Let the Flamethrowers Throw Flames: Why sales hunters should not be prospecting

Posted by Greg Alexander on Jul 25, 2011 10:36:00 AM

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This week's guest blog is co-written by Greg Alexander, Sales CEO of Sales Benchmark Index and John Kearney a Consultant with Sales Benchmark Index focusing on sales force effectiveness and inbound marketing.

Hunters are sales people with an instinct for closing deals and acquiring new customers. Instinct cannot be taught so few salespeople become great hunters. If there are so few hunters, then why are sales executives so eager to have hunters beating bushes to find new prospects instead of doing what they were naturally intended to do? To flesh this out, let’s consider another field where closers are key: baseball.

Flaming BaseballIn baseball, a closer is a pitcher that comes in for the 9th inning and ‘closes’ the game. Closers are ‘flamethrowers’, with fastballs that regularly top 100 mph. For eight innings your starting pitcher and relievers have done their part, cultivating a lead, offering a wide variety and style of pitches to keep the opponent off guard and setting you up to win. Then, after eight innings of cultivation, the closer comes in and WHAM, seals the deal.

So, if a closer can throw the heat and seal the deal, why not put him in the starting rotation? If he’s going to get you three outs when you need it, why not have him give you 9 good innings? Because a closer is not a starter. The closer has a small set of tools that produce big results. But he also lacks certain skills necessary to last 9 innings. The ‘flames’ are only hot for an inning or two. If a batter faces you three times in a game he will eventually catch up with the pitches. He does not have great curveballs or change ups. But, man, can he close.

To close out our analogy let’s look at the New York Yankees. Joba Chamberlain was a budding young pitcher for the team, and his skill set seemed to indicate that he would be an ideal closer. His great talent had the organization and its fans thinking that he would be a great starter. Turns out he wasn’t. His move from a closer to a starter (and back to closer, starter and finally closer) left Joba where he is today, on the DL, musing over his wasted potential as he awaits major surgery. Mariano Rivera, whom some felt Joba would one day take over for, has never been anything but a closer. The Yankees have flourished as Rivera has become perhaps the greatest closer in the history of the game. Rivera has flourished as he is the second highest paid pitcher on the team, and throws about a 10th the number of pitches as the higher paid CC Sabathia.

The game of sales is the same. Few can ever become great hunters, so why waste that talent? The allure of having them fill different roles is strong, but fight the urge. The hours in a closer’s day are numbered, so make them count. Send your closers in in the 9th and let them throw flames.

Greg Alexander is Sales CEO of Sales Benchmark Index. Alexander’s work has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Fortune Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Investor’s Business Daily, etc. Greg Alexander is also the author of three critically acclaimed books: The CEO's Guide to Getting More Out of the Sales Force (2010), Making the Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance (2008) and Topgrading for Sales: World-Class Methods to Interview, Hire, and Coach Top Sales Representatives (2008).

John Kearney is a Consultant with Sales Benchmark Index focusing on sales force effectiveness and inbound marketing. Blog posts related to sales training are posted regularly by the SBI team.

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Topics: Sales Process, Sales Training

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