Can You Switch Hit For Sales Success?4

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Switch hitter

I remember when I first started working for a company back in the early 1990’s (before we had web mail), the company had two main product lines, and had the usual territories across the continent, primarily driven by geography.   Each territory had two hunters, one for each product, two account development/management (AD) people, again one for each product, and an administrative person, all supported by a central customer care group, as to not overwork the front line folks.  The flow was simple, the hunter was in charge of finding and landing accounts, they would then hand off the account to the AD, who would work on maintaining and growing the account.  No one ever had to move out of their comfort zone, mine was hunting.

As the competition heated up, and costs had to be cut to maintain operating margins, the two teams were collapsed into one that handled both product lines, there was still a clear line between hunting and development of accounts.  While we had to learn a bit about the new product, we were still left in our functional comfort zones.

As in most similar scenarios, the hunter was always in a better position to earn more.  I am not saying that hunters were or are more important than the AD role, the fact was, that there were less qualified hunters than AD types, and this is still so now.

The next round of cuts was a bit more drastic for almost all involved.  Administrative resources were reduced, and more significantly, they collapsed the two roles into one, no more hunters and AD’s, just one person who had to execute both functions.  In some territories the hunter had to learn how to actually manage and develop the accounts they brought on; and the AD’s had to learn to hunt and bring on the accounts they were going to work on growing and retaining.   Since the company had a union to deal with, (yes I know, sales and unions, what a concept, nonetheless), the choice of who stayed and who left was not always made based on abilities and potential.  Many of those who remained were AD types who had to learn how to hunt, in most instances, a much bigger ask than the other way around.  At the same time it turned out that some of the hunter role were in fact “closet account developers”, and gravitated to the AD side of the job, increasing the value of real hunters even more.

To be clear, I am not saying that hunters are naturally better rounded, and are able to easily become good or even adequate AD’s, I was living proof that this was not the case, but hunting was a better cover for AD skill deficiencies; where as you can be a great AD, but if an account leaves for factors beyond your control, and you can’t hunt, you will be in a difficult hole.

As you would expect there were a number of reactions, outcomes and repercussions to the new reality, about 20% – 25% floundered and struggled, and eventually were replaced.  At the other end of the spectrum, about 20% or so, turned out to be natural switch hitters, not losing a stride in the transition, relishing the new found opportunities in the job and the rewards.  They stepped back, reformulated their action plan and then marched forward as if nothing had changed.

A large majority 55% – 60% worked diligently at developing the “other” skill, and over time found the required balance, but as you would expect things were usually skewed towards their original skill set and comfort zone, but they were able to generate both organic growth and new account growth.  No surprise the hunters had just as hard a time, if not harder, in developing their AD skills, than AD’s had in developing enough hunting skills to make sales happen.  What was interesting is that in the end both groups leaned more on improved hunting than improved maintenance skills.

Again this is not to say that being an AD does not require skills, is easy or any other “better/worse” comparison, but does speak to the fact that getting to the right person to have the right conversation with, is still the biggest challenge in sales.  Most sales people I speak to, be they traditional sellers, social sellers, or other, tell me something along the lines of “get me in front of the right prospect, and I will close them”; and they probably will.  But the ability to find and engage with the right person, and then talk about the right things, those things that will lead to real engagement, is a rarer skill, but one that can be learned and with practice, and mastered.  Those that do, are your switch hitters, they can deliver revenue in by succeeding in both cases, prospecting and selling.  The difference between baseball and the revenue game, is you need to do both to succeed, you need to be a switch hitter.

Since then sales teams have continued to contract, sales goals have continued to grow, as has the number of sales people who almost, but don’t always make goal.  These are the group of sellers I call the “80-90 Percenters”; year after year they deliver 80% to 90% of plan, and when you strip back the layers, most often you’ll find that they are great at growing their base, but not as good at finding, engaging with and brining on new clients.  Their new business growth is usually from referrals, or people who are like people who have already bought from them.  Again, nothing wrong with the thinking or reality, just the lack of consistently delivering against plan.

In today’s market there are a number of parallels; a specific one can be found in those industries that are making the transition from selling products, to managed services.  You see this trend in any number of industries, from copiers to managed print service; break fix to managed it services; in transport from loads or lanes to managed freight services; really, in any industry where before you sold “stuff”, “stuff” that is becoming commoditised, to selling a complete service that allows clients to reduce costs while allowing you to grow, both products sold and the services around them, while locking in revenue streams and locking out competitors.

Product sellers need to learn to switch hit and hunt not only in new jungles, but for prey they have not encountered before, a prey that is smarter, more demanding and usually less accessible.  The prey speaks a different language and have entirely different set of objectives and expectations than the people they used to sell “stuff” to, or account they maintained.  Further, the new prey does very much have to be hunted, they are not out there declaring their readiness or willingness to buy, they are the Status Quo, doing their thing deep in the jungle where only hunters go and maintainers and posers avoid.  Selling to the willing will leave them short unless they step up and learn to hunt a bit more, learn to switch hit.

Hunting in this environment requires skills upgrades whether you are coming from an AD background, or have successfully hunted while selling products, “stuff”.  Unless you take the time and make the effort to become a true switch hitter, you are bound to the beige of the “80-90 Percenters”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Hugh Sutherland

    Hi Tibor,
    Thank you for this excellent thread. I could not agree more with what you have said. My experience, both in selling and managing sales representatives, is that they “live within their own back yard” for too long, and, while delivering target, they seldom show growth in account development.
    I believe that we will see the return of Hunters and ADs, despite thin margins in today’s competitive trading arena. Many successful companies overlook the importance of expanding horizons to sustain the business and gradually wither and disappear as a consequence.

    • Tibor Shanto

      High,

      I like the way you put it, living in their own back yard. Big world beyond.

      Thanks,
      Tibor

  2. Michael Boykin

    Sales leaders probably shouldn’t expect every sales rep to be an expert AD/AE (or vice versa), fluidly moving in and out of the roles whenever needed, but it is not too much to ask that both invest the time to develop a second set of skills; business should invest in their employees as well. Not only will they better understand the challenges and goals of the other, but when the hand-off occurs it will likely be much smoother.

    I’m in total agreement! I’ve learned a few new things today, including what it means to switch hit. Thanks! I’ll be sharing your post with my company’s community, so thanks for such a great update!

    • Tibor Shanto

      Michael,

      You are absolutely right (beyond my self interest), when you say that companies should invest and help people understand and develop the ability to broaden their abilities to execute these skills.

      Thanks for reading and your feedback.

      Tibor

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