Twenty years ago, the manager of Oakland Athletics baseball team had an inspired idea.
Lately, his team had been flagging. Despite the best efforts of experienced scouts to draw on their instincts and recruit the stars of the future, the magic just wasn’t translating to the pitch. All the ingredients of a great team were there – but somehow, when it came to making a play, it just fell apart. They weren’t winning.
The Oakland manager felt that there must be a better, more scientific way to recruit and position players. But the baseball world was incredulous. Spotting an opportunity – applying talent – creating stars – these weren’t the kind of things you can predict with a computer, they said. It’s about intuition.
The manager didn’t buy this. Instead of just leaving the scouts to spot raw talent, and then trusting that talent to eventually break through a win, he went in a very different direction. He invested in technology.
He partnered with a smart young statistician from Harvard and started gathering data from each play. He analysed it. And he acted on it.
What he discovered was that everyone was wrong. Spotting talent wasn’t enough. Putting a good player in a good team wasn’t anywhere near an accurate predictor of whether that team would succeed. It was way more complicated than that.
If they were going to start winning, the coach realized, they had to stop chasing after skilled players and start thinking about how those players actually fit together as a team. They had to start tracking the journey of the ball on the pitch, thinking about where it needed to go next and who would take it there. They had to start thinking about the interactions between the players, not their individual ‘star’ potential.
In other words: they needed a strategy.
If you’re a sales manager trying to break through the scrum in today’s crowded marketplace, this might sound familiar.
Far too many companies approach their sales like that baseball team. They focus exclusively on the end goal: the final sale. They think that if they throw enough skilled salespeople at the client, eventually someone will score a win. They don’t look far enough ahead, laying a clear plan for where they’re going to take the conversation next. And because of that, they lose sales.
If you’re going to take home the trophy, you need a strategy. You need a playbook, or in sales, an effective sales process.
In fact, a solid sales strategy is more important than ever. Why? Because your potential buyer is already up to 90% of the way through their customer journey before you even get to speak to them.
That means your window of opportunity is small. If you’re going to catch the attention of that customer, if you’re going to shape their perception of your brand, you’ll need to be positioned to seize the moment, at exactly the right moment. You can’t afford to let any chance slip you by.
Firstly, you need to have a clear idea of when and where you’ll be able to intercept your potential client. Which social media networks are they using? Where are they having meaningful business conversations?
Secondly, you need to understand the buyer cycle that they are working to. How does procurement work in their organisation? Who are the decision makers? What process do they follow? If you can’t visualise the journey they’re taking, how will you make sure you’re in the right place at the right time?
Thirdly, you need to be responsive and agile, with plenty of plays up your sleeve and ready to customise as the situation demands. Sometimes, you might need a complex play with a lot of fielding back-and-forth before to get the outcome you want. At other times, you might spot an opportunity to hit a home run – a quick and easy win. The skill is understanding your client’s journey (and psychology) well enough that you can read the cues.
Finally, you need a strategy that leverages the power of technology. A system that allows you to sync with your CRM and across all devices, tracking deal progress, boosting your efficiency, automating your admin and giving you usable data that helps you assess what’s working, constantly honing and perfecting your pitch.
Remember the Oakland manager? That was Billy Beane, the sporting legend that totally overhauled his team’s performance in the space of a season, revolutionised baseball and inspired the acclaimed book (and Hollywood film), Moneyball.
This is a guy that knows how to harness technology to write a winning playbook. Strategists: Take note.
What are your top tips for a winning sales strategy? Share your insights in the comments section below.