Are you a 5-tool player?

In baseball, a five-tool player is one who excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities.[1]

In essence, this player can do it all; he has absolutely ‘no’ holes in his game.

How about you; what are you bringing to the table? Are you a ‘five-tool player’ in your profession?

The reason I ask is because I see so many people in sales fall by the wayside in my profession; for whatever reason, they can’t put all the pieces together and maintain it for any length of time.

What are your tools?

I can tell you I’m ‘in’ insurance and that was even my degree: Risk Management-Insurance with a double major in Marketing. However, what I’m really in is ‘sales‘ as nothing happens until I bring a new customer through the door.

How do you like that green booger combo; insurance and sales, talk about killing a party conversation……..:).

In my world, the five areas I better have some game in is: prospecting; underwriting; sales; leadership; and diplomacy.

Break it down

Our insurance agency is NOT all things to everybody and neither am I. Just because we can write everything does not mean we chose to do so. We know what our ‘ideal’ customer looks like and we seek them out. I can count on one hand the successes we have had from random call-ins.

However, for our model to work means you need to have proficiency in networking and prospecting; ie – kissing a lot of frogs. And just because you know someone still does not mean you will be doing business together.

Underwriting -even though a business might be big and you know there will be lots of dollars involved, still does not make it an ‘ideal’ prospect. If they are just ‘shoppers’ and treat you no better than a vendor, then it’s probably best to ‘walk away.’ Also, if their management does not buy into a safe work place and what it takes to get there; keep walking on this one too. Finally, you have to know you will have a home for this once you drag this beast in the door. You can spend a lot of time getting it all pretty for the dance only to find out the dance was last Saturday; and you will be dancing with yourself.

Ahhh sales, the easy part, right? Well, once I determine this is ‘my‘ type of an account, I have to sell it to my marketing department. They have to believe we have a realistic chance of putting this on the books before we waste a lot of resources. Then, our marketing department has to turn around and ‘sell’ it to the insurance company so they will even quote for us. Once the carrier likes it, then I get involved and tell them why it’s a good fit for them. Finally, once we get the finished product back out, we have to go sell it to the prospect. No problem, huh…….your price is too high……..

Leadership; I am the captain and coach of the team. I have to put together a team internally and make sure they are a fit with the customer and with the service plan that was established. I have to empower the team to a great extent, but if anything breaks down it is ultimately my responsibility because it is my account after all.

Diplomacy, and this is always in play. You certainly have to be diplomatic with your customer because as you can imagine, you will deal with many personalities AND positions within the company. Internally, you have the same dynamics going on with your team. And finally externally with the insurance company, you have to deal with underwriting, marketing, claims, accounting, loss control, etc and each one has a different role and personality.

Easy stuff, huh?

Well, it’s certainly not rocket science but you do have to be able to juggle several balls at a time.

And that is the core of this post; over my career at @LanierUpshaw, I’ll bet I’ve seen at least 25-30 people with us in sales who did not ‘make it.’ Coming in, they appeared personable, intelligent, connected, etc, but for some reason or another there was a breakdown in one or more of the key components.

Is it sales? Is it too hard to maintain the confidence and drive day in and day out to sustain yourself over any length of time? If you hit a dry spell, do you think lack of confidence will come into play?

Is it the people? Sales, like social, can be very fickle. Just about the time you have it all figured out, you will get ‘fired’ by a customer and it leaves you scratching your head. You want to think you have ‘earned‘ a certain amount of respect and stature, but you can always get knocked out by the greenest of green boogs and it’s never fun.

How do you make it fit?

I would say over my career there are about 2% of the people in sales who ‘get it;’ they can sell the proverbial ice to an Eskimo, and sell them year after year.

Then there is the majority who have found a way to ‘survive’ and stick around for awhile; not too flashy, consistent and predictable. These are the ones who are most apt not to be job hopping.

And finally, there’s the 25% or so who have no business in sales because they can’t figure out any of the parts. They don’t have the discipline to do the basics primarily. They typically bounce around from shop to shop hoping they might get ‘lucky’ at one of there stops.

Sales are easy, right?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in the whole process is just making the ‘ask.’ You might be ‘afraid’ they won’t like you any more if they think you are a ‘salesman’ and ask them to do business with you.

But if you don’t make the ask or the sale, what work will the people in your office have to do; who’s going to pay them? You might feel you get to the point where you you’ve done your share, but if you aren’t ‘selling,’ then who is? Sometimes in sales it’s hard to be ‘on’ day in and day out, but that’s what you signed up for, right?

It can be very rewarding but it can be very scary at times; good thing I don’t know any better.

That’s my world and that’s all I will say about it; it just happens to work out pretty well for me.

Are you a 5-tool player; or just a tool?


32 thoughts on “Are you a 5-tool player?

  1. That was a great post Bill. I always enjoy posts that I can learn from and also that reveal the real person (a very competent one in this case) behind the internet face. How is the book writing going?

    • Hey Riley, thanks for the kind words. I’ve been out and about in real life this week and couldn’t even get back over here.

      Book writing is still in jotting notes in notebook and outline phase. I plan on picking up some speed here shortly.

      Good to see you.

  2. Multi-disciplinary. Word, Bill. Word.

    It’s best to be skillful in three or four areas with certain mastery in one or two domains. Being the best there ever was in one domain just does not bring efficiency in most situations. Because the less you can do – that’s more people that have to be brought in to get everything else done.

    Leadership and mentorship, for example, are prized attributes and often rare, but without the complement of practical skills, knowledge, even such gifted persons fall short.

    • Part of it is knowing what you do well and get better at it; the rest, make sure you have avenues to get those areas handled as well. Perception is reality and you can give the appearance of a 5-tool player when in reality you have just assembled the ‘right’ team around you.

  3. Interesting and timely post Bill, as I settle back in after my writing retreat. I’ve always said that I’m a Renaissance person, with many varied interests and (watch for it…it’s the death knell statement according to most) that I specialize in being a generalist. Yes, I said it. I’m not one SKU. The rich and varied life I’ve lived, the experiences I’ve had, ranging from Olympic Coach to GM of a professional theatre to creating the strategic plan for Business Enterprise Centres to developing a fitness leader certification program have all contributed to my ability to assist others on many levels.

    Now, I know we’re supposed to have our niche…and I do. It’s just that my niche has been as a toolbox (no, not a tool). I’m able to assist others with many things, and when it requires a specialty beyond my experience or expertise, I know the people I can recommend, and hand-off to.

    So I like to think of myself like the aisles of a grocery store, not one particular aisle or SKU. I’m not trying to be all things to all people, or practitioner of all and master of none. But I believe that my rich and varied experiences allow me to think in a certain way, see things from a variety of angles and apply both divergent and convergent thinking, to assist others to actually find the answer(s) best suited to their needs. Whether it’s right or wrong…It’s worked for me for over 25 years, and it’s worked for my clients. I like what Stan said: multi-disciplinary. Cheers! Kaarina

    • I guess I’m pretty much a generalist too; I know ‘something’ on many topics and can carry a decent conversation. However, I’m not going to be ‘that guy’ that explains Google + or why you should use it, etc, etc.

      Being a well versed generalist allows me to ‘connect’ people to people or to resources; that’s good enough for me.

      I will make it to your place, eventually; crazy week in many ways.

  4. I like being good at a lot of different things, and I think it’s important to at least be familiar with what everyone in your company can do so that you ca pinch hit if needed.And if you have a new company, you have to know it all anyways before you can afford to pay somebody else to share the load. I just like the challenge of figuring out how to do something that makes me uncomfortable and watching successful people for tips…

    • There is always a place for versatility. Recently, we had to downsize to a certain degree and the employees with the most versatility had the best chance of sticking around. Fortunately we are on the rebound and hopefully won’t have to go through that again.

      Observe, learn and try it; a good strategy indeed.

    • I did sign up for it and of course in sales you know exactly how ‘on’ you were by your numbers each month. A lot of people don’t like that type of accountability.

      I’m out and about all the time; I feel like I am my own ambassador so I am always selling myself. Anybody I come in contact has the potential to be a conduit for me to connect to who I need to connect to in order to be successful.

  5. I am a Jack of all trades, but I have spent quite a bit of time on the sales side of the fence.

    I suspect a lot of people think it is easy until they have to do it. They don’t understand how hard it can be. Much depends on what you are selling and who you are selling to, but in my experience the best salesmen had multiple tools to draw upon.

    • Outside looking in, sales can appear to be all fun and games and very easy to do. However, putting all the pieces together and actually having a check in hand can be fraught with peril. It can be very fickle, just like social.

  6. Much of what you said used to be part of my training programs, Bill. Some people will just never get it that perceived obstacles are opportunities. Our sales team was pretty good and used to have the maximum problem “asking for the order”. I could never understand why. After all, that IS the final goal right? But fear would rear its ugly head and the anxiety over receiving a “no” or an objection would have our guys hold back. And I could convince them about so many things – yet it took the longest time for them to understand that an objection usually meant “interested”. 🙂 I loved reading this post. (If I am too late to the party, just a glass of water will be quite fine).

    And yes,I always tried to be a 5-tool player.

    • Making the ‘ask’ is probably the hardest thing for most because then people will think you are ‘selling’ them. Some think ‘no’ is the worst thing that could happen but one of the things we do is go into ‘low risk practicing’ and just ask offbeat questions to create dialogue and see where it goes. I mean at that point, what do you have to lose, right?

  7. Bill, I enjoy all of your posts, but ones that give me a peak at what’s under the surface are exceptionally fascinating. As jovial and lighthearted as your posts mostly are, I know that to have succeeded in such a tough field (sales) in such a tough industry (insurance), you have to be more than a “just show up” guy. Thank you for sharing with us some of the secrets to your success.

    Succeeding in just one area isn’t enough, you have to be multi-talented. I’m glad you’re a 5 tool guy Bill, instead of being just a tool.

    • No tool here…………:). As always, your kind words are much appreciated. I will be totally truthful with you, it probably wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I felt totally secure and wasn’t concerned about the box outside your door to pack your stuff up in.

      Sales are numbers; either you are doing it or you aren’t. I have seen many a good person fall by the wayside because there is pressure and everybody gets to see your batting average each and every month. Most people don’t like the scrutiny…….

      I’ve been out and about this week; hope you are doing well.

  8. Calling it a “green booger combo” probably does wonders for sales. I think that four of your five ‘tools’ – prospecting; sales; leadership; and diplomacy – are fairly universal to most business oriented careers. In fact, even when I worked in non profit management, those skills were all essential. I think I may be a six or seven tool player. Cuz after all, in addition to the arsenal aforementioned, I know a lot about handbags and I’m a devoted Ashtanga yoga practitioner. And I have five children. That probably counts for 3 or 4 more tools.

    • Oh yes, and because most of your tools deal with life it makes the other ones much easier, or not as daunting.

      I will NEVER try to sell someone at a networking event. All I’m doing is giving you a chance to know me. And I probably won’t go real deep in what our model is or who we seek out as customers. That can come later because insurance and sales can be icky on the surface. Heck, even I throw up a shield if someone is trying to ‘sell’ me at an event.

  9. I think it’s so important to know the certain skills and tools that you need to excel in your business. You have to put the effort into the things that you do best. And, in my field, outsource the rest to someone who really knows (and likes to do) all of the other things. Then you can focus on those skills that you love and made you want to do this for a living in the first place! Good to see you Bill:)

  10. I used to think that I was a 5-tool player, even though this is the first time I have ever heard the word 🙂

    When I was working at the University, I did everything. I was the head of marketing, but I helped out were the help was needed. That was important to me to make things happen.

    But, now that I’m a business owner, I need to be a 5-tool player, but I understand that I’m terrible with numbers and understanding the economy of my business (how much to invest, and how to play it safe, but at the same time, be inventive). I understands the basics, and I’m hustling to understand evertyhing I need to understand to get my business where I want it to be (including the sales).

    So, I have learned a lot from starting my own business, but it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be 🙂

    • Sometimes is takes a few hard knocks and maturity to figure out what you do well and need to be doing and what you need to find another way to get it done.

      Starting a business can be scary, but you’ve jumped off that cliff and done it. It will certainly keep you focused.

      Good to see you sir.

  11. All Bill, you brought back memories for me. Okay, so I wasn’t in the sales part of that company back when I was in insurance brokerage but I worked with the top dog. I always found that very fascinating. I had to help put all the proposals together to “sell” the client so I know what all was involved.

    I admire you really for what you do and how well you do it. I know what it takes to have success in risk management insurance and still be at the top of your game today. I can appreciate that about you and I actually enjoyed reading this. Giving everyone a peak at what Bill does.

    It’s not piece of cake but when you’ve been doing it for so long then to you it just comes naturally.

    Thanks for sharing Bill and hope your week is going well.


    • I was actually hoping people were feeling sorry for me and start giving me contact info to all the Fortune 500 companies that need my services….:).

      The good thing about insurance is that EVERYBODY will buy it. I will always have a market and it really just comes down to ‘who’ you will buy it from. Therefore, even though you might not ‘like’ insurance, you will still buy it so why not from someone you like and trust, right?

      Good to see you; I haven’t been out this week.

  12. 5 tools, huh?

    Diplomacy (huge), leadership (massive), networking (big), design know how (A-1) and industry trends (large-ish) but as everyone else demonstrates it really depends on what your core bsuiness is.

    Sales, yikes, now there’s a challenge in ANY industry especially where it’s a perceived non-essential service and when it becomes one that’s labelled as a massive money-pit. Pessimistic view, yes, but a somewhat accurate one.

    I think the real ability comes in being able to apply your skills “tools” to whatever comes your way or in a variety of different types of work.

    Nice change here Bill…..;-)

    • Sometimes it just means being ‘just smart enough’ knowing how to get things done.

      If you are looking for a ‘sales’ person, the perfect model is someone who did ok in school but not off the charts and participated in athletics or some other competitive endeavor.

      If you are ‘too’ smart you will have a tendency to ‘over think’ everything and you want some competitiveness (even with yourself) to motivate you. Also, being involved in team sports helps you work with others knowing what it takes to make a team successful.

      Of course in sales, we have our share of prima donna’s who think it’s all about them; but then again, I guess it takes all types………

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