06/24/2013 12:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Inseparable Link Between Sales Management and Laundry

You might think that using a washing machine has nothing to do with sales or business development. But, actually, they have plenty in common. In fact, you might get your next inspiration for business growth while doing the laundry (or so your spouse might suggest).

It is Time
A couple of weeks ago, our son said in a demanding tone, "Mom, I put my shirt in the hamper last night, and it's not back in my drawer, yet." Much to his surprise, he was about to learn how to help with the laundry.

On first pass, he assumed that everything got the same treatment. Whites, darks, you name it. Why couldn't you just throw them all together? Second, he assumed that if you could load it into the machine, the machine would spit out clean clothing after the cycle. These laundry lessons can be valuable for your business.

Separate Your Loads
If you treat every item the same, bad things happen. Some require hot water, some cold. The best results happen when you wash relatively small loads with specific care suited to those items. The same applies to sales and business development. The skills and steps you follow to land a complex, strategic account may not resemble the steps to close routine deals. Just like you don't use bleach on a load of darks, be sure to not assign a transactional representative to a client who is looking for a consultative sales approach. Just like you pre-treat stains, know which accounts need special attention in order to reach a positive outcome, and apply the appropriate resources to ensure success.

Overloading Leads to Bad Results
Think about what happens if you overload the washing machine. The machine runs, it uses the resources (energy, soap, fabric softener), but the results don't match the effort. You realize that you need loads in a manageable size in order for the machine to get the job done.

The same applies to sales management. Just like overloaded laundry, overloaded pipelines result in a bunch of activity, but poor results. Would you rather have fifty items that went through the machine without results, or ten that came through with flying colors? When you run the crowded machine (in this case your sales machine) you still burn resources (time, money, travel), but that delicate client might not get the attention they deserve. Many companies focus on activity rather than accomplishments. Rarely does high volume lead to results. The "cast a wide net" approach is a sign of poor focus. If you are convinced that it is just a numbers game, then rethink your market differentiators.

The Greatest Lesson
I've had the honor of being the best man at several weddings. During my toast, there is one piece of advice that I always share with the bride and groom: "Remember, you only have to mess up the laundry once, and you'll never be asked to do it again." Often, I see organizations make excuses for team members citing a bad sales experience they had five years ago as the reason they are not involved in growing revenue.

Just about every member of your company can learn how to identify opportunities with integrity. Just like learning how to do the laundry, you have teach your team how to pursue business.  You must explain how it works, define a process, and periodically reinforce the concepts.  Still, I'd appreciate if you didn't let my wife in on our little secret about messing up the laundry.

Your Turn
What stories do you have about sales, laundry, dry cleaning, or someone killing a good deal?