If you follow baseball you have heard the statement time and time again, “we need to play small ball.” The teams that are proficient in small ball seem to always be near the top of the standing.
Too many times salespeople and small business owners are consumed with getting that big order – for commission, it’s good for their ego, to impress their boss etc. For the small business owner it is to grow and stay in business.
So often you hear a sales manager or senior management say we need to get the smaller and mid-size accounts. Everyone works frantically to find, to solicit and to try to sell to these accounts. This goes on for a few months and company philosophy changes. The amount of time and effort to service smaller accounts is not worth it.
Another example of this is the banking industry when they say it takes the same amount of time and resources to manage a million dollar loan as it does a half million dollar loan, so let’s concentrate on the million dollar loan’s potential. This is good logic but does it make good business sense in the long run?
The three obstacles to doing Small Ball Selling, which are obviously lacking in the above examples, are a plan, patience, and persistence.
You need a plan and that is usually the place where failure to execute Small Ball Selling begins. In a mid-size company where I was consulting, one division decided that they needed to get more small accounts. They had the major accounts, but needed to try to increase their sales and profits. As we all know, the major accounts have a tendency to squeeze the profits out of the sale.
The VP of Sales has been preaching selling to the smaller specialty accounts for some time; finally the President said “ok do it.” The cornerstone of the so called plan was to participate in a trade show and get new accounts and build this business. Since I was not involved in working with this particular division I observed closely from a safe distance but offered my assistance (which was not needed as per the VP). I watched in utter amazement as they had no detailed plan with objectives, time line implementation, goals or needs to accomplish this.
It was less than 90 days after the show ended that I was sitting in a company meeting. The VP who had been preaching small ball selling had given up on it as a waste of time. WOW, that VP had no plan to secure the small specialty business. He spent a considerable amount of money for the trade show and really had no process for following up on leads obtained from the show.
How could it be thinkable that it would be successful? This is not the first time I have observed such behavior in relation to building of smaller accounts. If there is no plan there is no success.
Patience is the second key to a successful small ball selling plan. The best way for me to explain how patience is needed is by telling you a true story.
I had a good friend who was an independent commission sales rep working with a very small account in the northwestern part of a small state in the mid 60’s. He would regularly take a 5 hour drive one way over a two lane road through the mountains. He would get his small orders, and as time progressed they continued to get bigger and bigger. Yes you guessed it; the small customer was in Northwest Arkansas and the account was Wal-Mart. My friend who had the patience to drive 5 hours one way to work with this account as an independent rep when it was small, has since become very wealthy. He has since opened three very successful small businesses in Arkansas.
You never know what small account will become the next Wal-Mart, the next Microsoft. You need to have patience to build this Small Ball business, it may reward you beyond your wildest imagination, just ask my friend Frank from Little Rock.
Persistent – if you have a good plan you will need to develop a persistent mentality. I know for small business owners this can become very frustrating. Let me give you an example of another friend that demonstrated his persistence. He also was an independent sales commission rep, selling to specific industries in the USA. He had two problems; one, the products he was selling were all in one area (when he went to his customer he spent two or three hours with the buyer) then he would leave. The second problem was he had to fly to his next account so he could see only one account per day for only two to three hours. This was not only very expensive but also a not very efficient use of time. The money he was making was all spent on airfare and hotel rooms.
He had no other choice; he had to find a way to be more productive. He determined that the only way this could work was if he had more diversified products so he could meet with more than one buyer at each of his accounts. This seemed so logical. However, the problem was where was he going to get these other product lines? His knowledge and experience was in the electronic field not in sporting goods, housewares or giftware.
He started going to trade shows for the other area, subscribing to trade magazines and calling on manufacturers to secure lines in these areas. This took a considerable amount of time and money. This would be very frustrating and lonely for him. He would be at these shows and he knew no one. He would interview with sales managers at companies he wanted to represent and they would ask how well he knew the buyer in this category in his account and he indicated he did not know him that well.
In a relatively short period of time though, he not only had more product lines for the other areas, but they were also productive lines making money for him. Now when he flies into the same account where he once spent two to three hours, he spends two to three full days working other product categories at these accounts. These accounts were small in the beginning and they grew to become large retailers and my friend also grew to be a very successful independent sales rep with these accounts by being persistent.