June 14, 2024

Productive At-Bats

Originally published on LinkedIn on September 15, 2020

I come from a long line of baseball fans. We aren’t just your average hot dog-eating, beer-drinking variety of fans either. We care about the history, the strategy, the statistics, and the nuances.  We’ve lost two of the great ones in the last couple of weeks with the deaths of Tom Seaver and Lou Brock. That’s probably why my sales coaching mind started to connect prospecting and the baseball concept of productive at-bats.

Prospecting is hard work, and a lot of it doesn’t pay off right away.

·      Studies indicate that it takes somewhere between 5 and 21 touches to get a conversation with a prospect.

·      I’ve never met a rep who can successfully manage a 21-step cadence so most companies use 8 or 12 steps.

There are still plenty of reps who can’t consistently complete the 8 steps of the cadence. It’s hard for reps to feel productive when they send emails that aren’t returned, leave voice mail messages that are often deleted unheard, or send connection requests on LinkedIn that go unaccepted.

So when faced with a choice of what to do with the available time in a day, many reps choose to do things that feel more productive at the time – clearing out emails, checking in on customers or checking on the status of projects already in production –  all feel like a better use of time…at the time.

These seemingly unproductive tasks associated with prospecting are critical to long term success for companies and the reps who sell for them.

  • The task avoidance practiced by many sales reps coupled with the inherent lack of productivity when reaching out to prospects 8 to 12 times several times a year, has led to the development of much improved lead generation strategies and the creation of a specialized sales position entirely focused on prospecting.

  • These sales development reps, as they are often called, are not burdened by account management duties, solutions development, demos or even closing. Their entire job is to follow up on inbound leads, execute the outbound prospecting cadence and qualify opportunities for their reps who specialize in converting leads to customers. The industry needs to move faster in this direction.

In the meantime, many companies find themselves in a position where their sales reps must still prospect.

This is where baseball comes back into the picture.

For all you non-baseball fans out there, there is a concept known as a productive at-bat. The batter doesn’t have to get a hit to have a productive at-bat.

  • The batter can draw a walk and get on base to help their team.

  • They can ground out but move the runner into scoring position so the next batter can hopefully drive the run in.

  • They can foul off 15 pitches to tire the pitcher for the next batter or give the rest of the bench a good look at what the pitcher is throwing improving their odds of getting a hit later in the game.

Productive at-bats is the way reps should think about prospecting.

  • Every time they deliver their insightful message in a voicemail, it can improve their delivery.

  • Every time they write an email and position their product in a slightly different way, they are fine tuning their message.

  • Every time they try new words or tell their story differently, they are looking for a better way to resonate with their prospects.

  • Every time a rep changes the intonation in their voice, slows down or delivers the payoff question in a more compelling way, they are turning themselves into a better prospector and a better sales rep.

Just like the hitter who focuses on a productive at-bat, reps should focus on small improvements to their sales game with each prospect interaction.

If the rep learns something to do or not to do, it’s a productive outing. It’s that work that ultimately gives the rep the power to have great conversations with prospects, schedule first-time meetings, and ultimately close the big deals.

When my kids were young and playing travel baseball and softball, their coaches always focused on having a productive at-bat. It was their ability to learn from those at-bats, to accomplish small goals inside of the big goals that ultimately made them better ball players.

That same focus works when prospecting too.

Instead of focusing on getting a meeting–focus on making small improvements in your messaging, your delivery, your questions and your conversations. Those small changes, happening every day, improve your skills and make you a better sales rep. And back to baseball one more time – you won’t feel like you are striking out all the time. You will feel like you are getting better all the time.

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