Not all that long ago, I happened to be in attendance for a regular Sales meeting, which was scheduled shortly after a particularly challenging month. The mood was dreary in the conference room despite the sunshine poking through the slotted blinds. Projected on the large panel display at the far end of the room were images and figures of the team’s lackluster performance and highlights of their shortcomings. Occasionally there was a shout out for someone whose results weren’t quite as dismal as the rest.
The team looked deflated, if not outright depressed. They were slumped and slouched in their chairs. There was almost no eye contact and people were lethargically fidgeting with their notepads, pens, or phones. Several people seemed to be silently counting down the time left in the day. While others, I’m sure, were contemplating their career choices. It was rather unbearable.
After the presenter was finished, I asked permission to say something to the group. The leader acquiesced without resistance, recognizing that not much more harm could be inflicted upon the team.
Without getting up from my chair, I said “You know…I admire you.”
Some looked up, others scoffed.
“That’s something you probably don’t expect to hear much as Salespeople. But, I mean it.”
I leaned forward to rest my arms on the oversized conference table and surveyed the group. “It’s no easy job to put yourself out there everyday and get told “I’m not interested” before they get a chance to know you or what you can do to help them. Most people couldn’t handle that. Most people prefer the comfort of a smaller, steady paycheck and not having to make connections with complete strangers. But there’s no reward without taking some risk, right?”
Postures around the room started to change. Crossed arms were unfolding. Even eye contact was possible with a few people.
“You know, I always think of Sales like being a batter in baseball. You’re basically standing all alone at the plate with everyone watching you. And there’s a whole field of opponents out there trying to deny you from successfully scoring. But isn’t it really the dream of almost every kid to be the hero that makes that game winning hit? I think every sale sort of feels a bit like that, doesn’t it?”
The team started to reminisce about past wins and banter with each other. At this point I stood up.
“And the thing is that even the best professional ballplayers only get a hit 30 to 40 percent of the time. Think about that. That means they fail 60 to 70 percent of the time! It’s one of the few occupations where employees are paid well for failing more often than succeeding. Sales is another one. Well, is anyone here waiting on an offer to start in the major leagues soon…?”
“You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but at one time I was a very good hitter in baseball. Of course, that was a very long time ago and I reached my peak in high school. But I had the top batting average, on base percentage, and slugging average for the town. They even gave me nicknames like “Boomer” and “Hammer”. However, it was about the only thing I was good at when it came to baseball. Well, that’s not entirely true. I, also, became very good at finding four leaf clovers.”
“You see, when I started out in Little League minors I wasn’t a good hitter at all. I was pretty intimidated by the hardball being hurled at me. So, when I played, I was always last in the batting order and was put in right field where not much action was expected. But I wasn’t discouraged, because some of the best hitters in baseball played right field in their career – Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, and Babe Ruth.”
“So, one day as I was standing out in right field with nothing to do, I began thinking about my next time at the plate and wondering what sort of magic or method of wishing would get me my first hit in a game. I mean I had been working on my hitting skills during practices, but it’s not the same thing as getting a hit in a game, right? And then I noticed I was standing in a patch of clovers. And I figured if I could find a four leaf clover, maybe that would bring just enough luck to get a hit.”
“Between pitches I’d sweep the grass with my foot to separate the clovers, because I kept getting fooled thinking I was seeing one, but it was just the leaves from two different clovers intertwined. After a few innings of let downs, straining my eyes at the ground, and starting to get desperate because I had my chance at bat coming up, I finally found one! There it was – I couldn’t believe it! And I plucked it up and carefully tucked it inside the hem of my cap. And I thought “Okay – today’s going to be the day!””
“And wouldn’t you know it? That’s the day that I got my very first hit in a game. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was enough to get me safely to first base. I’ll always remember that swish and crack of the bat, the shock and slight sting in my hands as I made contact. Almost made me forget to start running.”
“So, from that point onward I made it my mission to find a four leaf clover for every game, that way it would ensure me getting a hit. That seemed logical for a kid or superstitious ballplayer, right? And it wasn’t always easy, but I’d look for them around the dugout or the stands. Even at home before getting to the field, giving me optimal luck for every at bat of the game.”
“Then one day I hit my first legitimate double, a solid liner between the fielders, and was all pumped up. And I was standing on second base and it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have a clover in my cap that day. I even asked for “time-out” and took my cap off to double check. I was astonished! How was this possible? Not only that, but I got another hit later in the same game. And it was then that I realized that I didn’t need a lucky clover to get a hit. I just needed the confidence. I needed to let go of doubt and believe in myself. And that sharpening my skills in practice mattered for the games. And that having succeeded before, meant I could do it again!”
“And although my career as a hitter didn’t extend into my adult years, except for a few recreational softball leagues, my ability to find four leaf clovers continues. Even finding five leaf clovers has become routine at this point. I have books filled, cover to cover, with thousands of pressed clovers. Some with as many as eight leaves.”
“The odds of finding a four leaf clover are 10,000 to 1. That’s much worse odds than getting a hit in baseball or the number of opportunities it takes to close a sale. But I can say with complete confidence that if you put me in a patch of green that I will find you a four leaf clover within 10 minutes. And it’s due to some of the same skills you need as a hitter in baseball or to be successful in Sales: practice, patience, confidence, and vision.”
Bending over to my bag, I reached in and pulled out a novel sized book.
“Now, here is one of those books I mentioned that are filled with four and five leaf clovers. Please feel free to find one you like and keep it for yourself. I’m not giving these to you because I think that you need the luck. But because you need to remember that you are good at this, to let go of the doubt. That you have the skills to do this job and you know how to do it well. These clovers only serve as a reminder of the confidence and courage to go out and win back the day. Not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day.”
And with that we adjourned the meeting. Promptly after which, I headed out to find some batting cages…