Baseball as a Road to Sales
Take a snapshot and you will capture a moment in time. Unless you are taking pictures of an apple, these images occur only in that instance and never again. The next moment yields a different result and, in the blink of a camera’s eye, everything has changed.
So, if the question posed to a print sales rep was, “How you doin’?” the answer is just that, a snapshot: “Great day of prospecting! I pulled in a number of good leads. Probably made 25 calls in total.” Ask the same question a day later and the Polaroid develops differently: “I’ve got a number of orders in the hopper and a bunch more that are ready to close. It’s going to be chaotic!” A sales rep’s day is rarely balanced, where there is a little prospecting, a little opportunity development and a little order-entry.
To keep it all straight, you’d need a scorecard. Okay, let’s see what that would look like. Is it possible to keep score of sales activity in a way that is helpful to the rep as a “Where am I?” guide and to a manager as a “What’s coming up?” guide?
Imagine a baseball diamond. You are the pitcher. Looking over at third base, you see a crowd of people in various states of readiness. Some have money in their hands and others are busy doing something other than thinking about heading home. Stepping off the rubber (so as not to balk, naturally), you check on the runners standing on second. They look lost. All of them. A glance at first makes you squint in confusion. You can see the faint outlines of people on base but no one is clear enough to identify. Finally, stepping back on the rubber, you peer to the catcher and see not just a batter but a line of batters behind that one. Some look indifferent while others appear anxious and ready.
This is madness. What’s going on here? Who’s on first? What’s on second? And if asked about the crowd on third, you’d likely respond, “I don’t know” and be perfectly justified in saying so. Who are those people? And yet this is the perfect snapshot to see the balance of sales activity if you understand the meaning behind it all:
Third Base — This represents the next 30 days’ worth of orders that you will write. This can be a combo platter of existing clients with repeat orders or new customers with new orders. Hopefully, you are looking at a large crowd! These are quoted orders that need to be closed. Some will need negotiating, and others are just awaiting a follow up call.
Second Base — Here, you’ve stashed all identified opportunities. That is, these are projects that are likely to impact your sales three to six months out, but right now they are in the talking stage. So, let’s say a client tells you they have a new product being released in the coming year and they will want your help in designing the collateral material at some point down the road. They go on second.
Or maybe a prospect who you finally get on the phone indicates that their contract with another vendor expires in October. Both of these opportunities should be sent to second. (Note to managers: This is where you should be paying the most attention!)
Let’s skip first base for a second and look toward home plate …
At Bat — This one is easy. Standing at the plate and awaiting word from you are the prospects you are currently trying to contact. Every ball thrown represents a voicemail, email, drop by or some other attempt at gaining an appointment. A number of things can come of this.
First, your efforts result in a flat out “NO!” for whatever reason. Strike out! That sends the prospect back to the dugout. Or perhaps you succeed in getting them on the phone and you discover that the future opportunity exists. That’s a solid double! They get to go right to second base. In the unlikely event that you are given the chance to bid on something, third base awaits. But …
First Base — Let’s say you are calling on a prospect and despite the fact that you don’t get them in during your multiweek, multistep, multimedium prospecting process (you do have one of those, don’t you?), you believe that there is an opportunity there that should not be ignored. You feel so strongly about this, in fact, that you intend to call on them again in the weeks and/or months ahead in the hopes that your efforts will be rewarded eventually.
These are the kinds of accounts inhabiting first base. You can only see their outline from the mound because they have not really been identified as hard possibilities, but they are showing all the signs. Ideally, a sales rep has somewhere between 75 to 125 inhabitants at first.
So, lining these customers and prospects up, you get a good view of your current status. In addition, this kind of visual allows you to see which areas of your business need the most attention. For example, if third base is packed and second base is empty, you can expect a good run of business followed by a few months of sales numbers reminiscent of “Bueller? ... Bueller?” And if second and third are occupied exclusively by existing customers but first is empty, there is no one at bat, and the dugout is empty, too much reliance is being placed on existing accounts. Salespeople get a snapshot of where they are, and managers have something to discuss in one-on-one meetings.
Balance. In a perfect sales world, there is balance. A steady flow of orders cross the plate and there are clients right behind with new opportunities, followed by leads from previous sales efforts and a line of new prospects with bats in hand, just waiting for your pitch. A perfect balance is not the goal because it is not realistic. Get close to it, though, by spending some time with a blank pad of paper and four columns. Make several attempts to get it all down on paper (or in a spreadsheet) and then revisit it once a week at a minimum. In other words, keep score.
Who’s on first? Who’s on second? Maybe this makes sense to you. Maybe you believe laying out your own baseball diamond would help illustrate your current sales status and allow your manager to predict what is coming up. Or maybe you read all of this and say, “I just don’t give a darn!”
Oh. That’s our shortstop! PI