In my 30 (plus) year career in sales, I have read (what we call in Iowa) “a pile” of books on sales and sales management. Integrity Selling, Selling to Vito, Structured Selling, Dale Carnegie Selling, Features/Benefit Selling and Rain Maker come to mind. I have over 20 linear feet of shelving devoted to selling courses and the length is growing. If sales books were guns, I could equip an army – but last week a funny thing happened.

A friend emailed me and said he was moving from operations into a sales management roll. He was looking for some guidance and he wanted it soon. Without thinking, I started rattling off a list of books. As we chatted our conversation digressed to baseball and the summer of 1963. Then it hit me – Sales Management is like being a Little League coach.

Back in 1963, I was a kid of 8 or 9 and baseball was my passion. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and the Yankees were my heroes. I read about baseball and dreamed of the day I would suit up and join the big boys out on the field (not Yankee Stadium, Taylorville Illinois’ Red Bland Little League Field). Yet, when I came to my first official and organized practice I was in for a surprise. First of all, there were lots of older kids - at age eight, a 12 year-old with the first signs of a mustache looks ancient. I knew the goals of the game, but my skills were terrible. Then coach Smokey Stone entered my world. Smokey was a coal miner who knew a little about baseball and a whole lot about coaching. Here are five tips from my coach: Smokey Stone – where ever he may be.

Go after the right pitches – Target the right accounts
When batting practice started, Smokey sat us down and talked about how hard it was to hit a high pitch and why picking the right one allowed us a better chance of scoring. Sales managers need to be able to describe the ideal account. Not all accounts are created equal – some require much work with little chance of reward. Other accounts value your service and allow you to charge just a little more for your product. A recent study by CSO Insights demonstrates companies who target accounts reach their goals 86% of the time vs. 58% for companies without good targeting process. Smokey said, “You won’t strike out if you go after good pitches.” I say, “Show your sales people how to select a good target and they won’t strike out.”

Practice every night for the big game – Prepare before your calls
Smokey called us out for practice every night at 5:30. We threw the ball, we swung the bat, and we ran the bases. Under Smokey’s ever watchful eye we perfected our batting skills with no ball being pitched. We learned a level and powerful swing. I have seen sales people head out for their territory with no real plan for the sales call. When demonstrations are part of the sales call, does it make sense to fumble with the sample in front of the customer? If you are as sales manager, ask your team to make a practice sales call on you. This is a great time to perfect their “swing”. As Smokey would say, “If you can’t follow through on an imaginary pitch, how will you hit a real one?” Regardless of what your sales team tells you, role playing is a good thing.

Talk after every at bat – Provide constant feedback
Smokey used every at bat as a coaching tool. If you struck out, he talked about what you did wrong. f you scored a base hit, Smokey pointed out what went well. The coaching opportunity was repeated every time you stepped up to the plate. Each at bat brought some lesson for future improvement. A recent NAW/DREF study of distributors with increasing market share indicates the formality of a sales process is not as important as the regularity of closing the communication loops between management and their sales force. Smokey would say, “Look for every opportunity to coach your players.” I could not agree more.

Keep a scorecard to monitor progress – Design a scorecard for your team
Smokey kept a scorecard. Hits, runs, walks, errors plus his own individual notes on players. He would pull us in off the field and talk about our own personal progress. He knew if we were getting better, and he know if we were in a slump. Smokey had us practice on various aspects of our game based on our scorecard. I believe every sales person should have an individualized scorecard. She (or he) should be able to track their own progress and be able to compare notes with their sales manager. They should understand where they stand compared to themselves last year, and to the other members of the team. Smokey never came to practice or a game without his scorecard – I suggest sales managers do like wise.

Build a team by practicing plays – Develop expectations within your team
Smokey had us practice plays. A ground ball to the first baseman was thrown to the pitcher - an outfield throw was cut off by the short stop. Everyone on the team knew their role and what to expect of their team members. Management needs to choreograph the hand off of leads, quotes, customer service and purchasing to be effective. When one member of the team does not fully understand his/her job within the team, confusion and inefficiencies soon follow. Smokey felt it was his job to explain the interaction of the team. I suggest that sales managers define and discuss the interaction of people and departments.

After the game wrap-up
Whether you are just starting off in sales management or a seasoned pro, these simple truths will help direct you back to what should be your primary job. Coach your team, measure your team and re-coach. This is the metal that sales success is built from.

Frank Hurtte (frankehurtte@riverheightsconsulting.com) is a consultant to distribution, the sales channel, and manufacture’s agents at River Heights Consulting. He has 28 years of real world experience and is available as a speaker and executive coach. He has written a number of articles and white papers on management, distribution, and the selling process. Frank has helped a number of businesses and not-for-profit corporations through the strategic planning process. You can contact Frank at 563-514-1104 or through www.riverheightsconsulting.com.