I fancy myself as a pretty handy table tennis player. I recently purchased a table for myself (disguised as a present for my 7 yr old son). I have begun playing regularly with some Friends (disguised as a good reason to drink beer). We have had some very competitive games and even designed a handicap system to level the playing fields for all players.

With home court advantage I was doing OK, and was winning most games – and started to think I was pretty good. This perception came crashing down yesterday – when I mistakenly challenged a retired Chinese gentleman to a game. I had seen him play and while he was good I fancied my chances. In broken English this ‘old man’ laughed at me, mocked me and proceeded to give me a flogging. He then arrogantly suggested he give me a 5 point head start, in a game of first to 11! I only needed 6 points to win. I could not possibly lose that. I lost.

Other than a serious need to play better ping pong – I learnt a lesson that night. You have to compare yourself against and compete with the best to find out how good you really are. I once did a series of GP demo’s and had a 100% sale rate of 4 from 4. I walked into the 5th demo supremely confident that this was a winning demo – and I could close the deal. I lost. Why? Because on deal five I had a new competitor – and the prospect told me later that the winning software presentation was more prepared, more polished and more focused on their business needs. It hurt to hear that (extra painful because it cost money to the business by losing a big deal) – but was a lesson I needed. I got complacent and assumed I would win the deal, assumed I had a killer demo, assumed the prospect would find me likable and believable and that would be enough. I had gotten lazy.

So when you think you are pretty good at what you do, who are you comparing yourself with? You think you know GP backwards – well remember the new guy that just learnt GP on V2010 and knows all the new moving parts – while there are things in GPv10 that you have been too busy to look at. For the salespeople, are those old slides and old stories still the best message to close a sale?

I’ll leave you to ponder, and I am off to work on my topspin backhand slider.