June 17th, 2013

What Sales Leaders can learn from the US Open at Merion

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As a global sales training company headquartered in Philadelphia, this past week was quite exciting with the 113th US Open taking place at Merion Country Club in nearby Ardmore. First and foremost, congratulations to Justin Rose on a great victory and thanks to the USGA and all of the players for a very memorable event.

Merion is one of several old gems in the area which date back to the late 1800s. On the surface, Merion looked easy.  At just under 7,000 yards, the course is over 500 yards shorter than some of the recent US Open courses.  Additionally, heavy rains would leave greens soft and vulnerable to the best players in the world pin hunting and shooting darts. Early buzz suggested record breaking scores, with the number 62 bandied about.

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When it was all said and done, not a single player broke par and many of the best players in the world fell to pieces:

  • #1 world rank – Tiger Woods: +13
  • #2 world rank – Adam Scott: +15
  • #3 world rank – Rory McIroy: +14
  • #4 world rank – Matt Kuchar: +12

Merion was tough when the pundits said it would be easy. Yes, it was short, but what more than made up for length was: the tall, wet rough, stunningly difficult greens, blind shots, white sand bunkers, and the strategic precision Merion demands every minute a golfer is playing the course. Add to these challenges nerves, butterflies and jitters that come with playing in a major, and in hindsight it is easy to see why the pundits were wrong.

Pundits in our industry talk about sales like it should be easy. All your people need to do is follow a sales process, use the latest technology, read the newest bestselling sales book and they will shoot the lights out, right? Well, in spite of what the pundits say, selling is very difficult. Back in April, CNBC (http://www.cnbc.com/id/100669506) reported that top-line growth has been anemic for over a year and appears to be getting worse. In Q1, only 39 percent of companies beat their top line, far below the historic average of 61 percent.

Like the Merion rough, there are several factors that impact revenue growth over which your sales people typically don’t have much direct control:

  • Implosion of a Eurozone economy or a recession in China
  • Market conditions, especially those that prompt customers to curtail spending
  • Turnover of executives in your customers that influences the buying process
  • Regulatory changes that redirect customers from strategic initiatives to compliance initiatives
  • Innovation and new technology that competes for mindshare with your core offerings

Like a PGA professional in search of a US Open victory, your people need to deal with the course and the conditions over which they have no control, but you can help them (and yourself) by focusing on the conditions over which you have control:

  • Consistent territory, account and opportunity management processes
  • Effective sales management process and coaching
  • Aligned marketing and sales messaging, lead definitions, and service-level agreements
  • Consistent call planning and execution discipline
  • Verifiable outcomes and metrics to track essential selling activities
  • Equipping your reps with skills to hold compelling conversations with customers
  • Providing access to subject matter experts when a deeper level of expertise is required

Ultimately, success comes down to your people’s ability to execute in the moment and under extreme pressure. Like the US Open, selling is a test of skill, mental toughness, patience, and execution. This doesn’t happen without preparation, practice, collaboration, and coaching. Establish conditions to help them execute your plan, hold them accountable and you improve your odds of winning on the tough course of our business world.

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About The Author: Dario Priolo

As Chief Strategy Officer, Dario Priolo is responsible for driving Richardson’s market, product, and corporate strategy and planning — sharing critical insights with clients to help them win in today’s changing market place. Dario gathers intelligence and market and customer knowledge to: drive Richardson’s innovation; ensure that Richardson offers the best and most relevant solutions for clients that exceed client satisfaction; and raise awareness of Richardson’s extensive capabilities with sales and business leaders.

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