Trust Your Instincts? Not So Fast.

I loved baseball as a kid.

Years ago, when my wife and I became friends with Don Drysdale and Annie Meyers, all my memories of watching those heart-pounding games came back. Don introduced me to Hall of Fame stars. Ernie Banks was one. “Mr. Cub” and I, and his twin, boys became lifelong friends. At one point, Ernie came to work for one of my companies; we traveled the country together to see clients. I miss our conversations.

Ernie often spoke about competitive advantage. Even if he was fouled on a pitch, his lightning-fast wrists could still catch up to the ball and hit it out of the park. That competitive advantage led to 512 career home runs. He is one of 27-lifetime players to make the 500 home run club. Babe Ruth was the first.

What can we, in the sales profession, learn from Babe Ruth?  He always used his skills to his advantage, just like we try to do. But with the best of good intentions to do well, the wrong instincts can take over.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth

In the 1918 baseball season, at the age of 23, Babe Ruth let Major League Baseball in home runs. He hit 11 out of the park in 95 games with 317 times at bat. What an accomplishment given he only hit nine home runs in the previous four years (166 games).

A large man at 6’2” and 215 pounds, Ruth hit the 11 home runs using a 54-ounce bat. Like something out of a Flintstones’ cartoon, that lumbering bat compares to 32-ounce bats swung by today’s Miguel Cabrera or Adam Dunn, or Alex Rodriguez at 31-ounces, all men with larger physiques.

Good Intentions. Wrong Instincts.

Ruth reasoned, its claimed, that a big batter should swing a big bat. He had good intentions but the wrong instincts.

Ruth began to experiment with much shorter and lighter bats. Ruth said, Going to the shorter bat was one of my best moves, and I have wondered many times since why any player would bother with swinging a stick an inch or two longer than was absolutely necessary.

My idea on weight is that you should use a bat as heavy as you can handle. If you can swing a bat weighing, say, 38-ounces as fast as one weighing 35-ounces, you’re bound to get a longer hit. What’s more, you get real solid timber in the heavier bats, and that, too, adds to driving power.”

By switching to a smaller 40-ounce bat, Ruth hit his record 60 home runs in 1927, a major improvement over his 11 home runs in 1918. (Thanks to Corporate Visions for sharing this story).

Avoid Wrong Instincts

It is counterintuitive to believe you can hit more home runs using a smaller, lighter bat. But Ruth found this switch gave him incremental improvement and proved a game changer in home run ability.

In business, like baseball, you need the right instincts. Wrong instincts will lead you astray from your core sales activities, no matter how good your intentions.

Find major improvements in sales performance by bucking tradition and applying research-backed concepts to your sales strategy.

Think with me for a minute. I’ve identified six areas below where you might have good intentions, but wrong instincts throw you off your plan to improve sales performance.

Good Intention Wrong Instinct Unintended Outcome
Get the prospect to admit where issues exist in his business. Lead the discussion with open-ended questions to uncover the need. Ensure prospect recognizes it. Without getting the prospect to commit to fixing the problem, you risk of ending up in a no-decision.
Create an approach that shows the prospect your unique offer and differentiate it from the competition. Focus on the needs your prospect communicates to you. Selling only to the prospect’s needs shows no differentiation. You must find the need behind the need, the motivator, and often the undiscovered need, as well.
Close early and often. Once you hear those buying signs, start closing the sale. You may be closing a non-decision maker. Take time to understand the decision-making process and pin down the economic buyer.
Do your research, find a need and sell to it. Uncover the need. Show the results. Go for the close. Selling only to a need the prospect already sees may force you into a price war. Don’t get stuck in a price war.
Get to the C-Suite Meet with C-Level executives and uncover their needs. In many situations, the needs arise at lower levels where user buyers face difficulties. Determine who’s most impacted by your solution.
Use data and convince the prospect the status quo is unsafe. Use data to show the prospect that if they don’t fix the problem he will suffer risk. A study by Dr. Zakary Tomala from Stanford University “found that creating risk and linking that risk to an alternative ‘resolution’ scenario gives you a statistically significant edge in terms of creating buying intent versus simply presenting risk alone.

Comparing Salespeople with Athletes

The traits of top sales professionals compare to top athletes: Disciplined. Competitive. Committed. Focused. Passionate. And the willingness to sacrifice for long-term gain. Given that you possess some, maybe many of these traits, you or your sales team can learn to ignore wrong instincts and reach better outcomes, not unintended ones.

If you do nothing else this week but recommit to research and practicing your questioning skills, you will produce incremental improvement in your sales performance.

Questioning can be this simple:

When a prospect tells you he wants to reduce cost, he has told you his need. But where does he want to reduce cost, by how much, compared to what, and why now?  Ask what more motivates his company to consider this cost-savings initiative? Draw as detailed a picture as possible with each question.

To lead with good intentions and follow-through with right actions, you must question the perceptions of your prospect, as well as your own. Get past biases. Filters. Assumptions. Subconscious judgment. And gut instinct. Because all contribute to the outcome of prospect engagement, unintended or not.

See you on the upside,


For more information, go to
Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700

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