By Pete Van Baalen
Indiana Newspaper Advertising Executives Association

As hard as I try, I just can’t avoid sports analogies when I talk about business.

Since I’m such a big baseball fan, those metaphors tend to be based on the diamond.

Every spring I head to Florida to catch some sun, a couple beers and as many spring training baseball games I can squeeze in over a few days off.

This year I also had the opportunity to catch a practice session of my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox.

I watched multi-million-dollar players working on their drills. These highly skilled professionals spent hours working on fundamentals.

Their time was spent on details of their swing and how to run the bases and throw the baseball properly. High-level, detailed strategy is no doubt also discussed during spring training, but clearly the focus was on the basics.

This is a lesson we can put in place for our sales teams.

It is a good investment to discuss high-level marketing strategy with your sales reps, but don’t forget to stress the basics.

As much as you (and surely your staff) hate to do roll-plays of a sales call, those basics are necessary to your team’s success in the field.

I would much prefer that the Red Sox make their mistakes in Florida at spring training than when they are back in Boston and playing games that count.

Isn’t that also the case for your sales team?

Better to make those mistakes in the sales meeting on Monday than in front of an account that you hoped would bring $20,000 in new business.

Sales meetings are an often-overlooked part of our lives. I’m just as guilty as the next person, but short of field time with your reps this might be the most important part of the work week.

If you are walking into the meeting and winging it, then perhaps it is time to reconsider things.

• Have an agenda.

I personally never shared the agenda with my team, but I created one for me to follow so that I didn’t forget things.

And I didn’t work on it in the minutes leading up to the meeting or the night before. It was a document I kept on my desktop that I added to as the week went along.

Some things stayed on the agenda each meeting, and the additions added throughout the week helped keep things fresh.

Updating my agenda during the course of a week meant I didn’t really need to add additional time to prepare for the meeting.

• Have a training element.

It can be a product introduction if you’re launching something new. But I like the idea of including role-plays to keep people sharp.

Make things fun as you’re training. People learn more and retain better if they are also entertained a little too.

There are tons of books and countless websites that can help you in this area.

Creating a culture of learning and fun is important. I’m reading a book that addresses this head on, and I highly recommend it for you if you’re working on building your team and culture.

“You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports and Life” is written by former NFL coaches Mike Smith and Jon Gordon.

They go in-depth on the importance of culture for successful teams.

They suggest that every successful team is built on these seven basic principles:

• Have fun, work hard, and enjoy the journey.

• Show respect to all associated with your business.

• Put the team first.

• Do your job but be prepared for it to change.

• Be the same person every day. Do not get too high in victory or too low in defeat.

• Understand that all organizational decisions aim to make the team better.

• Have a positive attitude.

Developing your team and your culture is one of the keys for long-term success.

Getting the right people doing the right thing at the right time – and then helping them feel good about who they are doing it for – will create a stable, winning sales team for your organization.

Pete Van Baalen, publisher of The Elkhart Truth, is a member of the HSPA board of directors and president of Indiana Newspaper Advertising Executives Association.

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