What the Sales World Can Learn from Marathon Participants

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Understanding the Sales Force by Dave Kurlan

marathonEarlier this week the world was once again focused on the city of Boston and the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.  I don’t run but I know several people that do and the preparation for running this, or any other marathon, is daunting.

This isn’t an event that one can take lightly.  Consider the length of time that a runner must train to prepare for running a 26.2-mile race.  It takes up to 20 weeks to prepare for a marathon, while gradually building strength and endurance.  It includes several shorter weekday runs as well as a long-distance run of anywhere from 12-15 miles one day over the weekend.  Someone training for a marathon should run up to 50 miles per week.  It takes an enormous commitment – to a hobby!

While some professional runners enter a marathon, more than 30,000 people were simply participating because they could.  These participants have full-time jobs, careers and businesses.  This is a hobby.  Yet their commitment to this hobby should be embarrassing to most salespeople, who don’t put forth anywhere near this level of commitment, effort, time or practice into their own career!

If you’ve been reading my Blog for the past 8 years and 1,150 articles, then you have no doubt read that salespeople can be categorized into 3 groups.  According to the data amassed by Objective Management Group’s (OMG) assessments of nearly 750,000 salespeople:

  • There is an elite group of salespeople but it represents only 6% of the sales population
  • An additional 20% of the sales population is good, but not great.
  • There is a bottom 74% and for the most part, they suck equally.

This contradicts the traditional thinking that the bell curve has a top 20%, middle 60% and bottom 20%. 

So perhaps, our top 6% is the group that takes selling as seriously as those runners that train for a marathon.  But the question is, why only 6%?  Why not everyone else?

To answer that question, we need to better understand the differences between selling and other professions.  If you forecast a sale, and it goes to a competitor, management says, “too bad.”  Losing is OK.  But even an attorney that loses a case got paid to lose…

If you’re a structural engineer and you screw up…if you’re a cop and you shoot an innocent victim, if you’re a bus driver, train conductor, airline pilot, or ship’s captain and you hit something…if you’re in manufacturing and you turn out defective products…if you’re a safety inspector and you “pass” a product that fails…

Most professions have no tolerance for failure. In sales, because it’s not just possible, but likely that salespeople will fail, most companies have sales cultures of mediocrity, making it a virtual certainty that underperforming salespeople will continue on that track.

If underperformance is acceptable, than why would anyone other than the most committed salespeople, put in the effort and time that a marathon runner would?

Can we change this? 

Not until we stamp out mediocrity. That won’t happen until we raise the bar on sales management.  Only 8% of all sales managers make up the elite level and only a total of 18% are competent at sales management and coaching.  With 82% bordering on sales management incompetence, it’s no wonder that we can’t make improvements to the levels of commitment, effort, time, practice and effectiveness of most salespeople.

I’m one voice, but if you’re as disturbed by all of this as I am, perhaps you’ll share this with all of the CEO’s, Presidents, Sales VP’s and Directors, Sales Managers and salespeople in your circle.  Ask them what they have observed.  Ask them what they think.  Ask if they see the need to change something, anything, anytime soon.  And chime in with your own comments about this question – can we change this?

As long as we’re talking about the quest for sales excellence, check out Jack Daly’s new book, Hyper Sales Growth.  In his Weekly Insights Newsletter, Verne Harnish, the Growth Guy, wrote, “It’s finally here! The book all the millions of fans (that’s literal) of Jack Daly have been wanting — a book that shares the same time-tested sales management techniques that work to drive the growth he’s been teaching in his powerful and packed workshops. It’s all about getting the sales management piece right – and this is the book that shows you the way.”  

I don’t know about you, but there just isn’t enough good sales management guidance and with only a handful of us devoting our Blogs to it, a book from someone like Jack will be quite helpful.  To take a line from the old Smucker’s Jelly tagline, “…it’s just got to be good.”

(c) Copyright 2013 Dave Kurlan

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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