Distributors’ perspective: Life lessons learned from ‘Moneyball’

Home Columns Distributors' perspective: Life lessons learned from ‘Moneyball’

May 8/15, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 24

By Dunn Rasbury

 

A few years back, I read a book by Michael Lewis called “Moneyball.” The story is about the Oakland Athletics Baseball team. In 2002, the team’s general manager, a guy named Billy Beane, was faced with a huge challenge: field a competitive team using a little more than half of the average MLB team payroll. This disparity forced him to look at the “value” of a player differently.

The moral of the story is that by using specific statistical metrics instead of traditional baseball evaluation techniques, he was able to create a team that won 20 games in a row, went to the playoffs and in many ways revolutionized the game of baseball.

The idea of using non-traditional criteria to judge talent intrigued me. It seemed to me that the “old, tried-and-true” method of judging sales potential was “knowing” the customers, the products and the industry. It struck me that those attributes can be learned. What can’t be learned is a high energy level, work ethic and competitiveness. Certainly, it would be ideal to have all of the above but we all know those candidates are few and far between. Maybe hiring on intangibles and then committing to a robust training protocol is a better recipe for long-term sales success? Of course, this would require a greater commitment to sales training than is traditional in our industry. However, if we could get the personality criteria and the training paradigm to align, we could realize a much greater ROI on our sales force investment.

Using specific analytical metrics is a relatively new concept in our flooring world. In the future, analytical data will be the foundation that all sales functions rest. High-performing sales teams are already to one degree or another making themselves more efficient because of the data they gather and use. Think of the efficiencies to be attained if we had empirical data that told our individual sales team members where and with what products they were most likely to have success. Just as valuable would be data on product categories by region or demographic. Aside from sales, think of the money saved in inventory efficiencies by the use of advanced analytics. The new generations that are just beginning to impact the compositions of our sales teams are going to force companies to use such techniques. Millennials, Gen-Xs and Gen-Yers grew up in a world where virtually anything you wanted to know was literally at their fingertips.

There is also an opportunity to leverage technology through things like e-commerce websites and logistics automation that would allow distributors to enhance the “customer buying experience” while still keeping costs in line. Our customers’ expectations of how they purchase product in business is influenced by their customer experience when they buy online. Think of how much more inclined our customers would be to buy from distribution if we could give them an “Amazon-like” service model.

Like most things in life, sales and—to larger extent—running a company, has gotten simultaneously easier and more complicated. It’s the companies that can hold true to their core values yet still leverage the power of innovative, non-traditional thinking and ideas that will win the day.

 

Dunn Rasbury is distributor director, NAFCD, and director of flooring for A&M Supply, Atlanta. He is also a strategic planner, product line developer and sales team builder.

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