Sales plays a big role in baseball and baseball plays a big role in sales. So this week and next my blogs relate sales with baseball. Why?
Next week our DFW Phillies team returns to Phoenix to play in the MSBL World Series.
We play in stadiums MLB teams build for their spring training. This is like flying in smooth air after a full season of turbulence caused by irregular recreational field playing surfaces.
It’s like traveling to make a sales call in a foreign city. You you spend a full day or more with just one client, one sales call. It’s such a big deal, it’s worth it.
I considered those trips vacations, and I consider this one, too.
Our team plays only in divisions that specify wood bats. No aluminum for these purists. Wood bats, leather gloves, horsehide balls, dirt infields, grass outfields, pitcher’s mounds, batters’ boxes, umpire teams in black, nine innings. Baseball.
It’s kind of like saying, our sales team makes 100% in person face to face outside calls with our clients at their offices. We establish personal relationships with them as much as possible.
Last year in our age group’s wood bat division alone, we competed against 32 teams from all over the nation and the world – Australia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada.
Somewhat like today’s online inside sales arena.
We play nine, nine-inning games in six days to determine the champion. Last year we came up short in the Final championship game.
This year due to the Covid pandemic, we only face a dozen teams in our division.
But we’re out there playing – pitching, hitting, running, sliding, scoring, winning, losing and building memorable friendships and team solidarity.
This year, sales professionals have dealt with sea-change operational modifications to continue doing commerce.
And sales professionals are out there calling, emailing, delivering demos, leading and attending webinars – selling.
It reminds me of the esprit de corps among the ranks of several sales teams I’ve been on. We worked together, competed with each other, helped each other, celebrated with each other, won huge victories, suffered great losses.
On the side for fun, I’ve created a totally subjective ability to see how another person would be if they were a member of the animal kingdom instead of human.
When you know someone so well that you know exactly what kind of animal they would be, you really know them, inside and out.
I know a seagull, a cheetah, a few lions, an arctic fox, a bull, a gooney bird, an otter, and many other colorful examples of fin, fur or fowl.
Since I was six I’ve seen myself as a solitary animal; a lone wolf or, in the if-humans-were-animals game, a north American mountain lion.
But the highlights of my life have been on teams: relay teams, track teams, baseball teams, sales teams.
Each time I joined a new sales team I freely admit that not only was I the rookie, I was the lightweight.
On each track team and baseball team I joined, it was pretty much the same way.
In both cases, this made me knuckle down and work my butt off to feel like I deserved the right to be there.
Fortunately that attitude combined with that work ethic often ended up delivering positive results that boosted my sales career – and made some good money.
And as anyone on any one of those teams will attest, in no way, shape, nor form did I enter that competitive postion any higher than at the bottom.
At the ring ceremony to award our (my first) World Series champion rings, as our team manager prepared to hand me mine, he quite aptly commented, “And this next guy – I hear all these people coming up to me saying, “Most Improved Player,’ most improved player … Well I guess that may be true, but only because when he first came out he was so damned Bad … all he could do was improve!”
I take pride in my belief a decade later that today I might rank as high as not-the-worst-outfielder-in-the-league.
Then one afternoon this year I had an other-woprld experience in left field. I made every catch, some catches I could not believe I made. I had no idea how I made them. And it happened several times throughout the game.
The next day it happened several times again. It was like some long gone hall of fame ballplayer got to come back and play, using my body. Because those circus catches were made by someone, but I can’t swear it was me.
And there were times I felt that way in sales. I’d be working my butt off, early morning, late at night, weekends, thinking, working, figuring out the most efficient and most effective angles to try. And I’d sell half as much as several others on the sales team.
And then the dam would break – letting my ships sail in.
Like the time one little five person company I was with was about to close shop when I brought in one check that paid all the bills that month. After that, everything came in and worked out great. But that one tight spot could have sunk the ship.
Or the time more recently when I called on, closed and delivered with cash payment up front – all within one month’s time – a three-year contract with a brand new client that put our company over its number for the entire third quarter.
Our CEO texted me, “Bob! This is out of the park! This is David Ortiz!”
Even more meaningful was the phone call I received from our COO. He told me that becasue my deal came in and put the entire company over the top on the last day of the quarter, he was going to go home early and take his two daughters trick-or-treating. That meant as much to me as the BIggus Dealus itself.
I have a number of pictures of sales teams I’ve been proud to be on, like this one below:
And they mean the world to me.
I also have pictures of baseball: batting, hitting the ball, sliding into bases, running on base or in the outfield, but those pictures don’t give nearly the feeling I get when I look at this one below:
I see that and think how I feel when I look into the dugout and observe it in person. “That’s our team; my team. Those are our guys; my guys; my friends.”
I’ll never forget the season when we weren’t doing so well in the Series tournament. We were trying to come back late in one game from an early eight run deficit. If we didn’t win that game it was going to be very difficult to make the playoffs.
I had not hit well all tournament. Two of my friends came over as I was in the hole warming up and sincerely said, “Bob, you’ve got to get a hit.” Of course, that kind of thing never happens in baseball, unless it’s serious.
I walked over to my gear bag and silently studied the dugout bench. I thought, “These guys are my friends. They’re out here beating themselves to death to try to win this game to get us in the playoffs and I haven’t been helping. I can’t let them down. I have got to get a hit.”
When I went to the plate I was super focused. I read the pitcher and his pitches, then jumped on a good one. I hit it so hard it was a worm-burner line drive that slammed into the pitcher’s ankle, knocked him over and put him out of the game.
I was safe, ended up scoring a run, our rally continued and we won, 11-10.
More memorable to me however, is the beaming grin on the face of our first base coach when I reached base safely and he approached to give me an enthusiastic double high-five.
In my first outside sales job selling advertising, we earned a draw against commission with a 90 day initial grace period where the draw would not be charged against sales for new people.
This was a very good thing; I didn’t sell one thing my first 90 days.
With three new face-to-face appointments every day, five days a week, I was out-working everyone else. My manager went on joint calls with me and agreed I was making good, insightful presentations. And believe me, I had no reluctance to close. Or close. Or close.
The deals just weren’t coming in, yet.
Then, on the very first week of my fourth month, as if I had been sandbagging all my deals, they all decided to show up. I turned in more orders than the entire sales force combined that month, my fourth month and my first month on commission.
So I play baseball and think of sales teams, work with salespeople and think of baseball teams.
I think of colleagues, and I think of friends, and I realize we are family.
We go to each others’ parties, weddings, funerals, hospital visits as much or more than actual family members.
In the field
I’m in the outfield, warming up before the next inning begins. I observe our guys in their different positions:
Catcher. I could reasonably claim that he saved my life. As I struggled with my growing case of prostate cancer and voiced my reluctance to undergo traditional medical therapies, he introduced me directly to the #1 prostate surgeon in the world.
One successful prostatectomy later, I’m still here, playing baseball.
Center field: Introduced me to a local family practice doctor who told me his job is to keep me alive from the various cancer cures I’ve been receiving. For the first time in about 15 years I’m happy with a family practice doctor.
First base: Constructed my medicare and supplement plan so that for a few hundred dollars a month, I never pay for anything medical. Anything. Prostate cancer surgery at the #1 facility in the world. Anything.
Second base: Avid sports fisherman; sometimes I’m fortunate to hit the best bass lakes in Texas with him. We hope to tangle with some alligator gar sometime next year if we can get permits.
Shortstop: To keep our manager outside of throat grabbing distance when I screwed up, #6 stepped up and volunteered to personally coach me on those ocassions. And he gave me a brand new gear bag when I left mine on the sidewalk in front of my downtown warehouse and it walked away.
Third base: Introduced me to the booker for two different local business groups which led to speaking engagements with them.
Pitcher: Uber driver par excellence in his retirement. For Uber Black service with more customer-centric touch than you’ll get anywhere else, he’ll get you where you need to go.
Bench manager: Produces an occassional mock newspaper about our team, based on our games and varous shenanigans. There are times I’m reading it in the dugout over and over out loud for the benefit of our guys because I’m laughing so hard.
Manager: Continues to allow me to take up space in the outfield even though from time to time his voice is known to carry my name into the stratosphere and beyond.
Kind of like the sales manager who said he hired me as his dark horse, his last hire to fill a new sales team. I was eighth out of eight hired.
We became the #1 sales team in the country for the company, and I hit #1 on the company charts with a bullet.
Think about how much selling goes on in a game of baseball:
A batter gets hit by a pitch. Or does he?
I’m a huge fan of Derek Jeter and the Yankees, but in one game against the Tampa Bay Rays he got hit by a pitch that really hit the knob of his bat – and ol’ Derek became the salesman of the year on that one, getting his free base.
The catcher “frames” the pitch when he catches it – to sell the umpire that it’s a strike.
The second baseman lifts his glove holding the ball high into the air after making a tag on a player who slides into second base. He sells the umpire that he made the tag in time.
An outfielder does the same thing after schooping a fly ball before it touches the grass – or does it? The outfielder sells his catch.
And how much baseball goes on in selling?
A Big Deal is – a home run!
A sales rep who only does a number of small deals is called a – singles hitter.
When a sales reps make their presentation to a prospect it’s often called – a ptich.
When we fail to get a deal closed, we – strike out.
Salesmanship and Baseball. Both as American as apple pie.
I love both of them and I love the people who make them both happen.