Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter who ever played the game of baseball. The outfielder played his entire 22-year career with the Boston Red Sox (Go Sox!) and was the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 (hits on 40% of his at-bats) when he recorded a batting average of .406 in 1941. Williams, nicknamed Teddy Ballgame and The Splendid Splinter (among a spate of other great nicknames), did not get by on pure talent alone – he was an obsessive student of hitting, so much so that when he retired, he wrote a book called The Science of Hitting that is still regarded as the preeminent authority on the subject today.
Among his many revolutionary attributes – including using a lighter bat for a faster swing and always conceding the first pitch to gauge the pitcher’s “stuff” – Williams was most renowned for his tremendous plate discipline and staying within his strike zone. In fact, Williams so fervently believed in this disciplined approach that he produced a famous graphic in 1968 that divided the strike zone into 77 baseballs side-by-side, with each baseball containing his projected batting average for pitches thrown to him in that location. Williams realized that by staying within his optimal strike zone, he could produce the greatest success for himself and his team.
Your sales reps should adopt a similar approach to selling. Many reps expend too much time, effort and too many at-bats on opportunities that are not likely to convert or close. Imagine if your reps could find the sweet spot within their strike zone where they bat .400 and produce many hits and, eventually, runs.
The sales cycle by won/lost is a great strike zone report for sales managers to share with their team. Just as the strike zone looks at the results of what happens when Williams faced pitches in different locations – high and inside, low and away or right down the middle – the sales cycle by won/lost report looks at how winning opportunities behave, compared to losing opportunities. More specifically, this report displays how long winning and losing opportunities spend in each stage of the sales cycle.
Check out the example below. According to this report, winning opportunities typically spend 6 days in the trial stage, while losing opportunities spent an average of 23 days in the same stage. If a rep is working on an opportunity that has languished in that stage for 20 days now, he or she should consider pulling back on its effort and engagement. After all, by now, this pitch has become a curve ball low and inside. Ted Williams, the greatest hitter of all time, hit only .230 on such pitches. Unless your rep happens to be the Ted Williams (or Babe Ruth or Stan Musial) of sales, odds are their chances of converting on this ‘pitch’ or opportunity is even lower than that.
Another great strike zone sales management technique is to calculate the riskiness of opportunities in your current pipeline. The Pipeline Today dashboard shows you every existing opportunity in your pipeline, as well as how much engagement each opportunity has received and the riskiness of each one. Risk factors can be configured to your company’s unique specifications, but typical risk factors include close date moves, value and age in stage. Opportunities that have moved their close dates back multiple times, that are substantially greater in value than your typical opportunities or that have lingered in specific stages far longer than average should be flagged as risky and are less likely to convert.
Just as baseball managers and scouts use detailed strike zone reports to guide the at-bats of their hitters, so should sales managers use these reports to help reps prioritize their efforts. With the Pipeline Today report, sales managers can help their reps identify the most optimal opportunities to spend their efforts and at-bats on.
The key to success – in baseball and sales – is to avoid swinging at low-percentage pitches and wasting precious at-bats. Your sales reps only have so much time each day, week, month and quarter to work on converting opportunities. Each at-bat spent on an opportunity that is unlikely to convert is a wasted at-bat that could have been better spent on another pitch. Take a page out of Teddy Ballgame’s vaunted playbook, track the success rates of all your at-bats against various types of pitches in various strike zone locations and coach your reps to be more disciplined at the plate. In no time, they will be batting .400 and regularly winning batting titles – just like The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.