When the movie Moneyball came out a couple years ago, it introduced those of us who weren't die-hard baseball fans to the way subtle changes to player lineups can dramatically impact how teams interact and perform. If you understand the data behind those nuances, you can improve your odds of success dramatically. The same principle applies to managing a sales team.

In the movie, Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, the hiring manager of the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics. Because he lacks the financial resources available to other team managers, he gets creative. While his peers talk about which players "look good," Beane engages the help of a statistician to run data analytics, find the players that actually contribute most to team success and headhunt the undervalued ones.

What I love about this story is that Beane got creative and succeeded, despite many who critiqued his approach. For sales leaders, there are several lessons that can be applied from the movie:

Look at Your Challenge in a New Way

What constitutes "sales success" isn't always intuitive. One of my favorite quotes from Moneyball comes when Beane is challenged by his scout, who says, "Billy, you got a kid in there that's got a degree in Economics from Yale. You got a scout here with 29 years of baseball experience. You're listening to the wrong one."

Now I'm not discounting experience, but sometimes you get to a point in your career where you've plateaued, and you simply rely on what's worked for you in the past. Don't accept this in yourself or the people you work with. Push yourself and your team to look at the challenges you face in a new light, and like Beane found out, data can help point you in a new direction.

Dig Deeper into the Data

In sales, data is critical for making informed decisions about the best way to grow and manage your team. It can give you insight into which areas reps excel in, where they struggle and what other factors are at play.

For example, sometimes the apparent superstars on a sales team aren't actually driving the greatest value. Total sales might not always be the best metric for evaluating a seller's performance. You might have a high-performing rep in a difficult space, which would result in lackluster overall sales metrics even if the rep far outperforms everyone else in that arena. You have to have access to contextual data to truly understand the situation.

Play to the Strengths of Your Team

Sometimes the most important data for vetting sales performance is not the most obvious. Beane eschewed conventional statistics like batting averages and stolen bases in favor of more meaningful data, like on-base percentage.

Similarly in sales, revenue is often seen as the pinnacle of sales success, but other factors that have less to do with revenue could play a crucial role in determining your team structure and success. Consider the number of opportunities lost and the reasons why, look at sales rep performance relative to peers, examine internal team dynamics, and how reps utilize selling tools. You might also want to pay attention to incremental wins, like the number of calls and contacts made or demos and appointments set.

By analyzing this data, you can uncover new ways to optimize your existing team's talents. Are there people that excel at certain steps in the sales process but not others? Is there a way that you can restructure your process so that you are playing to everyone's strengths? As always, make sure you're transparent about these metrics and reward reps accordingly to keep everyone motivated and engaged.

Instill Confidence

In Moneyball,Bean said to his team, "You may not look like a winning team, but you are one. So play like one tonight." Have a vision for what your team can accomplish, even if they can't see it themselves. Instilling confidence in your team can produce positive outcomes. That's what great leaders do; they help their team realize their potential one win at a time.

Old sales was about gut feelings--who managers felt by instinct was the right player for each position. New sales is about science--about using all the available data to make a well-informed decision. Like Beane, when I'm organizing my sales teams, I try to dig deep and look beyond the obvious. In my experience, it plays out well in the long run.

What other lessons did you uncover in Moneyball?

Published on: Apr 8, 2015
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