I just finished Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, an oldie but a goodie. It tells the story of the Oakland A’s and their manager Billy Beane’s fight against the Conventional Wisdom of professional baseball. Beane guided his team in a battle against the “system”—the well established conventions of what it takes to make a great baseball team (or a baseball team great)—and won. Beane understood that his team was not just a group of players, but a group of people whose individual skills are needed to orchestrate a win. The same can be said for your sales team. The sales person, sales manager, designers, engineers, operations and client services personnel all have a hand in hunting a big sale. It’s the combination of skills they bring to the table that will help accomplish the goal.

What can hunters learn from Beane and his team?

Go Against Conventional Wisdom (CW)
Let’s start with some of the “Conventional Wisdom” that organizations use when fielding their sales teams. Remember, these are the things you’ll be working against when putting together your team.

    • “Our team must come from our industry.” I hear this statement 90+% of the time. This is true for some positions, but as I will discuss later, not all. This CW is limiting and can be expensive.


    • “Have a set of deep contacts in the prospect base.” People like the idea of having access to large accounts via previous contacts, but with all the turnover and reorganization in the marketplace, this is not as valuable or as relevant as it once was.


    • “Sales people are the most important part of the sale.” I have railed against the “rockstar” idea before. In the complex sale, one person may be the most important part of a single step, but is still, in the end, just one part of the overall team.


    • Rockstar pedigree. You may be looking for players with the “big company” background, but in what way is experience from a behemoth, matrixed, highly-resourced and deeply branded company going to benefit a company like yours? In other words, how will those players’ backgrounds serve you?


    • Look the part. There is a widely-held belief as to what a sales person looks, talks and “feels” like. In reality, there’s no real “look” to a great sales person. It’s his or her skill that will make the sale.


Team Building on Your Payroll (or lack thereof)
Like Beane, small and mid-size companies don’t always have big league budgets to hire the “rockstars” to play for their teams. But since we play in the big leagues, we need to figure out a strategy to win…

If you can’t afford rockstars, and your competition has over-valued them anyway, what should you look for in the process of staffing your team?

    1. Role value vs. complete package. When you change the thinking from player to team, the responsibility for performance is spread across all team members. You must figure out what balance of skills you need. A quick list might include:


      • The Opener. Someone who can generate the interest, open the door and secure a meeting with an executive sponsor.


      • The Technician. The industry expert who can provide the necessary language, history and context to the discussion as it relates to the prospect’s company and its potential purchase from our company.


      • The Flow. Very important relationship person. Gets the sense of the prospect’s people and keeps the sales process communication moving.


      • The Strategist. Handles people, motivations, approaches and structure for the meetings, sales calls and overall pitch.


      • The Muscle. Subject matter experts who are on the team and line up with their counterparts in the large prospect on design, engineering, IT, operations and so on.


      • The Closer. The authority to close the deal, work out the price, terms and issues and make the commitment on the part of the company.


      • You may have people capable of playing more than one role on your team, but more than likely, you will not have “the complete package” in one person. Hardly anyone ever does.



    1. Ability to play as a part of a team. Team members should be just that—members of a team. They should play well with others.


    1. Historical performance sync of sales cycle and sales size. I’ve written about this before in Performance-based Interview Questions for Sales Candidates, but it’s worth repeating. Find those people who are used to the length of the sales cycle and the size of the deals you’re looking to secure.


    1. German shepherd discipline. When you are a part of a multi-person team, you need to be able to respond to the subtle leadership signals of “come,” “go,” “no,” “sit” and “stay”. Team members must know how to listen.


Advice from the Pro
And finally, to circumvent some of the CW in your industry, take a little advice from Beane.

    1. Know what positions and skills you are focusing on. Many of the executive review sessions that I facilitate include a discussion of the current sales team. This discussion is focused on “the complete package” rather than a role player approach. Examine the positions and roles you need and use the players where they fit best.


    1. Look for hidden talents and opportunities. Be open to identifying and putting in non-traditional players. They are cheaper than rockstars, bring very specialized skills and can create a more robust picture of your company.


    1. Leave your emotions out of it. We like our people which is why we may be blinded to the clear shortcomings that they have and the performance gap they create for the company. If you do your analysis and you know what your positions are for this deal, you are going to have to trade out certain players to survive and thrive.


    1. Talent scouting is constant. If you have position players on your team who are not cutting it, then they can’t go on the sales calls. They may have another role in your organization, but they can’t be on the team in the field. You must scout your company, your competitor’s and the market all of the time. One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is to be recruiting only when they have positions available.


Bottom line: Moneyball proved that you can make it in the big leagues even if you don’t have deep pockets or big budgets. Small to medium businesses just have to be smarter and do what their bigger competitors don’t. Look for the things that are not completely understood or valued by your industry. Right people, right roles, right strategy and right plan is what hunting big sales is all about.

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