Golden State Warriors player Andre Iguodala has always excelled under pressure. Back when he was a teenager in 2001, Iguodala’s AAU National Championship semifinal game was coming down to the wire. He was one of the best players on the team, and his opponents were guarding him aggressively. Suddenly, with two seconds left on the clock, a teammate passed him the ball. He was far from the net, just across half court. There was no time to dribble, no time to think. Iguodala turned, shot–and scored.
These kind of clutch shots are common in the business world, too. Whether you’re recruiting a top executive, trying to raise a round from top venture capitalists, or pitching a massive customer, one big win can change the trajectory of your career or business. On this week’s episode of Zero to IPO, Epic magazine’s Joshua Davis and I spoke with Iguodala and Amy Pressman, the cofounder of Medallia, to hear how they land big wins. Here’s the advice they shared:
1. Be prepared in all aspects of your life
Long before the moment to make that clutch shot arrives, you need to do everything you can to prepare. Iguodala and his teammates put in a ton of work behind the scenes that casual viewers and fans don’t ever see. For starters, he designs every aspect of his life to set himself up for success. Iguodala and his wife are always making small changes to their daily routine to improve overall health and wellness. He sets up his home environment to allow for the best night’s sleep possible, he follows a vegan diet 85% of the time, and he’s always on the lookout for ways to be healthier.
You can apply this type of intense preparation for your business and career. If you have a big interview or pitch coming up, preparing the night before won’t cut it. You need to do the work long before the day–from staying on top of your presentation skills, networking constantly, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. This way, by the time you’re sitting in front of a potential customer or investor, you’ll have the mental preparation, talent, and confidence you need to score that clutch shot.
2. Hone your listening and sales skills
Believe it or not, even business school students tend to overlook one of the most critical aspects of building a company–sales. Pressman told us when she was at Stanford Graduate School of Business, she and many of the other aspiring entrepreneurs didn’t consider sales to be a necessary skill.
An important part of scoring clutch shots is understanding the skills you need and developing them through experience and preparation. For Pressman, that was sales, and as her career has progressed, she has specifically focused on building and honing her sales skills. Starting a company, in essence, is one huge sales gig after another, she says. You’re selling customers on products you haven’t built yet, you’re selling investors on your vision, and you’re selling recruits on the opportunity to work with you.
It might come as a surprise, but to be great at sales, you need to learn how to listen more than you talk. Selling is all about understanding your buyer. It’s not what you want to sell that matters; it’s what someone else wants to buy.
The best salespeople behave more like fennec foxes than alligators–while alligators have big mouths and small ears, fennec foxes have large ears. My advice for entrepreneurs: Listen to your customers, and in no time you’ll be scoring clutch shots in all areas of your business.
3. Embrace challenges
Whether you’re on the basketball court or in the boardroom, athletes and entrepreneurs alike will face challenging times. And as many entrepreneurs know, the bigger the stage, the stronger the competition. At Iguodala’s level, he’s playing against the most talented basketball players in the world. There’s a common misconception that the players that are 14th or 15th on the bench are just alright, but every person on an NBA roster is elite.
He has straightforward advice for entrepreneurs trying to score clutch shots when times are tough: Stay competitive and battle through, but know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Iguodala frequently tells his son to embrace and learn from the struggle: “If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right, and you’re not getting anything out of it.”
4. Find your motivating factors and inspire confidence
Whether it’s a championship title, a sales quota, or building an iconic company, you have to keep your eye on the end goal to be successful. Know what motivates you and you’ll stay on track. Iguodala recommends reminiscing on previous successes. Sometimes he’ll watch an old tape of a game when he played particularly well. Most business professionals have a very short-term memory–they’re so focused on today or tomorrow that they forget the success of last month. Don’t forget to recognize your team for that huge client win or that successful event. Building motivation and confidence is key to successfully navigating through challenges.
You can be the most talented athlete, fastest coder, or most persuasive salesperson, but skills alone don’t always equate to success. You determine your success by maximizing your potential. Bringing intention and purpose to everything you do will make those clutch shots feel easy. Practice, find your motivating factors, and keep your eye on the ultimate goal. By following those steps, you’ll be setting yourself up for success, whatever it is you do.
Frederic Kerrest is the COO and cofounder of Okta. You can listen to the full episode, “Hitting Clutch Shots,” wherever you get your podcasts. Tune in to Zero to IPO every Tuesday and check back here each week to read about the discussion on each episode.