Sales Leadership Is Just Like Baseball
Updated: Feb 17
I’m a big baseball fan, so, naturally, I’m watching the World Series. I’m pretty excited. I love a good game, and this year’s playoffs and first games of the Series didn’t disappoint. So many moments of tension and triumph.
Baseball is very much like leading a sales force, and a wonderful book that illustrates the links between selling and baseball is Dave Kurlan’s Baseline Selling. I highly recommend it.
Maybe you don’t see baseball like I do, but stay with me anyway. So much about the game can be applied to leading a sales force.
We all know the basic levels of baseball: Little League, high school, college, semi-pro, and the majors, and we can easily recognize the differences between those leagues because the level of play is so very different. If we were to put a high school team on the same field as a young semi-pro team, for example, and weren’t told which team was which, we’d likely be able to spot that semi-pro team a mile away once the game started. Those guys just play better.
But, did you know there are 4 levels of professional baseball before the majors -- short-season A team, full-season A team, AA, and AAA?
By the time players reach this level, they are really, really good at baseball. Spotting differences between them becomes virtually impossible unless you’re a professional scout or otherwise trained to identify how they differ.
Even if you could spot the differences, could you identify why one player is better than another?
The start-off pitcher might have performed better in the game than the relief pitcher, but why? They both have a major league-ready fastball. Are the mechanics of the relief pitcher’s curveball or change-up the reason he lost the game? Maybe it’s his slider. Frankly, that’s a keen eye that most fans don’t have.
That same inability to recognize small differences between salespeople and understand why they are happening is likely occurring in your sales organization.
Most sales leaders can easily differentiate between salespeople who are low-performing and those who are elite. Their numbers speak for themselves. What’s hard is differentiating between two low-performing salespeople.
Based on statistics from my partner organization, Objective Management Group, a sales force will typically have:
5-6% of their sales force classified as “elite” salespeople.
23% who are “top” salespeople.
The remaining 71% classified as “low” salespeople.
A typical sales leader looks at their team and can differentiate between “top” and “low” performers but usually isn't able to explain why their results are what they are. They can point to sales numbers and activity, but those aren't reasons as much as differing results.
Coaching up is extremely difficult when you can’t identify why a salesperson isn’t performing.
Consider these 3 low-performing salespeople:
Salesperson 1 has a full pipeline, but despite all of the opportunities, his win-rate is terrible.
Salesperson 2 has a nearly empty pipeline but closes most of the opportunities she does have.
Salesperson 3 has a poor pipeline - halfway between persons 1 and 2 - but most opportunities get stuck and don't move through to closure.
You might say that #1 is a successful hunter but a terrible closer.
You might say that #2 is a successful closer but is not a hunter.
You might say that #3 just isn’t cut out for sales at all.
But, do you know why this is so?
If you don’t know why, you’ll likely start chasing your tail, ordering these struggling reps to new seminars and training on prospecting and closing that will accomplish nothing because their sales DNA, will to sell, and sales skill sets are really what’s responsible for their results.
It’s like not being able to identify the pitcher’s struggling curveball and change-up and sending him to a batting clinic or motivational speaker on the importance of teamwork and hoping he’ll start winning baseball games. It won’t work. The solution just doesn’t line up with the problem.
Identifying differences is only half the battle -- in sales and in baseball.
If your salespeople are struggling and you can’t figure out why, give us a call.