Contributed Column

Marketing 101

by Christine Miller

Go for the ball

When my kids were little I spent a fair amount of time at basketball practice.

Before practice officially started, the kids would be on the court with the balls taking shots. One team created a line and, one by one, took turns at making a shot. The other team did whatever they could to get their hands on the ball, and took multiple shots. 

Both teams needed to understand the process and strategy of the game. One group needed to understand that the game wasn’t always about taking turns, and the other needed to understand the structure of the game. They needed to know when to follow a play and when to improvise. Most important, they needed to know how to respond in different situations and then practice those game plays.

Not long after watching these practices I thought about how going for the ball and taking shots could be compared to conducting yourself at a sales meeting. When you present at a sales meeting, do you expect the meeting to be perfect — politely taking turns passing the ball back and forth? Or do you go in grabbing and fighting for the business like you were grabbing a ball?

I find that many salespeople imagine a certain sales scenario. A business owner takes your call and accepts the appointment. The salesperson is then ushered into a lovely office. The business owner (or buyer) is on time and is enthusiastic and attentive. The conversation goes back and forth with a structured flow. Essentially there is no rough play and the ball is fairly passed back and forth.

Here’s another scenario. The client accepts the sales call and makes the appointment. He or she is late and makes you wait. While you are trying to present, you are interrupted by employees. The buyer takes phone calls and only half listens to what you are saying. The account executive has to work hard to keep control of the meeting and be skilled in asking for the sale — grabbing the ball.

Some would argue that the client was unprofessional and disrespectful in that scenario. And while that may or may not be true, salespeople who are inclined to be orderly and follow the rules need to be adaptable. And those who like to rush to close need to know how to manage an organized sales call.

I once worked with a sales rep who was able to hold the bottom of a ladder while the owner of a store painted a wall, all while having a sales conversation. That same rep also hopped behind the prep table of an Italian restaurant and helped make meatballs with the owner. Both deals closed. That’s what I call grabbing for the ball.

But let’s go back to that first sales setting, because they do exist. Meeting scheduled, buyer on time, and the rep is ushered into a beautiful conference room with several decision-makers sitting around a large conference room table. That meatball-making account executive had better know how to kick off a meeting, make a formal presentation, and answer questions.

Often we take a one-size-fits-all approach without sales practice. Take some time and pretend you are the spectator watching the sale from the bleachers. Are you (or your team) skilled at all levels of play? Have you practiced enough so that when the other side changes position you can adjust your play?

Practice more than you play and you’ll always be a winner even if you don’t make the sale. Having the skill to take the shot under changing circumstances and pressure will win the game. •

Christine Miller is the author of Sales Geisha. She can be reached at

Index of Contributed Columns

For information on submitting a contributed column see here.