EPISODE 660: How Pickleball Led Mattress Sales Guy Bob McCarthy to Sales Success

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Today’s show featured an interview with Bob McCarthy, Managing Director at the Resident mattress company.

Find Bob on LinkedIn.

BOB’S ADVICE:  “I’m the analytical guy and it’s made me very successful in sales. It’s also made me successful at pickleball.”


Fred Diamond: Bob, before I ask you for your final action step, we need to cover something else. People may not know this, but you are a very highly ranked amateur pickleball player.

Bob McCarthy: I am, yes.

Fred Diamond: Pickleball is ubiquitous now. Of course, it’s all over the place. Would you mind talking about pickleball for a little bit?

Bob McCarthy: I’m happy to.

Fred Diamond: Give us some insights on two things. One is, how has pickleball made you a better sales professional? Again, you talked about relationships before. One thing we talk a lot about is the elite sales professionals, your mind’s got to be sharp, your body’s got to be sharp, you got to eat right, et cetera. I had some major league baseball players on the podcast. I’ve had some high-performance basketball coaches. Talk a little bit about pickleball and how that plays in your excellence as a sales leader and sales professional.

Bob McCarthy: For me, it’s done a couple of things. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but pickleball might have saved my life, to be honest with you. When I started playing, I was ahead of the curve playing pickleball. My wife actually introduced me to it, and at the time when she started playing, I was about 350 pounds, was still active, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was in my mid-40, 350 pounds. I was on cholesterol, I was on high blood pressure medication. If I was going down that path that I was on, I don’t know that I would’ve made 55. It’s quite possible that I would’ve had a heart attack or diabetes, something was going to catch up with me. I love food, I love to eat, love to have a few beers, so making a lifestyle change was hard.

I started playing pickleball one day and quickly found out that I might be good at it. I had never played a racket sport in my life. Then I started to meet really amazing people playing the game, and made truly lifelong friends playing the game. It became my release, when you have a bad day at work, to be able to go out and do it. But then I noticed every time I’m doing it, I’m getting a ton of exercise. I’m playing for two hours, getting 8,000 to 10,000 steps, burning 1,200, 1,500 calories, like, “This is a good workout.” Then I started playing competitively in 2018 and started to win some tournaments and have two amazing partners, one male, one female, that we travel around the country for tournaments and we just have a great time. We’ve become best friends and it’s really been a life-changing activity for me.

Fred Diamond: I always ask this question of athletes who are very good at something. When you’re on the pickleball court, what do you look at? What are you thinking about? Are you thinking about two plays down the road? Are you thinking about hitting it as hard as you can? If you don’t mind my asking, what is your mindset when you’re on the court, in a competitive match? Not when you’re just putzing around with a neighbor or something, but when you travel to wherever and you’re playing with one of your partners and you’re playing at a high level, what is some of the mindset out there?

Bob McCarthy: I’m the analytical guy and it’s made me very successful on sales. It’s made me very successful in pickleball. When you look at the art of war, you want to take away what your opponent wants to do and take that. The one thing they want to do, take that away from them. I’ll try to do as much research on our opponents as I can, find out, do they want to play fast? Do they want to play slow? Whatever it may be, we want to tailor our strategy to make sure that we make them uncomfortable, whatever it may be. I’m fortunate that both of my partners, we can play any game we want to play. If we want to play a fast game, we can play a fast game. If we want to try and slow things down and wait for them to make a mistake, we can do that too.

Using whatever data I can find, and as the game gets more and more popular, you can see recent tournaments that your opponents have played in, who have they played against, have I played against those other people? What were those results? I can put together as much of a strategy as you can. When you’re playing doubles, you also have to find out who are we targeting? You want to figure out who the weaker player is and go after that person. If you can control the ball, you can make sure that the best player doesn’t get as many shots.

Just being strategic I think has made us successful. I’m not the greatest athlete in the world. In my mid-50s I’m a pretty good athlete, but compared to some of the people out there, and when you play at a high level, sometime we’re playing people in their 30s. There’s just not enough high-level players to fill out an age bracket over 50. Sometimes we’re playing people 20s, 30s, 40 years old that are significantly more athletic. We have to figure out a way to make one plus one equal three, and just work as a cohesive unit. So much translates into sales or business. It’s the same thing, like how do I make the sum of my team be greater than 20 people? It’s the same strategy.

Fred Diamond: Obviously, golf is something that has always been big in sales. You want to bring your customer out to the golf course and all those kinds of things, so you need to play good at golf. Is pickleball becoming that? Is pickleball becoming something where you can invite a customer out to? It’s interesting. You’re obviously a competitive player. You’ve won a number of tournaments, you don’t want to beat your customers butt on the court if you will, but you could probably make it social. Is pickleball becoming that? Have you seen that with pickleball?

Bob McCarthy: It’s very social. When I look at it, there’s the social part and just going out and playing and having fun and getting some exercise, and then there’s the competitive part where you just want to get better. When you’re in that get-better mode, you want to play against people that are better than you and try to rise to their level. But in the social side, just to go out and have a good time and really introduce more people to the game is equally as rewarding. When you’ve been playing for a while and you start playing with some new people that maybe aren’t as good as you, and then all of a sudden, two or three years later, they’re better than you, that’s rewarding in a way, too.

I think there’s both, and I have not gone out and played pickleball with customers at this point, but I know there’s some talks about some upcoming conferences about in addition to a golf event, having a pickleball type event where it’s just fun and social and learn the game in an environment where we’re just out to have fun. I think that those days are coming, but still roughly I think the latest stat was about 30 million people picked up a pickleball paddle last year, which is a lot of people. It’s up from when I started playing there was less than two million people playing.

Fred Diamond: 30 million is one-tenth of the country. My health club just tore out the basketball courts and they’re converting 100% to pickleball at the Lifetime Fitness. It’s definitely taken over. Once again, I want to thank Bob McCarthy with Resident. Thank you so much for the great insights into the mattress industry. Again, you’re the first person in close to 700 shows that we’ve talked about this with. Also, thanks for giving us some insights into pickleball, which comes up more and more in conversation as well. I just want to acknowledge you for the insights. Again, you worked with West Creek with our good friend, Boomer, who’s been on a couple of shows. I’ll put the link to his shows in there as well.

Give us a final action step, something specific. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, but give us something specific that the sales professionals and sales leaders listening to today’s show or reading the transcript can do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Bob McCarthy: I think the thing that’s made me the most successful is having a story about how your product that you’re selling positively impacts your customer’s P&L. Because that’s, at the end of the day, whatever the KPIs that they’re measured on, your product has an impact on those KPIs, and it could be in a different way. When I was at Tempur-Pedic, it was all about average ticket. Their average sales are $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000. While it may not be the highest margin product on the floor, it was delivering a ton of gross margin dollars. Then when I moved to Resident, now we’re talking about a product that delivers customers through the door. If you’re a sleep shop, that’s very, very valuable. If you’re a furniture store, it’s even more valuable, because that consumer is going to buy a dining room set, a living room set. The lifetime value of that product on the furniture store side is very strong. Being able to articulate how your product impacts the P&L of your customer is extremely, extremely important. I would spend a lot of time having that story nailed when you’re talking to your customer.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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