A few years ago my son’s little league team was down by one in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two men on base and two outs our next hitter walked to the plate. On his way there Coach Sandro pulled him aside for a last bit of advice. His coaching was simple, he said, “Don’t swing at nothin’ ugly.” And as coach Sandro walked back to his position on the third base line it struck me how profound his advice was when applied to sales.
If you’ve ever played baseball or softball or your kids do, you have witnessed a player chasing a wild pitch – to high, to low, or way out side of the strike zone. The results are predictable and embarrassing. It is sometimes even funny to watch, but most times, the fans, coaches and players just echo a collective groan and wonder to themselves how in the world could he swing at that pitch.
It is no different is sales. Every day salespeople go out on the street and swing at ugly deals. Deals that are unprofitable, unqualified, not in the buying window, don’t have a budget, don’t have an identified decision maker, or because of contracts don’t have the ability to buy. From the outside looking in it is obvious that these low probability, ugly deals will never close and will be a drain on energy, emotions and time. Yet in spite of the obvious signs salespeople forge forward placing these deals in their pipelines and projections, spending endless hours working on ugly deals that will never close. The results are predictable. The vast majority of these salespeople strike out.
Meanwhile, frustrated sales managers look on in dismay pleading with their salespeople to let go of these ugly deals. It is an ongoing battle that is a core part of the sales manager’s job as a coach (just as it is the job of the baseball coach to keep players swinging in the strike zone). In Monday morning sales meetings and one on ones, in their own way, good sales managers coach their sales pros, “Don’t swing at nothin’ ugly.” And sadly, this advice is ignored more often than not.
So what can Sales Professionals do to keep from chasing ugly deals and how can sales managers help them.
First, it is critical that you clearly define the strike zone. Far too many companies and sales organizations have failed to develop the profile of an ideal prospect or customer. This is especially true in small entrepreneurial organizations. But here is a blinding flash of the obvious, if you don’t define the strike zone you will waste a lot of time chasing ugly deals. This process shouldn’t be difficult. Just analyze your best customers, the deals you are closing, and your market place. Then develop a profile of the prospect that is most likely to do business with you and, over the long-term, be a profitable, happy customer.
Next, make a commitment as a team to measure every prospect, deal, and customer against this profile. When they don’t fit, develop the discipline to walk away.
Now I not saying that every deal is going to fit your profile perfectly. This is not how the real world works. In some cases it makes sense to take some risk and swing outside of the strike zone. But there is a difference in taking a risk and chasing an ugly deal. That is where the sales manager plays a key role in discussing the opportunities with her salespeople and helping them make the right call. I also suggest using getting the entire team involved. You’ll find out quickly how powerful analyzing pipelines as a group can be.
And salespeople, you have to pay attention. You are often so close and so committed to the deal that you can’t see the obvious. Trust me on this one, if others are telling you that your deal is ugly – it is ugly.
The end goal is to keep your pipeline full of viable, qualified deals that have a high probability of closing. When you do your pay check will get bigger, you will have more fun, and ultimately you will have more time to spend on other things in your life.
This week when you hit the phones, get in your cars, or board airplanes to meet with prospects and customers remember Coach Sandro’s words, “Don’t swing at nothin’ ugly”