Play Ball

Edition: April 2002 - Vol 10 Number 04
Article#: 1214
Author: Lea Sharp

Why is it that some sales reps always seem to keep signing deal after deal with relative ease, while others struggle just to get a contract signed? Does it mean that the rep who doesn't have as many signed contracts is just lazy? Not at all. Chances are, he's working at least as hard as – maybe harder than – the rep who seemingly has a plethora of new customers. So, what's the difference? Perhaps the more successful rep has a structured plan of action, a game plan. How do you come up with such a plan? For an idea, let's look at America's National pastime – Baseball.

To win at baseball you need to do a lot of things well: throw, hit, catch, run. Sounds simple. But consider this: Just putting a bunch of people out on a baseball field and having them throw, hit, catch and run doesn't mean there's a baseball game going on. It's just a lot of unstructured activity leading nowhere. At best, it's a bunch of folks getting some exercise.

Similarly, a mediocre sales rep gets out on the field of business and does some networking and calling, but not a whole lot happens. There's no process; it's all random. No game is being played. No plan is being executed.

The Structure and Rules of the Game
Robert Middleton, president of Action Plan Marketing, Palo Alto, CA, has developed such a plan, patterned after baseball. It's called “MarketingBall.'' The object is to start from home plate (where you don't have a customer), then circle the bases and return home with a new customer. As in baseball, you must touch each and every base before getting to home plate. If you miss a base, you're out of the game. Here are the steps Middleton recommends for increasing your customer base:

1. Home Plate Objective - You have identified your marketing message as well as your potential customers. You can't play ball until you are crystal clear about what and to whom you are selling. This sets the foundation for everything that follows. Who are your ideal customers? What problems or issues are they facing? What results are they looking for? What is it about you and your product that is going to interest them and make them remember you?

2. First Base Objective - The prospective customer knows you exist. You have their attention and interest and they want to know more. To get from home plate to first base, you need to get the attention of the prospective customer. An attention-getting message will make them want to know more. In those first critical minutes of contact, tell the potential customer what's in it for him or her. Give him a reason to want to listen to you. Don't talk about yourself and what you can do; talk instead about him or her.

3. Second Base Objective - The potential customer sees you as a possible help and has identified both a need and a want that you might be able to fulfill. At this point, you and she are ready to explore working together. To get from first base to second base, you need to give the potential customer more information. This way, he or she will be willing to meet with you and discuss his or her needs. This is your chance to educate him about your product and how it will add value to his business. You want to build a case for your solution – that is, the purchase of your product.

4. Third Base Objective - You and the customer have agreed that working together is the right thing to do. The conceptual sale has been made. Now you're ready to finalize the deal. Getting from second base to third is the whole "selling conversation." This is where you talk and LISTEN to the prospective customer and determine his or her needs. You explain more about what your product does, and you present ideas and solutions. You work at coming to a conceptual agreement about how your product can help the prospective customer. It is important at this step to listen to him or her and see if he or she actually will benefit from what you are selling. It is here that trust enters the game. But be careful, because it is also here that many get tagged out.

5. Home Plate Objective [$core]- You have an agreement and are ready to sign the deal. Getting from third base to home plate involves negotiating and wrapping up the deal. You're not done until you've put together a proposal and gotten an agreement from the customer to purchase your product. The key is to structure an agreement that will ensure that the expectations of the customer are met. It is here that the foundation for future 'runs' is set.

6. Dugout Objective - You have proven yourself to your customer and taken care of his or her needs, so that they will refer clients to you in the future. After you round the bases, you return to the dugout. In this analogy, the dugout is where you take care of your client after the sale. Performing for the client means all the big things, such as doing a great job and adhering to the highest standards of excellence and integrity. It also means paying attention to the little things, such as returning calls, staying in communication and handling problems immediately. The work you do in the dugout is often the most important step of all in achieving continued success. If you don't meet or exceed customer expectations, you'll never gain the momentum that comes from word-of-mouth referrals.

Making an Out
Success in sales, as in baseball, is never assured. Here are three sure-fire ways to get tagged out:

1. Skip bases. Trying to advance directly from home to second without rounding first is like trying to advance directly to the appointment and selling conversation without passing through the information base of your sales plan. Yet a lot of cold callers do just that, as well as those who meet someone in a networking session. It is usually a big mistake. You may have the prospect's attention, but you don't yet have their trust. By providing more information, you warm up the prospect. You prove that you're credible and successful. If you try to hurry and get to second base too quickly, you'll wind up out of the game before you know what hit you.

2. Steal third directly from first. This is like skipping the sales process altogether and jumping directly to the proposal or the close. Everyone has done it, whether it was while shopping for a car or buying a shrub for the back yard. Before the prospect has time to warm up to what is being offered, the salesperson is rushing to the close. Running doesn't get that prospect away from the rep fast enough. The lesson here is that you need to be patient, listen to your prospect's needs, give him or her more information and then move naturally to the proposal or close. Proceed at the prospective customer's pace, not yours.

3. Go home directly from second. By skipping the proposal or close, the rep misses the chance to confirm understanding, work out the fine details and handle any final objections. Again, you need to go at a pace that works for the prospect. Sometimes the cycle is longer than you'd like, but if you try to push it too fast, you'll be tagged out once again.

Continuing Care
Now that you've gotten to home base and you've arrived at a solid agreement to sell your product to your new customer, the work begins for you to perform well and take care of his or her needs. Don't skip going to the dugout. Taking care of your new customer is vital to your continued success at scoring those runs – and those dollars.


Editor's Note: Robert Middleton is founder of Action Plan Marketing where he has been helping independent professionals attract more clients since 1984. Middleton can be reached at: Action Plan Marketing; 378 Cambridge Avenue/Suite B; Palo Alto, CA 94306 or by email: