Hit a Sales Grand Slam with Lessons from Moneyball

Sabermetrics and SalesHave you read the bestseller, Moneyball or seen the movie version starring Brad Pitt? It’s about Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s, and his attempt to bring analytical rigor to a sport which prides itself as “traditional."

Baseball - America's national pastime since the 1850s - is nothing if not traditional. The only technology allowed in the Baseball dugout is the telephone used to call relief pitchers in the bullpen. While other sports have tried variations of instant replay for decades now, Baseball resists that for the most part.

Baseball is also full of superstitions. The famous "Curse of the Bambino" supposedly kept the Boston Red Sox from winning a World Series for nearly a century. Quirky rituals, diets, lifestyles are tolerated in baseball, even expected. 

Against this background, Moneyball focuses on the tension that arises from Beane’s attempt to introduce to his team the discipline of Sabermetrics, a quantitative way of evaluating player performance. Coaches, scouts, and players didn’t need no stinkin’ analytical rigor or new metrics, however. While his approach has influenced a new generation of managers and coaches in other teams, plenty continue to rely on older metrics.

I watched a webinar by Daniel Pink, a best selling author and Linda Crawford, EVP & GM Sales Cloud at Salesforce.com and had the feeling I was watching a slightly nuanced version of Moneyball. Every few minutes their talk questioned some “accepted” practice in the sales function. Some of their comments included:

  • With information increasingly ubiquitous, we have moved from a world of Buyer Beware to Seller Beware
  • Customers are coming in much later in the sales cycle, so skip the early “educational” steps so many sales teams have been coached to rely upon
  • Product knowledge increasingly trumps relationship selling
  • Elevator pitches are passé. Pitch with questions
  • The best salespeople serve first, sell next
  • Selling is less about solving a customer’s known problems. It’s more about helping a customer see a problem they don’t see.
  • Old wife’s tale – extroverts make the best salespeople
  • Highly leveraged sales compensation models actually make difficult collaborative team selling
  • Don’t just talk about analytical, mobile, social technology in your selling. Make each part of your own sales approach.

I encourage you to watch the webcast and hear some of the other provocative observations each made.

Analytics and Sales: A Home Run?

Surely the sales function cannot aspire to ever being so analytical? In the last decade, sophisticated sales force automation, partner management, recruiting and compensation management systems have created plenty of quantitative data for most companies to mine. And as Daniel notes, there is growing academic and other social science analysis of the psychographics of selling.

Besides, look what a decade has done in sports since Moneyball was written. I was at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference this year. Sophisticated analytics have spread across all aspects of sports. Mark Cuban, owner of Basketball's Dallas Mavericks described how his team doctors use player genetic markers to identify the most appropriate anti-inflammatories.

Paraag Marthe, COO of the San Francisco 49ers described the location analytics he is planning at their new stadium to allow fans to find their friends and for redefined, potentially mobile vending stations. There were sessions on ticketing analytics, injury analytics, fan analytics, and social analytics leveraging a wide range of sciences and technologies.

The New ABC of Selling

And look at how the sales function has already evolved in two decades. Daniel Pink described his ABC approach to selling – in his vernacular it translates to Attuned, Buoyancy, and Clarity. But it powerfully contrasts to the same acronym the Alec Baldwin character uses in the 1992 movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. ABC to him stood for “Always Be Closing” and showed the previous generation's high pressure, even sleazy salesperson.

Now, imagine with Daniel and Linda’s vision how the sales function will rapidly evolve in the next decade.

Vinnie Mirchandani, writes books and blogs on how technology is helping us innovate work, life and play. He has a keen eye for “ahas” across industries and countries and his blog New Florence. New Renaissance. catalogs over 500 entries a year on innovative projects, products, places and people.

For more, be sure to check out the free webinar, "To Move Others and Sell More with Daniel Pink" in its entirety.

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