Anyone who knows me know what a HUGE baseball fan I am. I love the game, the lessons it teaches and the metaphors it provides for business and life. I’m regularly mocked in my company for saying, “It’s just like baseball…” whenever we are dealing with an issue. I really enjoyed the playoffs this year (and not just because the Yankees were eliminated). The highlight was watching how the Texas Rangers played the game. What struck me was just how well they took advantage of their opportunities. The opportunistic nature was no accident. Their hitting coach, Clint Hurdle, believes in a concept he calls “Positive Plate Appearances” (also called productive at-bats). According to Hurdle, there are 8 ways you can have a positive at bat:
- Sac bunt
- Sac fly
- HBP/Catcher’s Interference
- Move lead runner up w/an out
- Move lead runner up w/an error
- 8 pitch AB
Most people only think of the first two as productive, but Hurdle understood – and was able to get his players to understand – that it takes many things to cause a run to score. My focusing on “advancing” the opportunity to score a run, rather than on scoring the run; the probability of actually scoring would increase. The Texas Rangers set a goal of 17 Positive Plate Appearances per game. No surprise that the Rangers led the league in that category. The same is true in selling. There are many things and lots of steps that cause a sale to occur. Far too often salespeople, and sales organizations, focus only on making the sale, rather than focusing on advancing the sale. Sales advisor Neil Rackham (author of SPIN Selling) distinguishes between what he calls “advances” and “continuations.”
- Advance – where an event takes place, within the call or after it, that moves the sale forward toward a decision.
- Continuation – where the sale will continue but where no specific action has been agreed upon by the customer to move it forward.
In my experience, far too many sales interactions end in continuations rather than in productive advances. Here’s my advice: learn from the Texas Rangers. Sit down today at ask yourself, “What are 5 -10 productive advances that can occur that lead to sales?” Teach those advances to your salespeople and keep track of them. Do that and I’ll bet your become a far more opportunistic sales organization. Oh yeah, I'd love it if you shared some of your "productive advances."