRM
As I mentioned earlier, the CRM is a huge productivity sink for most salespeople, and if we believe the statistics, it’s also the part of your job you resent the most; with 85% of salespeople viewing their CRM as a failure (Accenture 2015).
This is not surprising, because the way most CRMs are set up, and the way they are used is incredibly inefficient. Typically, salespeople have to spend time manually copying data, forms and communications into the CRM, even after they have already input this elsewhere.
Does this sound familiar to you?
The good news is that it doesn’t need to be this hard.
By working on the set-up of your CRM you can make many of these processes happen quicker or even automatically.
The first step is to work on integrating as many of your touchpoints as possible with your CRM so that much of this data transfer happens on autopilot.
There are countless tools out there, including Zapier, that will help you get new leads automatically into your CRM – and even many consultants who can come and help set this up for you.
This will often involve work from your managers or technical team, but you won’t be sorry. By plugging this leak alone, you’ll multiply the results you are able to achieve tenfold.
Mechanical leak 3: Multiple communication channels
Today, many of you are likely familiar with another huge energy leak; using multiple channels.
For most of us, gone are the days of simply sitting by the phone. Once upon a time, we could get away with a single phone call, but as a modern salesperson, you are expected to be reachable over a whole range of different communication channels.
This can mean anything from email, to text messages, WhatsApp, social media channels and more recently even Skype and Zoom.
Although this seems like a lot, I don’t ever want to complain about it because it helps increase sales drastically. For example, just adding SMS after contact with a prospect increases conversion by 112% (Leads 360, 2014).
The downside is that this takes more time and energy. A multichannel communication strategy, forces you to carefully monitor each channel individually, spend even more time updating the CRM manually, and look through every channel to try and find the most recent contact – something that 34% of salespeople are already finding a significant and growing challenge leading to mistakes and missed messages (Opinion Way 2014).
Unlike the other leaks, this is not such an easy fix.
Some channels can be connected to the CRM and new software is slowly being released that will help you sync the channels to your CRM, or send you email notifications for any new message. This is probably why it’s one of our most sought out features in Touch, but if you do get the chance to improve this process, jump at it right away – as you can be assured it’s going to massively boost your productivity and performance.
As you can see, improving any of these leaks will help you perform better and help you become a better salesperson. But we shouldn’t leave it there, I want to give you something to aim for, the dream of what happens if you manage to fix all of these leaks.
What’s the result of all these improvements in practice?
What does a real super-elite salesperson look like?
The best example I can show you of these improvements in practice is using Touch.
This is because in Touch, every single feature we implement is designed to make sure you have the best performance. This involves maximising flow and psychological performance factors as well as job-to-be-done-speed.
Unlike software of the past, this is built especially for elite salespeople.
Which means we’ve prioritised the best performance, even when this may not seem like the obvious approach. Giving you the opportunity to learn to become the best you can be.
So all the mechanical leaks above have been plugged with a:
– Powerful focus on lightning fast keyboard shortcuts
– Perfect syncing of all actions with your CRM
– Omnichannel communication accessible in one place
Not only that, but something I’m personally proud of is that through careful technical design we’ve done this in a way that means the individual salesperson can use it – with no involvement from other team members or managers. So, anyone can really access the benefits we have to offer.
Let’s take an example of a typical sales workflow or task:
following up with a prospect
In a traditional workplace, a salesperson using Pipedrive may have to go through the following 7 steps:
Step 1 – Select my pipeline (Speed – Mouse scroll, Click, Mouse scroll, Click)
Step 2 – Select my deal (Load time, Mouse scroll, Click, Load time)
Step 3 – Read the previous history (Click to active screen, Scroll down, Scroll back up)
Step 4 – Compose email in Gmail (scroll up, click Gmail, scroll left to compose, click compose)
Step 5 – Write and send an email (type contact email, click the tab, click the tab, write an email, mouse scroll, click send)
Step 6 – Update fields in CRM (Mouse scroll, click Pipedrive tab, mouse scroll, click the field, type data, click return)
Step 7 – Set activity for next step (mouse scroll up, mouse movement left, click-activity, click in the field, type description, click activity type, click on the date, mouse scroll, click the date, click hours, scroll, hit return, scroll down, mouse scroll, click save.)
This is a real life example, using one of the most intuitive CRM’s renowned for its simplicity, Pipedrive; and is the simplest version of the task, which only involves responding on one synced channel, email. Even if you wanted to add WhatsApp, a channel not easily synchronized to the CRM, the steps involved and the time to complete the action would double.
All in all we have:
15 mouse or page down scrolls
17 mouse clicks
2 times hand leaves the keyboard
2 page loads
Average of 4 minutes additional work
Remember, this is a workflow a typical salesperson performs tens if not hundreds of times throughout the day; and I hope you’re starting to see, looks incredibly painful. It’s no-wonder updating the CRM becomes such a chore for many salespeople (I’m surprised we don’t need to add 2 Ibuprofen to this list).
What does the alternative look like…
Let’s look at this in Touch –
0 mouse or page down scrolls
0 mouse clicks
0 times hand leaves the keyboard
0 page loads
Done in seconds not minutes
This is over 500% faster!
Clearly, this is a dramatic improvement in efficiency, because a mountain of energy that was previously wasted, is now carved out for you to keep using careful technological design.
AND you’ve achieved the exact same outcome.
This is looking at an incredibly simple workflow. If we were to increase the number of communication channels and complexity of the system, this would only get more drastic.
Our proficient users can achieve actions up to 20x faster than using a traditional CRM, putting this in the same degree of improvement we saw in the industrial revolution.
I’m not sure about you, but to us, this is the perfect example of why you should be focusing on mechanical efficiency and jobs-to-be-done-speed.
But the benefits of Touch don’t stop there.
In the spirit of enhancing the athletic performance, we built in coaching techniques to help you get comfortable, proficient, and then exceptional with keyboard shortcuts – even if you had no experience using shortcuts in the past. As well as creating clean simple interfaces optimised to enhance flow.
With a huge amount of heavy lifting taken off their plate, this means our users are not only more efficient, but feel more motivated to work, increasing performance even further (Broer and Zernicke, 1979).
What does this improvement really mean?
Well, the Klapskate was a mere 5% faster than a traditional skate, but it would be naïve to say it produced a 5% increase in results…
In reality, the Klapskate changed the face of what it meant to be at the top.
It was the difference between winning and losing and meant the entire field of skating would never be the same.
Through mechanical efficiency, you can make much greater increases in sales efficiency than we ever thought possible. With Touch you see improvements of over 500%, but the impact can’t be measured in seconds alone…
Even after years of seminars and training, we are redefining what it means to reach peak performance, empowering salespeople across the world to set new sales records and change the face of the sales industry…
Truly expanding the limits of sales performance.
But only you, as a salesperson can make it happen.
You may know that in 1891, a Domincon priest named Henri Didon prior of Arcuil College, spoke to his students at a sports club meeting. He taught that a person is not a success in life until he has done the utmost to enhance the skills given to him.
In particular, an athlete is not a true success until the athlete has tried the utmost to perform faster, higher and stronger than that athlete’s previous performances.
He ended the speech with what would become the Olympic motto. Citius, Altius, Fortius.
Since this day, athletes have continued to be inspired by Didon’s admonition; working step by step to improve their physiology, to create new techniques, to improve coaching methods, and find better equipment – all with the hope of performing better every single day.
But I don’t believe elite performance is limited to athletics, nor that this ethos is the property of athletes alone.
I hope that we can all be inspired by Didon’s message.
We can all take pride in following a journey of never-ending improvement.
And that as salespeople, we can continue to try our utmost to expand our own personal sales potential. Hopefully starting from today, through better mechanical efficiency and faster jobs-to-be-done-speed.
If you really want to become the best, the Tiger woods, the David Beckham or the Michael Schumacher of sales, it’s easy…
Simply get in Touch today.
Will McCabe – CPO Touch
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