Most Salespeople are Underdogs Like the Boston Red Sox

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 13, 2021 @ 16:10 PM

Kiké Hernández's dream postseason continues for Red Sox: 10 things we  learned from ALDS-clinching walk-off win -

Anyone who has followed this Blog over the past 15 years knows that other than sales, the only thing I write about nearly as much is baseball.  A Google search from within the Blog yields 605 results, and a search on my son playing baseball over the past twelve years yields 208 results. I haven't really mentioned baseball 605 times, but I have probably written about it 150 times!

For non-baseball fans, the regular season ended last week and two teams - the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees - finished in a tie for the wild-card spot, requiring a one-game playoff.  The Red Sox were the best team in baseball during the first half of the season and one of the worst teams during the second half.  I've been cheering on the Red Sox for 65 years and despite that, was very confident they would succumb to the Yankees in last Tuesday's one-game wild-card playoff.  If they somehow managed to beat the Yankees, which it turns out they did, I was even more certain they would fall to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division series.  I was wrong again and the Red Sox not only won, but they won the best of five series decisively, winning the last three games in a row.  Now they will take on the Houston Astros in the best of seven American League  Championship Series, with the winner moving on to the 2021 World Series.  Despite the fact that the Red Sox are now playing in a manner consistent with their first half identify, they will be underdogs for the rest of the post season because of their second half identify.

How does that tie into sales?  Easy!

If your company is not the brand leader, market leader, or price leader; if you have a complex sale, a story to tell, a new technology, a new brand, a new product, a much higher price or a much tougher sale, then you are an underdog too.

Brand leaders, Market leaders and price leaders have it easy.  There is no true selling involved.  They show up, write proposals, provide quotes, conduct demos and take orders. They get what they get.

Underdogs must not only sell their way in, but they must also sell their value to justify the higher prices, differentiate themselves to prove their value, and use a consultative approach that supports selling value.  On top of that, they must follow a proper milestone-centric sales process that supports a consultative approach for selling value.

Most salespeople simply can't do this.  The data in the table below, from Objective Management Group (OMG) and their assessments of more than 2 million salespeople, shows the percentage of salespeople who are strong in the three competencies I just mentioned.  

It's not very difficult to grasp the takeaways from this data.  Even some of the best salespeople struggle to take a consultative approach to sales but compensate with their adherence to sales process and their ability to sell value.  The worst salespeople aren't capable of much more than a transactional sale described earlier in the article.  The best salespeople score, on average, 4823% stronger in these three competencies.  There are actually a total of 21 Sales Core Competencies and you can see the data for all of them right here, play with the data a bit, and filter by industry and company!

The top 5% and the bottom 5% represent only the extreme examples of 10% of all salespeople.  The other 90% are represented in the "All Salespeople" column.  We can filter the numbers some more if we break down the other 90%.  Wait until you see these numbers!

As you can see, there is a significant drop off from the top 5% to the next 15% and an even greater drop off to the 30% after that.  The big takeaway is that in these three competencies  the bottom 50% are nearly as weak as the bottom 5%. They all suck.  As a matter of fact, once you get past the top 20%, the picture is bleak.

What can you do about this? 

Use OMG to Evaluate your sales force so you can see what the capabilities are at your company.

Use OMG to Assess your sales candidates so that you can be assured of hiring only those who will succeed in the role.  

Train, train, train, coach, coach, coach, drill, drill, drill, role-play, role-play, role-play.

Join me on October 26 for a free 45-minute introduction to Baseline Selling and learn how to avoid the mistakes that most salespeople make, shorten your sales cycle, differentiate from the competition, and improve your win rate.  Register here.

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, Baseline Selling, sales process, sales training, sales recruiting, Sales Coaching, Baseball, Boston Red Sox, value selling,

Why Some Great Salespeople Produce and Others Don't

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Jun 18, 2015 @ 06:06 AM


Earlier this week I wrote an article on how to get sales selection right. Once and for all. Forever. If you didn't read it, please give that a quick read before reading this article because I used the earlier article as a starting point for this one.

Earlier today, I was talking with someone who wanted his farmers - salespeople who are assigned to a single enterprise account - to hunt. His idea is to take existing salespeople and have them bring on new accounts instead of hiring additional salespeople to do that. There are certainly pros and cons to that, but do you think it will work? What would it take? What are the chances? If it works, can it be replicated? Let's take an inside look at the factors, chances and reasons, shall we?

Let's use a sports example for this:

Last winter, the Boston Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez, an all-star shortstop in the National League his entire career, and decided that at age 30, he could learn to play left field. Okay, you're tired of baseball examples, so how about an example from basketball, football and soccer?

Do you suppose that in basketball, a great point guard, like Stephen Curry, could play center? He's not tall enough - it's not in his basketball DNA.  

Do you supposed that in football, a great quarterback, like Peyton Manning, could play left tackle? He's not heavy enough - it's not in his football DNA.

And why in the world would you take a player who is great at what he does, only to move him to a position that he is unfamiliar with and unprepared to play?

OK, how about a soccer example? My soccer friends are getting excited now...just one problem...I don't know enough about soccer to even create an example, even though I am certain that there are probably many. (I'm sure that one of my regular readers, Ray Bigger, a former soccer referee, will comment...Ray?)

So, returning to baseball, how do you suppose Hanley Ramirez has performed in left field for the Boston Red Sox this year? Well, one third of the way through the 2015 season, he is on pace to save the Red Sox minus 42 runs, which will be more runs lost than the 39 home runs he is on track to hit this year. According to the same website, he is worth minus $4.8 million, or $26.8 million less than the $22 million he is to be paid this year. So, can this all star, who was at best a mediocre shortstop, play left field? He can certainly be placed in that role, but he is a major under performer as a left fielder.

Back to our sales farmers. Can they achieve success as hunters? Is it in their Sales DNA? Can a good salesperson adapt?

I am 100% certain that good salespeople who are in farming roles could be as effective at hunting as Hanley has been in left field.

They don't have it in their sales DNA, and if they wanted to hunt (a far more lucrative role than farming), they wouldn't have signed up for a farming position!  

Salespeople can be trained and coached (at least most of them), but overcoming the limitations of their Sales DNA is much more difficult. When it comes to hunting, there are several strands of Sales DNA that will determine whether a salesperson WILL hunt, and several skills that determine whether or not they will be effective. Together, those attributes make up the Hunter Competency.

Assuming that a salesperson is both trainable and coachable, any of these four weaknesses are difficult to overcome: 

  • The need to be liked
  • Difficulty recovering from rejection
  • Procrastination from perfectionism
  • Reluctance to make cold calls  

When a salesperson is untrainable, uncoachable, or has two, three, or all four of those weaknesses, the difficult simply becomes impossible.

Every day, I wish that my gray Lexus GX460 SUV will handle and look like a red sports car. It's not in the car's DNA. Just because you can wish for something, doesn't always mean that it is possible.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, new business development, Boston Red Sox, ideal sales roles

How to Finally Get Sales Selection Right

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 @ 13:06 PM


Before I share some crucial sales selection tips, I need to begin with some baseball. My apologies to all of my cricket and soccer obsessed readers.

My team, the Boston Red Sox, just lost their seventh consecutive game. They are in last place and heading for their third last place finish in the past four years. The outlier year was 2013, when they won the World Series. I think there was far less talent on that championship team than on this year's edition, but the 2013 team had a rallying cry (Boston Strong) and everyone overachieved. You can't count on everyone overachieving each year, so in lieu of that, as Jim Collins would say, you must have the right people in the right seats. 

When it comes to sales selection, sales leaders regularly make the same mistake that Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington has made for the last 4 years. Ben is the architect of these 3H (helpless, hapless and hopeless) Red Sox teams. Ben continues to select players who have succeeded in the easier National League, who struggle to compete in the more challenging American League. He also promotes minor leaguers before they are ready. Similarly, companies hire salespeople who have succeeded for other companies, in other industries, in other roles, against different competition, with other price points, calling on different decision makers, with longer and shorter sales cycles. They even hire salespeople away from their competitors, believing that their customers will follow. Well, how has that worked out for you?

Here's an example:    Yesterday, I received an email from an OMG Client in the Middle East wondering why a candidate was not recommended. The email said:

I would like you input on this attached folder, this guy has a great file, why he is not selected and was not hirable?  I need to understand what are the criteria of selection for an account manager?  

I wrote back:

The custom role specification for an account manager was used on this candidate and as you can see on page 3, it requires a candidate to meet at least 70% of the criteria for an account manager.  Your candidate met only 65% of the criteria and possesses only 40% of the account manager skill set.  He is much better suited for a hunter role where he has 100% of the hunter competency.

Most Sales leaders believe that if a salesperson has had any success, or good references, or even a good score on OMG's Sales Candidate Assessment, they should be chosen. But nothing could be further from the truth. Every role, in every company, calling into every vertical and decision maker, selling against every competitor and at every price point, with varying degrees of resistance, is different.

You wouldn't hire a hunter to manage existing accounts any more than you would hire an account manager to hunt. But that's what sales leaders and HR professionals do - every minute of every day - when they aren't using anything more than a resume and experience as a predictor of future performance.

It reminds me of the time when I was on a boat with Dennis Connelly, a senior sales strategist at my company. I can't remember whether the lights weren't functioning or there just weren't any running lights, but I do remember that darkness had replaced light. He needed to navigate back to the slip in the harbor, but there were hundreds of boats to steer clear of and all he had was a flashlight! At that point, you need an awful lot of luck to succeed.

For the most part, that's what sales leaders rely on each time they select a salesperson. "Let's hope that this one works out!" How many 3M's (mishires, mistakes and mishaps) does it take before a sales leader or an HR professional realizes that the way they hire salespeople just doesn't lead to consistent success?

But it doesn't need to be that way. Not when there is a highly predictive, customizable, sales selection tool that consistently gets it right. Not when it's sales-specific and has science on its side.  Not when it's so affordable that it's a no-brainer to use.

92% of the recommended candidates, who are hired with this tool, rise to the top half of the sales force within one year. 75% of the candidates who are not recommended by this tool, but who somehow get hired anyway, fail within 6 months. The tool is insanely accurate.  

It's all about sales selection. You can learn more about OMG's Sales Candidate Assessments right here.

I stand behind it. 10,000 companies use it. It works! Isn't it time for you to finally get sales selection right?

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, sales candidates, Baseball, sales selection, objective management group, Boston Red Sox

Keys to Successful Sales Negotiations

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 @ 22:07 PM

mlbIn the United States, Major League Baseball's trading deadline passed today with some noteworthy moves by teams other than my Boston Red Sox.  Aside from my disappointment that the Red Sox failed to make an impact trade to help the team, I recognized something else...

First-year General Manager Ben Cherington has made some interesting trades this year, most where he seemed to give up more than he received in return.  (See Appendix A below for examples.)

In contrast (bad, free-agent signings aside), most of the trades orchestrated by former GM Theo Epstein seemed to yield more in return than whom he gave up.  (See Appendix B below for examples.)

Assuming that I'm right, what are the reasons for the differences?  

  • Was Theo dealing from a position of strength while Ben dealt from a position of weakness?  
  • Was Theo a better negotiator?  
  • Was Ben more desperate?  
  • Did Theo hold out for a better deal?  
  • Did Ben concede too quickly?  
  • Was Theo more willing to walk away?  
  • Was Ben afraid of leaving the table with nothing to show for it?

Very often, the final stages of many sales cycles, especially those to large companies with procurement people, are negotiations.  Assuming that your salespeople have developed some compelling reasons to buy, and buy from you, then YOU have leverage.  They want what you have.  However, when your salespeople fail to uncover the compelling reasons to buy from you, then YOUR PROSPECTS have leverage.  You want their business.

Your outcome from a negotiation or competitive sales situation is in direct disproportion to how badly you want the business.

Appendix A - Examples of Cherington Trades

He gave up top Sox prospect, Josh Reddick, and in return received Andrew Bailey, who has been on the Disabled List (DL) all year, and Ryan Sweeney, who has been on the disabled list three times already this year.

He gave up 3-time All-Star Kevin Youkilis for a minor league pitcher and a utility player whom they have already traded away.

He gave up a good hitter, Jed Lowrie, for Mark Melancon, a relief pitcher who has just plain sucked for the Red Sox this year.

As compensation for letting Theo Epstein move to the Cubs, he received an injured minor league pitcher, Chris Carpenter, in return.

Appendix B - Examples of Epstein Trades

He gave up 3 talented minor leaguers and got All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzales in return.

He gave up a talented minor leaguer and got All-Stars Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in return.  Beckett and Lowell, along with Curt Schilling below, helped them win the 2007 World Series.

He gave up 4 young pitchers, none of whom panned out, for Curt Schilling.  Schilling helped them win the 2004 World Series.

He traded disgruntled All-Star Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, both who helped them win the 2004 World Series.

He traded clubhouse cancer and multiple performance-enhancing drug offender Manny Ramirez in a three team deal for Jason Bay. 

Topics: sales competencies, sales culture, Dave Kurlan, sales management, Sales Coaching, sales personality, ben cherington, Boston Red Sox, theo epstein, trades, competitive sales call

When it Comes to Compensation Sales is Not Like Baseball

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Dec 09, 2010 @ 05:12 AM

sales compensationRegular readers know that I follow - no - live and die by the Boston Red Sox.  I awoke this morning to discover that they have reached an agreement to sign Carl Crawford for $142 million on the heels of trading for Adrian Gonzalez and reaching an agreement with him for a contract extension worth $157 million.  If you like baseball as much as me and your team signed two of the best players in the world, you would have a little extra bounce at 5:30 AM!

Aside from the excitement of the signings though, the Red Sox committed to $299 million on 2 guys in 4 days!  You won't find that in sales...

Not only that, but Gonzalez is getting quite a bump. He'll be going from $6 million to $21 million annually.  How would you like to earn just one year's worth - $21 million - in the remaining years of your career?  Forget about the staggering totals for a minute.  Forget that they work part-time.  Forget that they get 4 months off.  Forget that they get endorsement deals, speaking opportunities (good to know that there's one area where I'm probably paid better than they are) and tremendous amounts of media exposure.  Simply consider the bump.  $6M - $21M.  More than triple!

The other day a client asked whether salespeople can make the jump from earning $85K to a position that could pay them $150K.  Sure they can.  But they have to be incredibly motivated to earn the $150K.  What happens with a lot of salespeople is that once they get past the "25% more" mark, or in this case, $106,250, they become complacent - until next year - when they might make another 25% jump to $132,812, become somewhat complacent again, and in year 3, make it to $166,015. 

You might be thinking, "I'll take that - a salesperson that improves by 25% year over year" but this client's questions was, "Can salespeople make the direct jump from $85K to $150K in one year?"

They CAN but most of them don't.  Once most of them have earned significantly more than they have ever earned before (25%), they take that deep breath and relax.  The moment they relax, their pipeline isn't getting filled at the same rate, the opportunities they do have don't move along as quickly as before, and the more difficult opportunities don't get closed.

Relaxing Kills Sales.

Complacency Kills Salespeople.

Sales Managers Who Leave Their Salespeople Alone Kill Sales Organizations.

A Dead Sales Organization Kills the Company.

Anything else you need to know?

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, sales compensation, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox, Baseball Stars, complacent salespeople

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned awards for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog for eleven consecutive years and of the more than 2,000 articles Dave has published, many of the articles have also earned awards.

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