SBJ/Sept. 11-17, 2017/Opinion

Saddle up! We’re horsing around with sales analogies

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This column started out on Twitter. One of my students currently working in sales was frustrated because he had an idea for a sale that fell outside of the structure being employed by his inside sales manager. His manager was encouraging him and his team to make their specified number of calls every day from the leads assigned to them. The manager felt that what the student was attempting to do was not the best use of his time and wasn’t very likely to result in a sale. The young man elected to do both — follow the manager’s instructions during the day and pursue the sale after hours. He persisted and closed the sale he had been working on with the result being a sale in the mid-five-figure range.

Upon hearing about the sale and having been aware of the situation, I tweeted “One of the most important things a sales manager learns is how to motivate and manage people differently within the same structure.” That tweet led to a number of follow-up tweets that created some dialogue and the concept contained here.

The analogy I presented is that salespeople are a lot like horses — some prefer to remain in a corral — safe and routine. Some others like to occasionally venture out in the pasture — more open but still contained and structured. Both of these environs provide structure, and the basics of food and shelter (read this as sales leads and coaching). Others are like mustangs, preferring the wild and solving problems on their own with a general disdain for routine, structure and rules. Finally, some are veteran horses, preferring to work at their own pace and own style and because they understand the rules, often giving the appearance of following them but really following their own inclinations. So let’s examine these various “horses” from a “jockey’s” (sales manager’s) perspective.

Ponies in the corral

Usually younger, wearing a saddle and bridle for the first time and learning to let someone control the reins. Everything is new and they are often eager for the attention and care from their jockey. They are quick to learn but often make mistakes and need ongoing training and repetition. As they begin to understand what is expected of them and learn that they are rewarded when they perform to the satisfaction of the jockey, they try to outperform each other to earn the special attention and recognition associated with becoming a show horse.

Maturing colts and fillies

While still spending a large part of their time in the corral, these maturing horses have earned the trust of the jockeys and trainers and are permitted to leave the safety of the corral and spend time in the pasture (going on face-to-face sales appointments). Positive behavior and performance earn more time in the pasture and away from the corral while poor behavior and performance result in more confinement in the corral accompanied by more training and practice through repetition and more instruction.

Well-trained and confident players take a variety of risks and venture outside the corral.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


Mustangs

Often show they are willing to test the limits and control of the jockey during their early time in the corral. Sometimes they earn the right to be in the pasture but on occasion are permitted into the pasture earlier than usual because of their temperament and sometimes frustration on the part of the jockey who then decides to try something new. The mustangs enjoy the pasture much more than the corral but also leave the pasture at the first opportunity to run free and unfettered on the open range — where they are usually out of the control, influence and sightline of the jockey. Mustangs love the open range as they often make modifications and alterations to what they have learned to make it serve them better. As they are running free they develop speed and agility as they maneuver through the varied terrain on the range. For that reason it is difficult to return the mustang to the corral for additional training or even to restrict them to the pasture. On a sales team, mustangs usually have the highest upside but also are the most difficult to manage.

Veteran horses

These horses are tested performers. They were well trained in the corral but distinguished themselves in the pasture. They don’t have the temperament of mustangs and often give the appearance of adhering to the training they received while in the corral, but in reality they have learned to look like they are obeying the jockey. They have learned to know how long the rope is and how tight the rope is in reality (they have learned what they can get away with). Their senses have been finely developed to be able to read the situation and understand what they can do. They are strong finishers and always cross the finish line — often without their jockey.

Jockeys

A winning jockey can adapt his or her style to the types of horses on the range, adjusting their training, routine and diet to produce horses capable of winning races. However, some jockeys only have one speed or style, resulting in horses leaving the ranch prematurely, while others exert too much control, breaking the spirit of the horse, and still others are too lax and the horses don’t respond and fail to learn. The jockey needs to understand that a horse adapts to his or her surroundings, so in addition to the jockey and the corral training, the ranch, the other horses and the type of training, and also opportunities like what they might find on the pasture or the range. Motivation varies as well — for some horses it’s carrots, some like apples and others like sugar.

As the best sales managers, jockeys are “horse whisperers” communicating in a variety of ways to a variety of horses in various stages of development producing many contenders and hopefully champions, capable of competing day in and day out regardless of the course or track.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.
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