Coaching a baseball team full of eight-year-olds, I’ve learned you can’t take anything for granted. Baseball concepts must be taught, tested and revisited often.
For example, I recently asked my team to throw the ball “around the horn.” They all just stared at me. I explained it’s a quick exercise where the infielders throw the ball to one another after an out is made.
We practiced it a few times. The ball was inevitably airmailed into the outfield. A dog pile ensued as the team raced after it. That was the end of “around the horn.” Until I got home. There I stumbled upon the ESPN show Around the Horn. As I watched, I saw ATH could be used in business settings too.
In Around the Horn, a group of four sports writers provide perspective and commentary on a variety of relevant topics. The host, Tony Reali, awards points to the most insightful and/or humorous responses.
Reali explains, “The thing I love most about hosting this show is that it mirrors my personality: sports, games, jokes, pop culture—and none of it taken too seriously. I mean, we have a mute button and a scoring system no one understands. I like that.”
Being a Purchasing Manager was a lot like hosting Around the Horn.
- We awarded points for insightfulness.
- We had a mute button.
- And most sales reps didn’t understand our scoring system.
So how can sales reps prepare for Purchasing Managers like this? Play Around the Horn.
Here’s how it works: At your weekly sales meeting, select 4 team members to be participants. Then select a host. Everyone else takes notes to share later.
The host introduces a relevant question to the group—one that a Purchasing Manager might ask—and calls on a participant to begin speaking. For example:
- What’s your profit margin on our current window package?
- What do you think of the price stability of Southern Pine?
- How will the BFS/ProBuild deal impact our business?
- Can you believe Sepp Blatter resigned as FIFA chief?
The goal for the participants is to respond with insight. That 1500-word Willy Loman response that took the conversation from Southern Pine to Southern Comfort . . . 0 points. And the mute button.
That intelligent response about the BFS/ProBuild deal decreasingcompetition and increasing prices in your market . . . 5 points. Well done.
(If you want to develop world-class sales reps, video tape these ATH training sessions. Have each rep review his performance. Edit the best responses and share them as part of your digital library. Load them on your sales team's smartphones and iPads for when they get stuck.)
The goal of ATH is to increase the ratio of words spoken to insight provided.
Your sales reps may be able to talk a dog off a meat wagon, but if they cannot articulate consistent, meaningful insights, they are worthless to a Purchasing Manager. Playing Around the Horn will help your team improve its insight capability—and chemistry—with Purchasing Managers.
ESPN host, Tony Reali said, “For me, the strength of this show is in the friendship and chemistry and relationship between the participants and the discussion that comes from that.”
Doesn’t that describe the best relationships in your business too?
So try out ATH at your next sales meeting.
Don’t take anything for granted though—whether you’ve got 8-year-olds or a squad full of seasoned vets, not everyone will know how to play Around the Horn.
Teach it, test it and revisit it often.
Look for this article in the July edition of LBM Journal—print and online. If you'd like to have an audio file of this article, email Bradley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 630.234.7321.