The Science of Succeeding Predictably in B2B Sales [Lessons from Moneyball]


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One of the statistical pioneers of Moneyball, Paul DePodesta, spotted ‘the tendency of everyone who played baseball to generalize wildly from their own experience. People always thought that their own experience was typical when it wasn’t.’ Might the same be true of B2B sales?

One of the Oakland A’s oldest scounts, Dick Bogard, could see when an old thing has died. When asked about Moneyball, he saw it was a new game. ‘Years ago we didn’t have these stats to look up. We had to go with what we saw.’

“By analyzing baseball stats, you could see through a lot of baseball nonsense. For instance, when baseball managers talked about scoring runs, they tended to focus on team batting average, but if you ran the analysis you could see that the number of runs a team scored bore little relation to that team’s batting average. it correlated much more exactly with a team’s on-base percentage.” A lot of the offensive tactics that made managers famous – bunts, steals, etc. – could be proven to be either pointless or self-defeating. Managers do all these things because they’re safe practices. They don’t get criticized for it.

Early adopters of Moneyball understood the new stats well enough to understand their implications. What fresh analyses of baseball stats showed was that anything that increases the odds of ‘an out’ is bad, and anything that decreases the odds of ‘an out’ is good. Which is what the ‘on-base %’ is. It is the probability that a batter will not be ‘an out’. It measures the probability that a batter will NOT be another step toward the end of an inning; they’re still ‘in play’. Might there be equivalents in B2B sales?

New statistical analyses spoke, in general, to general managers of baseball teams who had the guts, or the need, to listen: if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.

For managers who feel the need, and are bold enough to act on their need, and to think differently, the mere act of doing so is rewarding. As Billy Beane said after applying their new statistical approach to recruiting talent that other teams undervalued: ‘this is maybe the funnest day I have ever had in baseball.’

These perspectives on finding ways to outperform expectations, with the help of statistics, are what we’re seeing as the Moneyball future of B2B sales management. In B2B sales, just as in baseball, big advantages will accrue to those who make wise, non-obvious, choices despite the [over]confidence others have in the future.


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