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Sales Lessons from Baseball What the worst ever baseball collapse teaches us By Joe Ungemah In game 4 of the American League Champion Series in 2004, the New York Yankees led the American League Champion Series 3-0 against Boston Red Sox, but lost in what is widely seen as the biggest ever choke in baseball history. Sales teams could draw some lessons. Apart from an exceptional few, successful sporting teams or companies rarely dominate the competition for long. This may be leadership issues (witness the US Ryder Cup team’s fall from grace) or because management is blind to the destructive dynamics at work within their teams. Examples in business abound here – anything from Enron to Lehman Brothers – and cricketer Kevin Pietersen’s recent autobiography offers some good examples in sport too. Despite a great run of successes under coach Joe Torre in the nineties, in 2004 the Yankees suffered their most embarrassing collapse. Their rivals, Boston Red Sox became the first team in MLB history to lose the first three games and win the next four to win a seven-game series, take the championship and qualify for the World Series. Once things did take a turn for the worse, the Yankees failed spectacularly. “The series obviously turned in that Game 4,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Then the momentum started going their way and we just couldn’t hold ‘em off.” As with baseball, so with sales. Many B2B sales teams the world over may find themselves in a similar position to the Yankees in 2004, and sales managers could be as unaware as the Yankees management were of what’s about to happen. Sales is Changing CEB research shows that B2B sales in particular has become harder and more complex in recent years. Customers have access to so much more information that they are, on average, already 57% of the way through the purchasing process before they contact a supplier. Not only that but the decision to purchase a business product or service now requires sign-off from far more people than it once did. Sales teams must manage this often disparate group of colleagues from multiple functions and regions, some of whom rarely come into contact and many of whom don’t share the same business goals or objectives. When these dysfunctional buying groups struggle to find common ground for a “yes” decision, they default to the lowest price as their main consideration. So sales cycles now take longer and often yield less revenue at a time when the shareholders and senior executives demand a return to pre-recession levels of growth. Much like the New York Yankees in 2004, there are many sales teams whose methods rely too much on what worked in the past, not what’s most likely to work in the future. Four Steps for Sales Managers For example, 82% of sales teams still depend on a strong adherence to set processes, clear lines of authority, and prioritization of short-term business. None of this will make it easier for sales staff to deal with a less predictable group of customers. On top of that, this new type of selling requires different skills and a different outlook. Senior sales managers say that, on average, 34% of their representatives won’t be able to change their approach. So it’s clear that many B2B sales teams must look at themselves and make some changes before it’s forced upon them. In particular they should do four things: 1. Revisit the Sales Model Instead of exhorting teams to work ever harder on techniques that have worked in the past, re-evaluate your go-to-market model and make sure the right people are working on the most relevant opportunities. 2. Understand Sales Success Instead of assuming you understand what behaviors are most likely to result in sales success, use an objective sales competency model to predict sales performance. 3. Motivate and Engage Staff Properly Instead of relying on manager intuition or simple financial incentives to motivate sales people, use motivation assessments and employee surveys to discover what motivates them individually. 4. Benchmark Performance Instead of assuming you know what will work, and how good your sales people are, use objective benchmarking data to understand where your ’star players’ are, and whether they’re likely to leave. SSE Joe Ungemah is Vice President and Head of the Leadership Practice at CEB. Connect Joe Ungemah Visit www.executiveboard.com Email joe.ungemah@shl.com sales and service excellence essentials presented by HR.com | 03.2015 Submit your Articles 2131


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