Leading a Sales Force is Even More Like Baseball

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Nov 06, 2014 @ 12:11 PM

baseball

I miss baseball already.  Although I can't watch it right now, I still think about it.  I look forward to next season when, together with my wife, we'll watch our son strike out other kids, hit lots of home runs, and improve his baseball skills while playing close to 100 games!  I don't look forward to the seats...  

I've written plenty about the similarity betwen baseball and selling, but today I'm writing about the similarity between baseball and sales leadership.  If you're not a baseball person, you might not see the same things that I see, most of which can be applied to leading a sales force.  For example,

there are five levels of professional baseball:  a short season A team, a full-season A team, and then, as the player becomes adjusted and ready for the two higher levels in the minor leagues; AA and AAA.  Then, if and when he's good enough, he'll be promoted to the Majors.  

Most people can see the differences in the caliber of play when comparing a Little League game to a high school game, or a college game to a professional game.  Most people aren't able to recognize the differences between each of the 5 professional levels.  They may be watching a minor league game, but it sure looks like professional baseball to them - without the 35,000 people in the stands rooting for their team.  Pitchers make the pitches, hitters hit the ball, run the bases, and everyone make the plays.  It is professional baseball, but in the minor leagues, pitchers don't command their secondary pitches.  While they already have a major league-ready fast ball, they have not yet mastered the ability to throw their curve ball, change up or slider to the exact spot it needs to go.  Hitters in the minor leagues are able to hit a fastball with authority, but may not be  able to recognize, adjust to, and hammer breaking pitches.

The exact same difference exists between sales experts like me and sales leaders like you.

Most sales leaders can easily differentiate between salespeople who are awful and those who are not awful.  They have difficulty differentiating one awful salesperson from another.  If you're asking yourself why I'm placing this in the context of awful, rather than good, it's because 74% of the sales population is awful!

Based on Objective Management Group's (OMG) statistics, a sales force of 10 would typically have:

  • 0 elite salespeople who make up the top 6%,
  • 2 good salespeople who make up the top 26%, and
  • 8 salespeople who are awful, making up the remaining 74%.

A typical sales leader looks at the sales force and can differentiate between the 2 good and 8 bad, but isn't able to explain why.  Sure, they can point to sales numbers and activity, but those aren't reasons, as much as differing results.

It's very difficult to coach someone up when you don't know the cause of their ineffectiveness.

For example, let's take 3 awful salespeople who are each underperforming at a company we recently evaluated:

  • Bob has a full pipeline, but despite all of the opportunities, his win-rate is pathetic.
  • Mary has a nearly empty pipeline, but closes most of the opportunities she does uncover.
  • Bill has a poor pipeline - half way between Bob and Mary - but most opportunities get stuck and don't move through to closure.

You can easily determine that Bob is a successful hunter, but an awful closer.

You can easily determine that Mary is a successful closer, but an awful hunter.

You can easily determine that Bill isn't very good at anything.

Now let's pretend that they are your salespeople.  That shouldn't be a stretch because you probably have 3 salespeople who look like this.  

Do you know why this is happening?  Do you know how to figure out why it is happening?  Do you know that a seminar on prospecting or closing won't change anything?  Do you know what is in their Sales DNA, their Will to Sell, or their Sales Skill Sets that are responsible for these outcomes?  Do you know if they're even trainable?  Do you know if they're really coachable?  Do you know if you're any good at developing salespeople with these mysterious issues?

Of course you don't know.  You're not even supposed to know.  If you did know, they would each have been either fixed (because you knew what to fix and how to fix it) or replaced (because you knew it couldn't be fixed or you weren't capable of fixing it).  Right?

That example is only one of the reasons to evaluate your sales force.  Here are some more.

evals

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales force evaluation, Baseball, sales development

Baseball's Huge Impact on Sales Performance

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jan 22, 2013 @ 10:01 AM

Process Methodology Model

 I wrote this article on the difference between Sales Process and Sales Methodology and this article on how Sales Models are different from Process and Methodology.   

Do you remember algebra?  One such formula may have read like the following: 4 is to 1 as x is to 3.  It would have looked like the following image.

Algebra

Let's use Algebra to get a better handle on sales methodology and where it fits in the grand scheme of things.  Consider the following formula:

sports is to selling

Sports is to Selling as Baseball is to Consultative Selling as Pitching and Defense are to Baseline Selling.   

Sports and Selling are both professional activities.  Baseball and Consultative Selling further define the activities with baseball answering the question as to which sport, and consultative answering the question as to which type of selling.

Pitching and Defense are one of many possible methodologies used in baseball as a strategy to win games.  Baseline Selling is the methodology which I recommend in selling as a strategy to win more sales.

Baseline Selling is also a sales process, meaning it has stages, each with a series of steps, milestones and tasks which, if followed according to its design, provide significantly greater odds of repeatable success.  You can use this free tool to measure the effectiveness of your existing sales process.

One of the milestones of the second stage (2nd Base) of Baseline Selling is what I call SOB Quality or, using a baseball term, Speed on the Bases.  I recorded a very short video which explains SOB Quality and how it differentiates your salespeople from the competition.

Dennis Connelly, who writes the Living Sales Excellence Blog, was recently on the phone with a lumber salesperson named Taylor Tankersley.  If you follow baseball, you would know that Taylor is a former Miami Marlins pitcher.  Dennis explained the sales version of SOB Quality to Taylor and had the following interchange:

Dennis: When you were on the mound and there was a guy with great speed on the bases, what were you thinking?

Taylor: I paid more attention to him than anyone else.

Don't you want your prospects giving all of their attention to your salespeople?  Contact me to learn if they have the ability to develop SOB Quality!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Baseline Selling, sales process, sales model, sales methodology, Baseball, taylor tankersly

Contractual Obligation is a Missing Link of Sales Success

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 31, 2012 @ 05:05 AM

nascar raceI borrow heavily from sports.  With one of my books titled Baseline Selling, it's no surprise that, of the 900 or so articles on this blog, I have used analogies from baseball 39 times, 5 times with football, 6 times with basketball, 17 times with golf, four references to tennis, and not once to either hockey (sorry, Bob and Brent) or soccer (sorry, Ray, Chris and Marty).  There are just so many similarities to sales that it's difficult for me to refrain from making the associations.  More importantly, most people enjoy them.  

However, there is one area of sports for which there is no sales analogy.  Say it isn't so!

One of the most challenging aspects of selling is dealing with competition.  I am not referring to the other companies who are gunning for the business which you have targeted.  I'm talking about a greater competition - your actual prospects - who are sometimes competing directly with you!  When one of their options is to take no action at all and another is to provide the service or production in-house, you are competing against those options.  In other cases, you must overcome your prospect's resistance to talk with you, meet with you, answer your questions and move the process forward.  The similarity between sports and selling ends when your prospect is the competition.

In sports, the competitor is contractually obligated to show up and compete.  They will be there!  And when everyone is on the field or in the arena, you will see them give their best effort to win - to overcome the competition.  Oftentimes in sales, the biggest challenge is getting your prospect to show up!  Sometimes, your best effort is required just to get them to the table, the sales equivilent of the arena or field.  Sometimes, despite your best effort to get them to the table, you lose.  

Some salespeople don't take this part of selling seriously enough.  There are golf and auto racing analogies here.  If the first act of the sales process - prospecting and filling the pipeline - is seen from the perspective of a preliminary round, where you don't really get a chance to compete for the title until you've made the cut, then perhaps more salespeople would enter and take the tournaments seriously.  Prospects may not be contractually obligated to show up, but your salespeople should be contractually obligated to put forth their best efforts to get their prospects to the table.

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Baseline Selling, sales training, sales management, Sales Coaching, Baseball, sales analogies and sports

Sales Coaching Lessons from the Baseball Files

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, May 24, 2012 @ 07:05 AM

baseline sellingAs evidenced by one of my book titles, Baseline Selling, I have frequently borrowed from baseball when the analogy is more useful than the sales message.  Although the following stories may appear to be about my son and/or his baseball team, they are actually about coaching and adapting.

Baseball - I brought my son to the batting cage to work out a swing flaw after his line drives had become weak ground balls.  He was bailing out (stepping toward third base instead of the pitcher), causing him to take weak swings at the ball.  After I got him to stop bailing, he began leaning away from the pitch with his upper body, causing him to take an off-balance swing.  When we fixed that, his front shoulder began opening too quickly, the head of the bat moving through the strike zone too slowly for solid contact.  When we finally fixed that, line drives began zipping off his bat again and he was able to carry that into the next game for 2 doubles and 3 RBI's.  

Sales -This sequence of analysis and tweaking works in exactly the same way when coaching salespeople.  You should be able to immediately identify what went wrong, when it went wrong, how it went wrong and demonstrate how to prevent and fix it.  The last two steps must take place through role-play.  Are you doing that effectively?

Baseball - I took some swings for the first time in 20 years.  I immediately realized that I couldn't track the ball with bifocals, so I removed them.  Without the glasses, I could barely see the ball at all!  My son said, "Dad, you don't have it any more."  That's all I needed to hear.  I wasn't going to let my 10-year-old get away with that, so I adapted.  I accepted that I couldn't see the stiches or the spin of the ball anymore, but I could see the fuzzy little round thing heading in my direction and resolved to just see that and hit that.  He said, "I guess you still have it after all."  

Sales - Your salespeople must adapt when the existing approach isn't effective with a prospect.  Instead, most salespeople take one of two actions.  They either continue to do what isn't working (stupid human trick) or they give up (typical human behavior). 

Baseball - As their coach, I offer 1-2 minutes of one-on-one pre-game or in-game coaching to each boy on the team.  They get more from their one-on-one time than they could ever get from a 90-minute practice and we see immediate results in that very game.  

Sales - Sales Managers must provide their salespeople with one-on-one time before upcoming calls and debrief calls that have already taken place.  There is no area that will have more impact on sales than coaching.

Sales and baseball are nearly the same except that far fewer ball players make it to the major leagues, but those who do so get paid a lot more money.

 

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales, coaching, sales management, Baseball

The Impact of Coaching Salespeople and Sales Managers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Oct 07, 2010 @ 12:10 PM

coachingYesterday I presented at the Sales EdgeOne Three-Day Sales Summit and my co-presenter, Donal Daly, cited a statistic from Gallop: Organizations that use coaches get a 26% ROI from that effort.  That statistic surprised me in two ways.  First, my experience is that the organizations that we provide coaching to perform much better than that (the quoted statistic is not 26% growth, it's 26% ROI!); and second, if more companies were aware of that statistic, they would embrace using outside coaches!

I was still thinking about that this morning. I thought back to my childhood and thought about the the coaching I had then, and later in life, and the impact it had on my success.

First there was music.  Through the years, I had a private piano teacher, 2 private trumpet teachers, and a private music teacher (all coaches). As a senior in high school, I was one of the top trumpet players in the state.  That would not have been possible without the coaching AND hours and hours of practice.

Then came baseball.  My dad got me started and taught me the basics. To become an all-star, it took two tips from my two coaches that made the difference.  Tip #1 transformed me from average fielder to an excellent third baseman.  Tip #2 morphed me from strike-out king to excellent hitter.  It was the coaching and the hours and hours of practice!

Then came tennis.  My dad got me started and taught me the basics of tennis too.  By the time I was 13, he got me a coach.  Although she was 88 years old, she was sharp as a nail, had as much energy as me and got me to the next level - good enough to get to the finals of a New England 14 & under tournament.  At 15, a much younger, wise old coach helped me develop some "touch" and add some "shots" to my repertoire.  The summer after high school, yet another coach (the tennis/goal setting story I included in Baseline Selling was about this coach and it was the most referenced story in the book) helped me develop the mental aspect of my game and that was good enough for me to enter my freshman year of college as the #2 singles player on the team.  It was the coaching and, in this case, day-long practice sessions.

Then came sales.  The music, baseball and tennis coaches conditioned me to be change ready, always strive for excellence and outperform the expectations I had for myself. I competed with me.  The sales books, tapes and videos I devoured when I was a young salesperson, the lessons I learned from my early sales managers, my own ability to improve what already exists and my ability to develop what doesn't yet exist tells the rest of the story.  It was coaching and practice.

The Sales Force Evaluations we provide are important.  So are the candidate assessments.  Systems, processes, strategies, pipeline, metrics and recruiting are important too.  But without question, the biggest impact comes from coaching. Think of sales and sales management training as opportunities to develop best practices, good habits, important competencies and a complete framework of capabilities.  Then use coaching for tips, personalized adjustments, advanced skills, and subtle tweaks that result in significant, rapid improvement and results.

Coaching anyone?

PS - everything I wrote does not apply to golf (for me).

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, coaching, sales management, tennis, Baseball, sales assessments, gallop, sports, music

Baseball's General Managers versus Business' Sales Managers

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 @ 05:03 AM

The 2010 Major League Baseball season officially gets underway this Sunday evening with its greatest rivalry, the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees, at Fenway Park.  It gives me a great excuse to write a baseball themed article.  But hey, what else would you expect from the author of Baseline Selling - How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball?

This week is one of the most active weeks for General Managers because they need to trim their rosters to 25 players.  The best 25 players.  The 25 players that give their teams the best chance to win, the greatest depth, and the best protection in case of injury.  General Managers have several tools they can use to evaluate who gets those final roster spots.  They can go by what they witnessed, first hand, during Spring Training.  They can go by the players' statistics from the Spring Training games, or they can use a player's statistics from the last year, two years or three years to make their decisions.  There are dozens of statistics being used these days, with the traditional stats of HR, RBI, BA, and ERA being overtaken by newer stats like OPS, OPB, and WHIP. I'm all for the newer stats because of the insights they provide.

You should be evaluating your sales team's performance as the first quarter of 2010 comes to a close.  You have many ways to evaluate sales performance.  Observation, statistics, sales force evaluation, performance, etc.  As part of a sales force evaluation, sales force optimization - the optimal number of salespeople for your sales force - should be considered.  Unlike baseball, the number is probably not 25.  But once you have the number, it becomes much easier to determine who the best salespeople are. The ones that give you the best chance to win, the best depth, and the best protection in case of injury.  Baseball doesn't award roster spots for tenure, appreciation, or effort.  The spots go the best, period.  You should do the same.  

You have one huge advantage over baseball General Managers though. Forward looking indicators. Except for observation, all of the statistics they use in baseball are lagging indicators.  They tell the story of how a player has performed in the past, not how they will perform in the future.  And while past performance can be an indicator of future performance, it can't be relied upon.  Too often, companies rely on lagging indicators to evaluate sales performance by citing revenue.  While revenue is important, forward looking indicators are more significant.  They can accurately predict future sales performance in a way that would make baseball's General Managers drool!  I wrote this comprehensive article on What to Do With Your Useless Sales Pipeline for AlisterPaine.com.

Rely on your forward looking indicators - your sales pipeline and the metrics that keep it filled and balanced - and you can accurately predict your revenue before, instead of after the fact.  Not only will you be able to predict revenue, but you'll be able to impact it as well.  Don't like what you see?  Change something!  It's just a lot easier to change the numbers before they happen than after.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales pipeline, Baseball, red sox, sales metrics, yankees

Sales Statistics That Reveal Sales Effectiveness

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Sep 26, 2008 @ 06:09 AM

Jeff Angus, author of the Management by Baseball Blog, wrote this lengthy article in response to my Pitch Count post from last week. While Part I of his manifesto explores pitch count as it relates to injury and effectiveness, he brings up another important point. He talks about the best pitchers not learning how to win by not being expected or conditioned to finish the games they start.

There is certainly a correlation there.  We have four stereotypical groups of salespeople:

Type
 Hunt Close
 1  Yes  No
 2  Yes  Yes
 3  No  No
 4  No  Yes

As you can see from the table above, the Type 1 salesperson also has difficulty finishing, not because of expectations and conditioning, but because of ineffective selling as the salesperson works through the sales cycle. You have salespeople like this! They have plenty of opportunities in the pipeline but very few of them get closed. Some of these salespeople are actually thought to be good closers because they close more new business than anyone else on your team.  But are they closing more new business because they're effective closers, effective salespeople or because they simply have more opportunities than anyone else?

This is one of those scenarios where salespeople are seriously misevaluated by management. The question is, if you place their performance under a microscope do you see your best salesperson or your worst salesperson?

If you lack metrics, then the only thing you will see is that salesperson type #1 closed 6 deals last month, double what everyone else closed.

On the other hand, if you have metrics, you can examine conversion ratios:

  • suspect to prospect,
  • prospect to qualified opportunity,
  • qualified to closable and
  • closable to closed 

The conversion ratios may reveal that Salesperson Type 4 closed only 1 - only one suspect that converted through each phase of the sales cycle.  These same ratios could reveal that Salesperson Type 1 may have closed 6, but he had 36 suspects. He appears to be a closer, but in reality, he is only a hunter and his ineffective selling causes him to waste time, screw up or fail to convert a whopping 86% of their opportunities. The salesperson who appears to be your best closer is probably your worst closer! This finding also supports my post from earlier this week on a possible reason why a "top salesperson" could perform poorly on OMG's Sales Assessment.

Referring back to the table at the top of this post, how many of your salespeople are truly type 2 salespeople who consistently find and close a lot of opportunities?

What would happen if all of your salespeople were type 2's?

Did you just experience an increase in sales?

So the question becomes, how do you get from where you are today with your type 1's, 3's and 4's, to where you need to be, with all type 2's?

If you evaluate your sales force, you'll get the answer to that important question! If you act on that answer and more, you'll build a sales organization that will really kick some butt.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, sales force evaluation, closing, prospecting, cold calls, Baseball, pitch count, sales core competency, sales effectiveness

The Sales Management Equivalent to Baseball's Pitch Count

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Sep 19, 2008 @ 12:09 PM

Yesterday at lunch, four of us were discussing pitch count - the theory that a starting pitcher should be held to 100 pitches, regardless of whether he is pitching a great game or not. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, here are two examples of how a manager manages the game using a pitch count.

Freddy Fast is in the sixth inning of a gem.  He has shut down the other team on three hits and hasn't allowed a run while strking out 11.  However, he's had many multi-pitch at bats and his pitch count is now at 106.  His manager comes to the mound and brings in a reliever despite his effectiveness and lack of fatigue.

Casey Curve is in the sixth inning of a game in which he has already allowed 5 runs, all on home run balls he served up in the third inning.  He's only thrown 72 pitches, his team is ahead by two runs, so his manager opts to let him continue to pitch.

One friend suggested I find a way to correlate pitch count to sales.

No problem.

I am not a proponent of a sales manager doing the closing for his salespeole, however, should a two-call close cycle be on its fourth call; a six month sales cycle be in its tenth month, an exception is certainly called for.  Or, if you consider a salesperson who is expected to perform certain levels of activity, who isn't meeting expectations, another exception might be called for. 

When a salesperson isn't moving an opportunity forward or getting it closed and you believe it should move forward, go to the bullpen or put yourself in the game. 

When a salesperson isn't performing the agreed upon activity, bench or demote the salesperson.  

So what does benching or demoting a salesperson involve?  

In baseball, the team might demote, or send a young player down to the minor league - as punishment for not hustling, for more seasoning, to rehab an injury or to learn a new position.  They go down with an understanding of what must happen to get back to the major leagues. You can bench a salesperson by stopping the required activity all together, serving notice that until that individual is ready to perform at the required level, there won't be any performing at all. 

You can demote a salesperson by placing him or her on an exit plan, where it is clearly stated that unless certain goals, accomplishments, milestones and activities are met in a certain time period, their employment would be terminated.

Yes Rick, Baseline Selling can be applied to Sales Management too!

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

 

Topics: Sales Coaching, sales performance, Sales Accountability, Baseball

Hiring Salespeople is Like Baseball Expansion

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Sep 15, 2008 @ 16:09 PM

Hiring salespeople is scalable until you get to a dilution point - very similar to the expansion that took place in baseball. When I was growing up in the 1960's, there were 16 teams and expansion made it 20. Today, there are 30 teams and despite integrating more African American players, then Latin players and now Asian players, there isn't enough pitching or depth on most teams. Pitchers with ERA's above 5.00, who never would have made it to a major league team 40 years ago, make 40-50 appearances a year. And hitters that can't run, throw or catch, but hit home runs from the cleanup spot as designated hitters, would never have risen beyond the minor leagues back then.

Earlier today I was interviewed by Hank Walshak for a white paper on Sales Process, Sales Production and Sales Performance. As we discussed sales production - the concept that more salespeople equals more revenue, I explained dilution as it related to Baseball.

First, if you have a complex, expensive product or service and a very limited market to sell to, scaling is inappropriate.  You can do with 1 what you can do with 100.

However, if you have a product or service that everyone needs and it is not limited in geographic scope, then it is scalable - but only to the dilution point.

10 should get you double 5
20 should get you double 10
40 should get you double 20
80 should get you double 40

The CEO hires the first 10 - excellent hires.
The Sales VP hires the next 10 - good hires.
The National Sales Manager hires the next 20 - decent hires.
The Regional Sales Managers hire the next 40 - so-so hires.
The Branch Managers hire the next 80 - awful hires.

The more you hire, the worse they get.  That's when it's important to develop an effective hiring process that uses accurate, predictive sales assessments.

(c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan


Topics: sales recruiting, Sales Force, sales candidates, hiring salespeople, Baseball, sales assessments

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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