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The 5 Ways Sales is like Pro Baseball

September 21, 2010

I’m a huge sports nut.  Obsessive.  I root hard for my teams to win and I take it my rooting to the extent that I want to learn everything I possibly can about my team’s history, personnel, game plans, and future prospects.

By the way, my rooting interests lie completely within the bounds of my Philadelphia upbringing (“Ya gotta problem wit dat?”).  Seriously, on the whole Philly sports thing – we get a tremendously bad rap around the county for lots of incidents that are single one-off kinds of situations.  That could be an entirely separate post…

So with the Phillies locked in a tight divisional race with the rival Atlanta Braves, I felt the timing was good to post.  One of the things I always look at are naturally-occurring parallels in life.  I find it interesting when things naturally imitate other things.  I have observed some funny comparisons that I’ve discussed with countless friends and buddies that are sales pros, and these 5 examples might hold some water for you:

(1) Swing at the ball

Success at the plate in baseball lies in having a solid approach to swing mechanics.  Slumps occur when players begin to think too hard, press, and force things into happening.  Having a repeatable physical process involving muscle memory is key to making solid contact.  Actually when you think about it, the same can be said for just about any sport you can think of (golf instantly comes to mind), and other skilled endeavors such as playing a musical instrument, dancing, etc).

It takes a lot of time in the batting cages to perfect the timing and rhythm required to become a good batter.  Keep in mind a “good batter” means you fail more than 70% of the time…

Sales is also much the same way.  Your chosen process of qualifying leads, assessing opportunities, fact-finding and educating yourself on the client’s needs, listening and sensing where the pain points are, developing a solution built to meet those needs, closing and then executing that solution, and then following up for additional opportunities to continue and grow that relationship are just some of the steps any good business development professional needs to address.

I’m not here to tell you that every conversation or engagement with a prospect/customer should be treated in a cookie-cutter fashion like taking hacks in a batting cage.  I’m saying that you need to find that process that covers all of those bases, develop a process of ensuring that you cover all of those points, and you carry each task through to completion – every time you have an opportunity to.  One missed piece of that equation means you swing and miss, or get caught looking as your competitor walks away with your client.

(2) Are you Coachable?

Regardless of your time/tenure/experience – you probably have things you could learn or be doing better.  Face it – changes in technology, the overall marketplace, and business in general make you obsolete unless you adapt.  What are you doing to improve?  Do you attend workshops, networking or training events?  Are you open to learning new things, even from less tenured members of your team (face it – they might have some unbelievable tips and tricks to show you)?  What’s your relationship with your direct supervisor like?  Have you ever even considered speaking with any one of a number of folks in your support structure to see if there are ways to improve work-flows, work more efficiently, or save time, money, etc?

I’m not talking about taking tips from the batboy or anything, but I recall taking my favorite credit analyst out to lunch for a “brain-picking session” and I figured out a way to improve credit application approval percentages and make my clients and my credit department much happier!

(3) It’s all in the numbers…
Sometimes we begin to get an artificially-inflated view of ourselves.  Our pipeline might be swelling, the outlook for next month and for next quarter looks positive, and the sun seems to be shining.  The reality is you are really only good for the team when you produce.  Those with revenue responsibility ultimately must report results to ownership or stakeholders.  Projecting forward into next quarter might be fine but the here and the now is really what’s getting looked at, especially in a recovering, yet still crappy, economy.

(4) Need to get over tough losses – have a short memory.
Lose a big deal?  Did a prospect make you jump through numerous hoops and lead you around by the nose just to take your price and shop it to another provider?  Get over it and move on.  Gaffes aside, sometimes these things are inevitable and almost expected to some extent.  Be clear early on in the process and constantly ask, “If I can get done (a), (b), and (c) at that price, DO WE HAVE THE DEAL DONE?”  But you and I know sometimes that’s not even enough, so be mentally tough and roll with the ups and downs.  Move on with a smile and keep swinging for the fence.

(5) Adapt and evolve.
You’re the young phenom that comes up from the minors, throwing 99 mph and striking out batters at an alarming clip.  The scouts all project you as a perennial all-star, and you’re 6 weeks in the league you absolutely tear up the competition.  Then as time goes by, people get a “book” on you and begin knowing your tendencies.  Suddenly you’re losing more than you’re winning and you can’t seem to get anyone out.

If you’re not a baseball fan, you might not even know how common this is.  The ability to adapt and evolve – develop a 3rd and 4th pitch in addition to your fastball and curveball is key.  In sales, the ability to shift tactics to account for changes in your market or industry is vital to any kind of long term success.  If servicing your accounts is part of your job description, how “wide and deep” can you go within an account (sell to other divisions, facilities, or partners?).  It might be better utilization of advancing tools like online social media, lead generation, or web events, or simply changing your approach subtly to take a different tact.  When things cease to grow, you must look look inward first before placing blame or making excuses (not that we do that, right?)…

One Comment
  1. Joe D permalink
    September 21, 2010 5:06 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I think one of the most important things you said is to be mentally tough and to adapt and move on. Sometimes we get so stuck on the one that got away, that we forget there’s plenty more deals out there to be made.

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