This week, Major League Baseball held its annual Home Run Derby. A fan favorite, this event features some of the mightiest sluggers to play the game. Now a three round affair, it has an amazing similarity to Sales.

Low Hanging Fruit – Unlike an actual baseball game where the pitcher attempts to get the hitter out, the Home Run Derby features a batting practice pitcher who attempts to locate an easy to hit pitch right there in the middle of the hitter’s zone. It’s very much similar to what all salespeople do very well, and that is to close the low hanging fruit, the customers that are ready to buy, those who phoned in, those who renew each year, those who place orders on their own.

Stamina – In the Home Run Derby, sluggers usually hit far more home runs in the first two rounds than in the last round.  This year’s winner, Vladimir Guererro, hit a total of 17 home runs in the contest but only 3 in the final round. The runner up, Alex Rios, hit even more, 19 home runs, but only 2 in the final round. You can see the actual 2007 statistics in the table below, courtesy of ESPN. What happened? Was it he pressure? Did the pitching get tougher? Did the competition become more difficult? No way. These guys simply got tired, they burned out.

Vladimir GuerreroLAA5931750314
Alex RiosTOR51221945417
Matt HollidayCOL581347515
Albert PujolsSTL4 *(2)91345916
Justin MorneauMIN4 *(1)443024
Prince FielderMIL3345529
Ryan HowardPHI3347721
Magglio OrdonezDET2242213

The trend is similar for salespeople too, but, like the low hanging fruit analogy, it doesn’t occur over 90 minutes. Salespeople often generate enough business to reach their quota by the middle of the summer, beginning of fall, and then cruise for the rest of the year.  Do they give up? Get bored? No. They feel like they worked so hard for the first x number of months to hit the quota that they are emotionally wiped out and deserve to cruise for the rest of the year.

Lesson – Everyone can sell the easy ones. It takes a trained, skilled, tough professional salesperson to reach protected decision makers, to ask questions that no one else dare ask, to differentiate themselves by adding value, to justify their higher selling price, to shorten the prospect’s timeline, to get prospects to make decisions when they’d prefer to think it over. Low hanging fruit or batting practice meatballs – anyone can nail those. Only 6% of all salespeople continue to thrive, even when the degree of difficulty increases.

Lesson – Lots of salespeople hit quota. It takes strong desire, commitment, discipline and consistency to continue swinging away after the quota has been hit. There are plenty of distractions and many salespeople can be lured into a sense of complacency by those distractions, excuses and easy quotas. The top 6% are driven to beat their internal goals, not the artificially low ones handed out by the companies they work for. There are many salespeople who set their own budgets by forecasting that in a shrinking marketplace with customers moving off shore, that they’ll be lucky to sell 10% less than last year, knowing full well that they could blow that number away if they wanted or needed to.  But 74% of all salespeople tend to take the path of least resistance, and only sell what they are required to sell.

Question – Which group are you in? Top 6%? Bottom 74%. Low hanging fruit only? Get them all? Sell to your quota? Bust through to make it a career year?

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