Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Does Being an Athlete Help You in Business?

September 12, 2010

I recently read a forum question on LinkedIn asking this, so I wanted to share my answer with all of our readers. Being an athlete growing up has definitely helped me not just as a professional, but as a grown adult. I played baseball growing up and still play softball and basketball today. As a sales professional, baseball taught me that by playing a sport where “greatness” still means that you will fail 7 out of 10 times, you still have to always go up to the plate (whether that plate is the start of your day, a meeting with your boss, a presentation, etc.) understanding that failure is a possibility, but not something to dwell on. It also taught me to always be ready to learn from success as well as failure. Have I always been successful in baseball? Well, since I’m sure none of you have a baseball card with my name and statistics on it, let’s just say that the things I learned playing baseball have served me for much longer in the boardroom than on the field.

While baseball has some great team elements, a lot of it is one on one, you against the pitcher. Basketball, however, has helped me become even more of a team player and I have added that to my business life. Basketball is not just about scoring, but about playing defense, passing, and doing the little things that make your team win. That same attitude helps our team at work be successful as we each help each other out and help each other to grow.

I never was a great basketball player growing up, so I never played on an organized team. I was always tall, but I think the uneven surface on the basketball court in the park behind my house growing up caused some difficulty picking up good ball handling skills and that hurt my confidence in playing. I never really played until I was in my mid 20’s when I used to go with my brother in law, Bob, and his best friend, Frank, to the Rutgers University gym to play in some pick up games. It was there that I learned that I could be an effective teammate by setting picks, playing good defense, and rebounding. It helped that Frank always had a good jump shot so he would pick up the scoring slack. I soon noticed that the teams I played on won more often than not and usually the guy I guarded (not used to someone playing defense and taking pride in it) didn’t score too much. I had become a good teammate, even if I wasn’t the top scorer.

All of those skills help me today as President of Randolph Sterling, Inc. and I think that team attitude and the desire to constantly learn and grow has permeated the culture at work as well as to our clients. We will always try to do better, to do more and learn more for our clients. Will we be perfect? Probably not. But, we will always work to do our best and to learn as much from those ground balls to second base as we do from the great successes we have for our clients.

Spring, Baseball, and Sales

May 23, 2010

It looks as though spring may have finally sprung in Chicago after a long wait. Of course, I was playing softball last Monday night and we were still factoring in a wind chill. At least it should be warmer in Raleigh, where daytime highs are already hitting 90. Thinking about our softball team (which hopefully any day now will start playing to its potential) always reminds me of how glad I am that I started playing baseball as a kid, as it has been a great help for a career in sales. Other than weatherman, professional ball player, and salesperson, what professions are there where you can you fail 70% of the time and be considered the best in the business? I certainly don’t want a brain surgeon who has those success rates…heck, I don’t want a chef with those success rates!  Every call you make, just like every at bat in a game, the law of averages shows will not be successful. In both the baseball and the sales profession, if you go in thinking this time will probably be one of the 70% that does not work out, I am pretty sure you will be correct.

So what is it that both of these professions have in common cause people to keep doing them, other than the potential to make a lot of money? First and foremost, it is a positive attitude, the belief that you will succeed. I was watching Bull Durham for probably the 100th time over the weekend. In one of the last scenes, young phenom “Nuke” LaLoosh has just gotten called up to the majors and he is in the locker room preparing to leave as his mentor “Crash” Davis walks in. (Now that I think about it, maybe that is what the sales industry needs, more nicknames!) Davis tells him that while he might not be successful when he first gets to “The Show,” the key to his success is “fear and arrogance.” What he means is that he has to know in his heart that he is good—better than his competition no matter if he just struck the last guy out or he hit a home run. It is the same thing in sales. The last guy may not have needed your product or service, heck, he may have even hung up on you, but the next call is a new opportunity to show what you have to the right person. Go get ‘em!

March Madness: On the Court and at the Office

March 18, 2010

I was walking through the airport this morning and as I was going through security I overheard a few guys talking. “Duke is looking strong,” one of the men waiting to be screened said. “Nah, Kansas is going all the way!” Immediately I knew that these guys were not talking grad school here because it is that day that so many people wait all winter for…the first day  of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament…March Madness!

Being a fan of warmer weather myself (if you have been reading this blog, it has been well documented how “done” I am with snow and winter!) I usually look at March Madness as the perfect appetizer to the upcoming baseball season, when I spend many an evening over the next several months before going to bed finding out two very important things: (1) Did my Yankees win? & (2) Did the dreaded Red Sox lose?

March Madness has led to another thing that has become an annual tradition—sitting here just hours before the first game and realizing that I did not fill out my NCAA brackets!

My plan is simple, pull out the bracket the Monday before and pick my teams for the one or two pools I plan on joining (since readership of my blog is growing and you never know if the FBI is monitoring to crack down on $5 office pools, I will allow to remain nameless the people who run these pools). I always plan on getting my picks in on Wednesday after thinking about which upsets are going to happen in the early rounds and which top seeds are going all the way. After all, after watching 2 or 3 games over the winter and listening to sports talk radio in Chicago and Raleigh, I qualify as an expert, right?

This year there is a good reason why I am not participating in a pool: we just got too busy at work and I completely forgot to fill out my brackets. I know, balance is the key and the $50 or so I could have won would really have gone a long way, but with the amount of work we have been seeing lately during this economic recovery, things have been just nuts lately.

We are seeing many companies focusing on new business and business process lately, in all areas of the economy.

  • Manufacturing firms looking to increase business by having us develop new relationships with companies that previously were working with a competitor who has since gone out of business; or by developing processes so that their product is a “lower hanging fruit” for manufacturers’ reps to sell their products and 5 or 6 others.
  • Staffing firms, especially temporary staffing, has been on a huge rise as companies are finding projects that were put off in 2009 are now critical in 2010 but they just don’t want to hire back full time staff to do the work. Their account executives have been so busy keeping current clients happy and solving problems (when your “product” is a person, you will be amazed the issues that arise) that they simply do not have the time to reach out to the newer prospects. Our inside sales teams in both Raleigh and Chicago are seeing more and more firms contracting with us to provide that initial relationship development as their salespeople just don’t have the time to make 100 calls a day to prospects.
  • Marketing firms looking to expand their reach by partnering with us to provide solutions to firms who understand that sales and marketing should be working together for optimal success
  • Plumbing companies who are providing new services to clients—have you ever heard of Hydro-Excavation? Google “Hydro Excavation in Chicago” and you will find a video by C.J. Erickson Plumbing which will show their hydro excavator in action
  • Associations who are looking to increase advertising and sponsorship revenue
  • Trade show companies interested in increasing the return on their clients’ investment of the trade show by working with us to follow up on the leads they get at shows. Do you have any idea how many of those leads actually get followed up on? We found research saying about 30%, however one of our clients said their research showed it was more like 10%…10%? That means 9 out of 10 people they are currently meeting do not receive any type of follow up at all. We can make a pretty good impact on their bottom line by reaching out to those people and discerning the prospects from the people who stopped by the booth for the giveaways only.

March Madness indeed, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We have continued to increase our staff to not only keep up with growing client demands, but also to allow our staff to continue to grow in their careers. Having “the right people on the bus” is always an important part of how we do things.

We continue to thank our clients for their faith in us and continue to look for more people that we can help, either in outsourcing the inside sales function, assisting with sales management and sales process, or getting them involved in our sales and marketing peer advisory groups.

I guess it was worth missing filling out my NCAA bracket this year; which reminds me of a joke I heard this week from a Duke fan which I will leave you with: “What does the NCAA tournament and a pair of flip flops have in common?   No Heels!”

Randolph Sterling Inc. and Talent Management Solutions Team up to Present a Great Roundtable Event in Durham, North Carolina

October 26, 2009

About six months ago I was approached by my friend, President of Talent Management Solutions, Rob Pulley. He was interested in the two of us collaborating on a seminar about attracting the right sales team for your company and helping them become and maintain being a strong, productive sales force.  Last week we had the opportunity to present this seminar for the first time as sponsors of a roundtable through Business Clubs America of the Triangle, in the conference room of KeySource Bank, overlooking Durham Bulls Athletic Park.  No, there were no Crash Davis sightings, just a strong group of aggressively growing companies looking for an edge in hiring and developing top sales talent.

I love presenting at seminars, but hate preparing for them. Our philosophy at Randolph Sterling, Inc. has always been to provide services and solutions that are the best fits for our clients and prospects based on their needs, so it is always difficult to develop a pre-selected seminar based on what I think is important. This is one of the reasons it was great to work with Rob. Rob had a lot of information that he wanted to present on figuring out what type of salesperson your organization needs and then finding them. It was my job to talk about what you do with them once you have them. This worked out perfectly for me. Rob presented his portion of the seminar and took the group through a series of exercises to help them to determine who an ideal fit was for their sales team. He had charts and graphs outlining different sales and customer types and how he helps to find the right fit for them as they grow. As you can imagine, this left a lot of people with a lot of questions, since you can only do so much when it comes to predicting success (this is often the part of a presentation where I remind people that future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was drafted by the Dodgers in the last round of the 1988 draft as a favor because Mike’s dad was good friends with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, while they drafted pitcher Bill Bene in the first round of the draft. Does anyone know what Bill Bene is doing these days?)  Sometimes you just have to get out on the field and prove yourself.

This is where I get to come in. I kept my portion of the presentation relatively open, with very little pre-planned content and even fewer visual aids. That always works best for me anyway as I always prefer for my presentations to be more conversational in nature and more open to the attendees. Yes, I am presenting and I want to do business with you so I want to put my best foot forward, but you took the time to be there and paid to do it, so I want to make sure you walk away with what you are looking for. I had taken the results of the sales diagnostic test that we provided for the attendees and picked out 6 of the 30+ questions that seemed to be the ones that the most people had questions about. Fortunately, many of these happened to be areas where we best help our clients.

Question 1-do you have a defined lead generation plan for your sales team? The easy answer to this question is yes, of course we do, everyone knows that without lead generation we don’t bring in any new business so we make this a part of our everyday life, whether we have 1 sales rep or 100. As we discussed some of the attendees’ lead generation plans, it was discovered that many did not truly have a plan at all. In fact, most realized that they did not truly focus their salespeople on finding new business. Heck, we are so busy trying to keep our current clients happy and getting work out the door that we don’t have time for it until we slow down—music to my ears!

It is not surprising that this is the philosophy of many sales teams, whether they want to admit it or not. As salespeople get busier, it is always easier to knock on the door of the person who already knows you and likes you, rather than risk rejection by talking to the unknown person behind door number 2. Many salespeople fancy themselves risk takers, but in reality, they will take the safe route on this one. This is why we developed our outsourced sales solutions, so we can provide that type of relationship development service to companies to help keep their sales pipeline filled.

The next question that came up had to do with sales and operational process. While some of the attendees had defined this pretty well, the “norm” was that most really had not. In fact, many of the ones in the room who had a sales team built one out of necessity. They had too much ground to cover so they hired another salesperson. They hadn’t yet taken Rob’s matrix into account and defined their ideal sales profile, nor had they really developed a strong ideal client profile, so they used their gut to hire, usually leaving them with a stable of sales mavericks rather that a team that would truly best fit their growth needs.

This is another of the issues we often tackle when providing our sales management solutions to clients. It is quite a common problem, which is why I like opening these types of seminars up to the attendees to not only bring up these types of issues, but also to discuss how they have handled it before I give my two cents. Sometimes it helps to get an idea for a solution, either internally or externally, after knowing that you are not the only person who is dealing with this same problem.

All in all it was a great event. Attendees walked away with ideas they could apply directly on their own to their business, although many looked at the issues, turned to either Rob or myself depending on their particular issue and said “You deal with it!”

Music to our ears

I Love Sales Training…But Not Another 12 Step Program!!!

September 20, 2009

Living my life in the world of sales, I have been exposed to my share of sales training, so when I started Randolph Sterling, Inc. I wanted to make sure we always had a way where we could help salespeople become better leaders in their field and, overall, hopefully leave the profession stronger than when we entered it. As we began as only a sales management company (before expanding into inside and outside sales and sales peer advisory) many companies asked about our sales training and how many steps our program had.

How many steps? I don’t know, how large is your office from one side to the other? How much walking does the average rep do in their territory?

I was completely confused by this question because I never looked at sales training as a 12 step program. I have heard of 12 step programs, but my understanding (with all due respect to those who have worked so hard to enter and stay on their personal programs) was that they are more for trying to stop doing something rather than learning how to be more effective at doing something.

Sales training, in my humble opinion, is not something that is completed in a set number of steps, but an ongoing process of individual improvement within a team concept. (Note: for those of you new to my blog, this is the time where I remind you how often I compare sales to baseball, so here is the next comparison.)

I look at what we do less as training and more like coaching. Think of a baseball coach. How long do you think the hitting coach would be employed if he said, “OK, day one of spring training all of you are only going to hit the ball to the second baseman. I will spend “X” amount of time with all of you in a group and tell you exactly how to hit to the second baseman so by the end of that time, you should all be able to do it. Tomorrow, we will be trained in hitting home runs. I don’t care if you are 6’5”, 240 lbs or 5’6” and 140 lbs, I will teach you the technique so you can all break Barry Bonds’ home run record.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It is easy to picture a baseball team and realize that you would not train each individual player exactly the same because you can tell just by looking at them that they have different strengths and weaknesses. However, in reviewing many of the sales training programs out on the market, there is an abundance of “one size fits all” programs. Why? Simply put, they are easier to sell. The person who signs off on this training wants to know exactly what they are getting.

When they look at:

  • Week 1—cold calling
  • Week 2—planning for the appointment
  • Week 3—overcoming objections
  • Week 4 and beyond…special topics,

they see that each week, their reps will be learning something. It doesn’t matter if some are already pretty proficient in that particular area or if others need more time on a particular concept, each week they are learning something. By comparison, our inside sales service (which includes a component of training and coaching) takes a different approach to the concept of sales training which was adapted from many different influences but mostly from reading about how the single most successful team in professional sports, the New York Yankees, “train” their players.

When a new player joins the Yankees via trade, free agency, or is drafted into their minor leagues, that person is given about 200 at bats, or roughly 1/3 of a season, to do things “their way.” It is only after this time that the coaches will make any significant changes to the approach that the player takes. The reason for this is so that the player, who conceivably has some decent skills or they wouldn’t be in the organization in the first place, can find their own comfort level and show what they do well and what they may need help on over a decent evaluation period. This also gives the coaches time to better understand the player, his strengths and weaknesses, so they can tailor the coaching they give to get the most out of this person. Yes, there are certain absolutes that come into play once you become a Yankee, much like the certain absolutes that will be in the employee manual of any growing company, but to get the best out of a player, they have found it is best to teach them what they need to be taught rather than what they want to teach them.

Our sales approach is quite similar. We first evaluate the company and hope that they are evaluating us. Are we a good fit for them? Are they the type of company that we will best work with? Then we will do exactly what the Yankees do…watch and learn so we can find the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of the individual reps within their sales system. Once we have understood that, we will tailor our approach to fit the individual and work with them so their time is spent on the areas they need to work on, not in a class going over information that they do not find valuable or buy into.

I hope that this doesn’t sound like I am anti-training. I am not. There are some great training programs out there that fit certain industries and teams. I recommend quite a few of them. But, overall I feel an individual approach is quite more valuable.

Baseball: The Best Sales Training I Ever Had

August 27, 2009

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!

Why Is Promoting a Top Salesperson to Sales Manager a Bad Idea? The Same Reason You Don’t See Barry Bonds Working as a Hitting Coach

August 23, 2009

We work with a lot of successful companies at Randolph Sterling, many of which grow very quickly. One particular company we worked with went from one small office with three sales reps, to four offices with 12 sales reps two years later, to eventually 8 offices with 28 sales reps. The president and vice president of this company had no problem managing one office plus their other duties in running the company. However, when they got up to four offices, it got more difficult as they seemed to be spending all of their time going up and down route 95 traveling between New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC to manage the respective sales teams. When they got to 8 offices, it was just too much for them so what did they do? They promoted the top salesperson in each office to a sales management position.

The plan was a complete failure. The managers, who continued to work their sales territory because the president didn’t want to lose that revenue, continued to grow but everyone else stagnated. Most of the #2 guys in the offices eventually left.

How could this happen? These guys are great reps, they should be able to help these other guys out to be better too, right? A great theory but rarely does it work in practice. The reason why is similar to the reason why many great baseball managers were not the top players of their era—the skills to be successful are different.

Look at long time St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Never a great ballplayer, (a career .199 batting average over 10 years and 132 games played) but his ability to communicate with his players, to study their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the opposition in order to put his team in the best position to be successful, and to work with upper management to communicate what he needs to win championships, allowed him to become one of the winningest managers in major league history. Do you think a guy like Barry Bonds, arguably one of the best hitters in baseball history (we will save my opinion on his alleged steroid use for another time), honed his communication skills to allow him to hit so many home runs?  Guys like that usually have very little patience for the guy at the end of the bench who you may need to call on when a starter gets hurt. Their attitude often is “I could do it so why can’t he?”

The story is many times the same in the sales world. There are some very successful sales managers who have been tops in their company and others that the dual role of sales rep and sales manager very well, but these are rare occasions. When looking to hire a sales manager, think of the skills that you want in that person to be successful…does the top rep have those skills? Does he want the job (and the possibility that he will be making less money?) Is there someone else within the organization who may fit those skills better? Maybe it’s the solid, mid level rep who always takes the new guy out to show him the ropes to make him feel part of the team? Maybe you should outsource some of the sales management functions?

There are several options for this very uniquely skilled position. Take the time to find the right fit, not simply the right now fit.

Setting Goals in Business, Baseball, and Life

July 31, 2009

Every successful person I’ve ever met has been a goal setter. Setting goals gives an individual a sense of purpose and a sense of direction at the same time. A baseball player, for example, must know how to distinguish between appropriate goals and inappropriate goals. Furthermore, he should know that what others expect of him has no place on his list of goals. Without that understanding, his purpose is likely to be counter-productive, and he’s just as likely to head in the wrong direction.

Result goals are not within the hitter’s control, therefore they are inappropriate. It’s all well and good to have the desire to achieve a certain number of hits, home runs, RBI’s and so on, but a hitter can’t dictate what happens to the ball after he hits it. He cannot control the ability of the players trying to get him out or how another team defenses him, but is able to control his thoughts and actions before and during his swing. That’s where his concern and focus should be.

Being well prepared and well conditioned, being relaxed, keeping your eye on the ball, knowing when and how to make adjustments, being able to focus on the immediate task at hand — these are simply stated but formidable goals. They are all behavior goals — and those are the ones a hitter can work on daily. He cannot work on his batting average, which is an end. His behaviors are the means to that end, but even impeccable behavior doesn’t guarantee the result of getting hits.

What goals are appropriate for you? As a sales manager who works with several different companies and a slew of different sales personalities, I ask those that I work with not just to define a goal, but to also identify the steps it takes to achieve that goal. These steps not only help to determine how appropriate the goal is, but get the goal setter to think about what type of person he/she needs to become in order to achieve those goals.

One client set a goal of gaining 2 new clients which would result in an additional $10,000 of new business each month. When identifying what he needed to do to get there, he came to the realization that he needed to better organize his day; which started with getting into the office on time and calling 5 potential clients between 8:30 and 9:30 AM—the time he usually reserved for watching SportsCenter after dropping the kids off at school. Those 5 calls a day lead to 3 additional meetings a week, which lead to 2 new clients a month and an additional $10,000 of new business. While the result was what was hoped for, the real achievement was that the client now had learned how to organize his day and was better able to truly help his clients–which had as much or more to do with the new clients as the additional phone calls did. He took those skills and made them a regular part of his life; now having the ability to spend more time with his family and to enjoy the fruits of his hard work.

By becoming that better person, you, too, will find success, no matter how many home runs you hit.

Are You A Goal Setter?(polls)