Baseball: The Best Sales Training I Ever Had

Working in the sales and outsourced sales management world, I am often asked about sales training. I have been working with sales teams for 17 years, and have been through and have run a variety of sales training programs. So, it is usually pretty quick in the process when I get asked about the value of sales training and what I think is best. There are a great variety of sales training methods out there, starting with the Dale Carnegie courses (what salesperson at some point in their career hasn’t been asked to read “How to Win Friends and Influence People?) and going through the 12 point sales process “invented” by the latest great sales trainer.

My favorite sales training?

That’s easy: my years playing competitive baseball.

So how can baseball be a training ground for sales success you ask? What the heck does hitting a round ball with a round bat have to do with my company selling widgets? One might ask what the latest and greatest 12 point, pre-planned sales training will do to help your sales team, which sells differently than any other in the world (but why people keep buying training that is already laid out and does not take into account the unique nature of your sales team is topic for another discussion at another time).

It has been said by almost everybody that hitting a baseball is the single most difficult thing to do in sports. If you are lucky enough to fail only 70% of the time at it, chances are that one day you will be giving a speech in Cooperstown as you are enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Heck, you may find yourself on a Wheaties box one day too!

How can someone spend 20 years of their life traveling around the country, knowing that the odds are against their success every time they get up to do their job? What can possibly motivate this person to continue to say, “This time, I’m gonna do it!” knowing that most likely they won’t? Baseball players do this every day…salespeople do this every day too.

Think about it, in a typical day, a salesperson may reach out to 100 people. Of those 100, a good 85 will most likely completely ignore you, not even answering your phone call but allowing you to leave a voice mail for them so that one day they may call you back. Of the 15 you actually reach, 10 will probably say they don’t need you—now or ever—and a few may even hang up on you. The last 5 are the ones that really matter. Some days, all five may schedule appointments with you, place an order, or maybe even give you business right on the spot. It is the five, not the 95 that you are in sales for.

Good salespeople and good baseball players have one specific trait in common that helps them be successful—the ability to have long memories about what they do well and short memories about the negative. Sometimes this can be difficult, so I take a trick I learned from watching New York Yankees great Don Mattingly during my baseball playing days and apply it to my sales life. Mattingly said his best way to avoid long slumps was to take the entire 600+ at bat season and break it down into 10 at bat increments. His goal? To get 3 hits in those 10 at bats. When he got his 3 hits or had 10 at bats, he would start over, reviewing what went right (he may have gotten 3 hits in 3 at bats or 0 hits in 10 at bats) learning what went wrong and then moving on to the next set of 10. This allowed him to not get too high on the good or too low on the bad; knowing that it was a long season that by nature will have peaks and valleys.

I have applied this same attitude to sales teams, having them look at 10 contact increments. We set a goal to speak to three people out of every 10 calls we made, and one meeting scheduled from the 3 we talked to. Now this may not seem like much, but it is a very aggressive goal. Getting three people to talk to you out of every 10 calls doesn’t seem too bad, but getting one of three to meet with you? Now that is a bit tough.

Much like baseball, there are certain things you can’t control. You try to hit the ball hard every time but sometimes, major league fielders will catch the ball no matter how hard you hit it. With salespeople, it is the dreaded voice mail. No matter how good you are feeling or how great you may sound, you will get a bunch of voice mails. You can increase the chances of getting an appointment from those 10 calls, however, by leaving a strong message—I call this developing a relationship with the client’s voice mail.

So 10 calls at a time, which should usually take about an hour. Look at what’s working and what you feel you should adjust. Learn from them and then forget them as it is on to the next 10.

Who knows, this may just get you to Yankee Stadium…or business with your ideal prospects!

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5 Responses to “Baseball: The Best Sales Training I Ever Had”

  1. Baseball: The Best Sales Training I Ever Had « Hot Sales Strategies « Sales Training Says:

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  3. Welcome to February Everyone, the Month Known for Love and the Hope of an Early Spring! « Randolph Sterling 2.0 Says:

    […] have always found that playing a game where even the best fail 7 out of 10 times has been great preparation for a career in sales. It has allowed me to learn from everything I do as there is always room for improvement in the […]

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