The Boston Red Sox are going to the World Series!!!
Forgive our unabashed enthusiasm, but here in Massachusetts, we take our baseball very seriously. After eliminating the Detroit Tigers in six games, the Red Sox are now moving on to face the St. Louis Cardinals for the right to be crowned World Series Champion.
But this outcome wasn’t always so certain. After losing two of the first three games – giving up home-field advantage in the best-of-seven series – and struggling mightily against Detroit’s knockout pitching, the Red Sox steeled themselves and began hitting the ball more effectively. How did they do this?
By swinging at pitches within their hitters’ desired strike zones.
In Games 1 – 4, Detroit’s starting pitchers averaged 10.5 strikeouts, while Boston only scored 2.5 runs per game
In Games 5 & 6, Detroit’s starting pitchers averaged 6.5 strikeouts, and Boston scored 4.5 runs per game. They won both games to close out the series.
Those two extra runs per game proved to be difference-making, as the Sox ousted the Tigers in several close games. However, the four fewer strikeouts may prove to be the more important stat. Fewer strikeouts meant more balls put into play by Boston’s bats, more baserunners and more opportunities to score.
Sales managers could learn a thing or two from the Boston Red Sox.
What is a strike zone…
The strike zone refers to the conceptual prism over the home plate, defining the boundaries that a baseball pitch must be within to be considered a strike when the batter does not swing. Roughly comprising the area above the batter’s knees and below his batting-stance elbow, the pitches thrown in the strike zone are the most optimal for a hitter to swing at. Swinging at these pitches represents a batter’s best chance for producing a hit, or maybe even a home run.
What about in sales?
The sales strike zone is designed in a similar fashion – sales reps ‘swinging’ at opportunities within their sweet-spot strike zone are more likely to turn these opportunities into deals. Many reps expend too much time and effort (i.e. ‘at-bats’) chasing opportunities that are not likely to convert or close. Just as David Ortiz might lay off a curveball on the outside corner to wait for a fastball down the middle, so should your sales reps .
To find your team’s optimal sales strike zone, you must first look at your historical opportunities. Compare your winning opportunities to those that ended up losing, and look for patterns to emerge. Some examples of sales metrics that should be factored into your strike zone include:
Value of opportunity – You should have a pretty good idea of what your ideal customer profile looks like, and this extends to how big or valuable the opportunity is. Closing a $50,000 deal sounds great, until you consider that your average historical deal size is only $2,000. An opportunity this big might be out of your strike zone.
Age of opportunity – What is your sales cycle on winning opportunities? If your typical winning opportunity closes in 70 days, and an opportunity that you’ve been working on has languished in a specific stage for 180 days, odds are it is not likely to close.
The more information you have on your winning and losing opportunities, the more accurate your sales strike zone will be. Based on the aforementioned factors, we can reasonably craft a strike zone that looks like the example above. In this case, the sweet spot for this sales team appears to be opportunities that are worth $1,000 and have been nurtured for two and a half months. Opportunities outside of this zone are increasingly unlikely to close, especially as we get further out on the fringes (in both opportunity value and age, for example).
Coaching your reps to focus on finding opportunities within their strike zone and prioritizing these opportunities will produce a higher win rate. Additionally, your reps can be not only more effective, but also more efficient in their jobs – they will spend less time and fewer at-bats chasing opportunities that are low and away, far out of their strike zone.
Find your sales strike zone – like the Boston Red Sox did, just in time – and your sales reps might just carry your team to the World Series!