EPISODE 563: Become a 5-Tool Sales Star with Tommy Schaff

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Tommy Schaff of Major League Sales.]

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TOMMY’S TIP: “Not everyone is your prospect. Someone who can sell anyone isn’t a great salesperson, they’re a liar. There are people that need you more than other people and there are people that don’t need you at all. Work very clear and be transparent on what you’re good at and who you serve, and who you don’t, what your difference is and where your difference is valued.”


Fred Diamond: Tommy, I’m thrilled to talk to you. When we did our little prep for this, you were in your museum in your house. You showed me so much amazing posters and balls and bobbleheads and uniforms and I was blown away. I want to talk about a lot of corollaries between baseball and sales.  

Again, tell us a little bit about the connection between your love of baseball. Again, you’re in St. Louis, which is the second-best baseball City in the country behind Philadelphia and you’re one of the leaders in sales performance improvement as well. As we were doing our discovery, we realized we had so many great people in common like our good friend Andy Miller, who’s been a guest on the podcast a couple of times.

Tommy Schaff: It’s interesting. I’ve been a sales trainer for about 30 years. After I left being Chief Strategy Officer for Tony Robbins, I was looking to reinvent my brand. I read a book and it was called Weird. It said, “What made you weird when you were 12 to 14?” Fred, for me, I had a lot of choices. I decided that I wasn’t going to make a living playing an accordion, but I’d love baseball. I had 25,000 baseball cards as a kid.

I said, “What if I created my system around my passion for baseball, and then it would make all of my baseball boondoggles tax deductible?” That’s the choice I went. Baseball is an easy connection to sales in that baseball is a game of failure. You hit 3 out of 10, you’re going to the Hall of Fame if you do it 10 years in a row.

I said, “That’s so great.” It created a corollary, used the base pas as a milestone system. Then the bigger area was really the five tools. My course is called the Five Tool Sales School for a reason. In my office, I have these paintings. I have 22 paintings by Justin Furano, the Hall of Fame’s painter. One of my favorites is Mike Trout, a five tool player.

The five tool player has all the skills. Now, all major leaguers don’t have five tools and all salespeople don’t have all five tools, but there are five tools. One is, can you get on base? That’s the ability to get an appointment. Now it’s one thing to get on base, it’s another thing to advance through the sales process. The ability to get around the base, to get further in less time is power. You show me a team that hits home runs, or a lot of doubles and I’ll show you a team that scores a lot of runs. The ability to score runs is to get in scoring position or to knock them all in, so that’s power.

The third of the five tools is speed. Whenever there’s speed in almost any sport, the game transforms. Rickey Henderson gets on base, the whole game changes and we look at Rickey and forget that there are anybody else because he’s going to go like a rocket. Using that analogy, what’s speed in sales? It’s the ability to create trust and authority status. That usually oddly is connected to telling what you’re not good at. Telling the truth. Who don’t you serve? What are the liabilities? What are your weaknesses? Instead of handling objections, bringing up objections. This is the greatness of influence strategy.

The fourth, I would call it defense. If you can catch the ball, great things happen. Two years ago, the Cardinals, my team, had five Golden Glovers. This year, just yesterday, they announced four Golden Glove finalists. They traded one to the Dodgers. It was taken off like a rocket, Harrison Bader. We have four Golden Glovers. Golden Glove has changed the game. When you defend, you don’t have to score as much. Defense in selling is the ability to retain clients. The last one is the ability to pitch, the ability to articulate verbally. It’s not to be persuasive, it’s to be able to create engagement, usually involving storytelling. Those are the five tools and that’s how we got there.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, that’s actually quite fascinating. I do have a question, though. You mentioned Mike Trout, who obviously is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and actually not far from Philly. A matter of fact, what would you say? Maybe like half a percentage are true five-star players but you’ve made it to the pros. How does that relate to sales professionals? Do you suggest that they focus on the five tools or that they become amazing at, let’s say, two or three? What is your experience with that?

Tommy Schaff: Yeah, it’s interesting. What’s more appropriate is what’s your role? If you are an individual agent, so I work with a lot of life insurance people, recruiters, consultants, and they play all the position. The answer is, you better be good at all of them. If you’re in a sophisticated software system and maybe you’re a BDR, well, you’re kind of the equivalent of the leadoff hitter and your job is to really get down meeting, messaging and prospecting.

Your job isn’t to close the sales, your job is to remove the dirt and leave somebody that actually can be qualified to buy. If I was a BDR and I was at the beginning of my career, I would focus on messaging as my critical competence and the ability to get people’s attention. Attention is the currency of the realm today. If you can’t get attention, you don’t have a chance because there isn’t any. That is the requirement of a BDR. Get my attention, hold my attention, find a problem.

That said, if I am a technical expert and I’m on a sales team, so we’re doing large gated sales, and maybe it’s an enterprise sale, and it’s a million dollar multiple year account, and at the end of the day, our team of 15 people are going to work with they’re 15 people, and they’re going to look at three teams of 15 and we got to win, our defensive specialists, our Product Solutions Consultant, whatever we call them. When I was at IBM, we’d call it a sales engineer.

These people, they don’t need to look for business and they don’t need to close business. What they need to be are technical experts that have some sales chops, and probably understand what their role is and what not to do. Fred, when I was a young salesperson advertising at a major advertising agency, we would bring people in and I would toss the baton to them, and then they decided they should expand their role and help me and they actually undid my sales.

If you’re a technical expert, more importantly than what you should learn, it’s what you should learn you shouldn’t do that will get in the way of the process of the people that are running the process. Let’s say I’m the owner of a $50 million company. Well, I’m not the batter, I’m not the leadoff hitter, and I’m not the technical expert. My role in baseball would be like I’m the cleanup hitter. My job is to finish the deal and clean it up.

Well, my job is to say, “We’re behind this business, I have the resources, we’re committed to this and we’re going to serve you.” It’s really more what’s my role? In my sales process, if I go one to nine, I’ll be like okay, there’s one to nine, they do different things. One and two get on base, second guy advances the runner. The three guy often is the best hitter on the team. He can hit for average, gets walked and he’s got power. The forth guy usually can’t run but he can hit it a mile. The five guy’s probably less of a runner and less of an average but man, can he pop them out.

Then 6, 7, 8, 9, depending on the depth, maybe they’re hitters more often they start getting to be defensive specialists as we move back until we get to nine and a new baseball with the DH. We tend to put a second leadoff hitter at nine if we have the depth. That would be my answer to that question. That got a little baseball nerdy there for a second. Hey, if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s alright. It’s kind of for smart people. No, that’s a joke. We will not get totally baseball nerdy the rest of the way.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, a quick question, should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame? I don’t care. I’m just playing with you.

Tommy Schaff: Do you want the answer? Because I’ll give it to you.

Fred Diamond: I don’t want the answer. The answer is no. I’m going to move to the next topic here [laughs]. It’s an interesting time. We’re doing today’s interview at the end of October in 2022. We’re at a unique time in sales. Of course, we’ve all had the challenges of the last two years as it related to the pandemic and lockdown and supply chain issues and everything.

We’re in a really interesting time now. Jeb Blount just came out with a book called Selling in a Crisis. We’re going into some even more challenging times. I’m just curious. I love your baseball analogy, I was drawn to it in so many different ways, but right now, we’re in a very, very unique time that very few people have participated in this particular type of a time. What are some of your suggestions for people right now, for the sales professionals that you’re coaching and you’re training and you’re consulting to, to help them be successful right now during a very, very unique time in our history?

Tommy Schaff: I don’t mean to be counter-intuitive or anything. It’s business as usual for me. I mean, there was 2000 in the dot bomb era, and then there was the 2008. When you’re not 22 years old anymore, these things happen. Here’s what happens. The people that treat it like every day and take their at-bats, they win and the people that are worried about what do I do in these times, they’re thinking about things and they’re not working.

Here’s what I would say you should do all the time. If there are 8 billion people in the world, one needs you more than other people do and one needs you less. You spend all your time with the people that need you the most. I think sometimes we sell in spite of ourselves because there’s such a supply challenge or there’s not enough talent, that you make a living regardless.

I think Warren Buffett said, when the tide recedes, we find out who’s skinny dipping? In these times, we find out which companies and salespeople are weak. In other times, people get paid sometimes dramatically in spite of their efforts, not because of them. What would a smart person do in both situations, and especially now? Focus on less people.

The answer isn’t to go talk to more people, the answer isn’t to spread your seed in more places. It’s to say, “Who are the people that are suffering the most because they don’t have the magic we have? What’s the magic we have? What’s the consequence of not having our magic? When does that happen? Who is the person in the role that suffers because we’re not there? Not, who buys my service, but who suffers because we’re not there?” Focus on them.

We get sent to who we sound like. In a crisis that you’ve named as such – by the way, most of my clients have made record incomes in the pandemic. There are people that get poor, and there are people that get rich in every environment. If people focused on the right places, here’s what’s true. There were less people trying in the last two years. Attention is the coin of the realm. You got to get people’s attention. What gets it? Focusing on the consequences of not having what you have and talking about them.

You get sent to who you sound like. If you talk about what you sell, you get sent to someone who does a procurement function. If you talk about the problem that they have because they don’t have you, you get to deal with people upstairs who get to say, “We need that right now.” Companies in this pandemic that are struggling, they are struggling because they don’t have talent, meaning like they can’t find people. They have to figure out how to be more productive. They have supply chains.

There’s all kinds of challenges that showed up. That’s opportunities for salespeople. Companies that now have problems that they didn’t have two years ago have problems you can solve. I think my dominant idea, Fred, is our challenge in the world are salespeople think they’re problem solvers. I don’t. I think companies are problem solvers. I think salespeople are problem finders, and their job is to find a problem and put a price tag to it. Get someone who has the problem to say, “These are my problems and this is what the problems cost me,” and then you can bring people in.

As a kid, I had 1,000 products to sell. I didn’t know how any of them worked. Not my job. My job at IBM in 1984 was to say, goals, objectives, strategies, needs, features, advantages, reaction. Goals, what are you trying to accomplish? Objective, how do you measure that? Strategy, how are you going to get there? What do you need? Here’s what we got, here’s why it’s good, what do you think? I brought in solution consultants to do the back. I made sure I never brought in solution consultants to a problem people didn’t care about. If you find problems that have a price tag, you’ll make a lot of money in any environment.

Fred Diamond: In baseball, you also have managers and coaches. Every baseball team has a manager, there’s a bench coach, they’ve expanded the number of coaches to swing coaches and bullpen coaches and of course all the people in analytics, if you will. I have two questions here. A lot of the people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast, Tommy, are first-time sales managers and a lot of them were promoted maybe two years ago when everything went into the work from home mode. It’s the hardest job that there is, I think in sales, which is first time sales manager.

What would be your advice for them to optimize the people on their team? Then the follow up question is if you’re a sales professional, you’re not going to have 10 coaches available to you like you will on a baseball team. But if you’re a professional, you want to figure out how to get better on your own. First question, two big questions there actually. What is your advice for the sales leaders, the managers and leaders who are leading teams, 5, 10, 15, 20 people? What is your suggestion for them right now on what some things they should focus on? And then we’ll talk about what you as a sales professional should do to get the best and ideal coaching.

Tommy Schaff: Controversial idea, but I don’t think you should ever have 20 people. If you have 20 people, I’d be working on getting rid of somebody, and meaning not like you fire them, but that’s how big span of control. I’m a Christian, so this might be too much of a joke, but Jesus couldn’t handle 12, so I think you should never have more than 11. That’s my rule. Like 11 people.

What do I think? In order to be productive as a manager, I think what’s real clear is to figure out what your role is. As a sales manager, I think there are five and they fit the acronym CIGAR. Whenever I think of what a manager does, I think of Red Auerbach and Boston Celtics. They’re winning championships and get that CIGAR, you coach.

When you’re coaching, there’s two forms of coaching, pre-strategizing, and post debriefing. Post debriefing is only a way to tick people off if they’re not prepared. If I’m new, I would almost do no after the fact coaching. I would spend all my time on pre-strategizing to pre-swayed and create a better event so that people can win and you could say they’re doing something good, instead of beat them mercilessly for not doing stuff. Pre-strategize over post, a pound of pre, an ounce of post.

I, inspiring. You can’t motivate people but you can light a match. I’ve worked on inspiring. A challenge in a distributed salesforce working out of their home, sometimes we had some turnover, we hired people and we’ve never ever met. That’s amazing when you think about it today. You got to make sure that they have goals but not like your number. I would want to help my people think about a life, a career, something bigger in their future, that is so much bigger than the numbers I’d need them to generate so I get to be a coach instead of authoritarian, accountability disciplinarian.

To help people envision a life, envision goals, envision what they want to do, what they want to experience. I’m one of the owners of the Field of Dreams in Iowa. I love that movie because it’s this idea of doing this thing, going on a quest to accomplish something that’s in your heart. Dreams are the wishes of the heart, not of your head.

Managers should look for what inspires people and create an agreement. I will help and hold you accountable to your dreams if you want those things to happen, but you can’t be mad at me. As long as you’re beating this floor, I’ll keep working with you to get better. I never need to wonder if you’re going to hit our numbers. Some people pay a lot of money for coaches, and then they have a manager that they’re like, “My manager just beats the crap out of me.” Doesn’t make sense.

The third one is to grow. Our job is to steward people as a manager. What’s the growth for this environment, for this thing, for these goals, for this territory? How do we grow the business? How do we grow this human? A, accountability. There are accountabilities. In that, what are the consequences for writing checks with your mouth that your feet and your phone aren’t taking care of? The last one I think you always got to be recruiting. Recruit, recruit, recruit, always be recruiting. A manager who coaches, inspires, grows, holds people accountability in a place of mutual respect with people they’ve selected appropriately and they recruit, you’re cooking with gas. That’s ridiculous.

Fred Diamond: Tommy, I have an esoteric baseball question here. Great answer, by the way. If you become a new sales leader and you get to build your team, what type of a player from baseball would you want to start your team with? Would you want to start it with the five-star Hall of Famers like the Mike Trouts? Would you want to start with a scrappy utility guy who knows he’s fighting for a job? Do you want to hire the eighth inning pitcher? I know like you said before, the nine steps and you need the Rickey Hendersons to get on base. I get that, but if you were building a team from scratch, what type of a baseball player would you want to have to get started with?

Tommy Schaff: We’re talking about baseball or we’re talking about sales?

Fred Diamond: Well, you’re building a sales team and a baseball analogy.

Tommy Schaff: I would look for people that are the best players I can get. Now, depends. If I had a tired organization, and we didn’t have any fresh legs, but we had some old legs, that new stuff, they’re not going to look for business, so I would get hunters. I would fill them up with hunters and then we can bring the old band into the deals. If I was a mature company, maybe gotten flatten, maybe we’d lost a few clients and what we needed were fresh legs, and I was a talented manager, I would find high talent young individuals, I would pour my life into them and make them really great and also realize there’ll be a time where they outgrow what we can give them.

Then I would help them get jobs because I’d want them to leave and I wouldn’t want them to leave because I don’t want them, I want my kids to grow up. I want my children to leave my house too. I would create some relationships with great schools. We talked about it a little bit I referred you someone. I’m at Waco today. I’m in Baylor for the homecoming. Baylor has one of the greatest college sales programs in the country. I’d go to a mature program and I’d look for entrepreneurs.

If I was a small company, one of the major things I’d look for even besides talent is entrepreneurial spirit. In a big company you’re asked to do little things. You got a brand that does a lot of the work but you got to be smart and good looking kind of because you’re an ambassador of the brand. They’re looking for well qualified sociable people. In a smaller company, we don’t really get paid for that. If you don’t create the energy and run this like your business because you don’t have any resources, you’ll get crushed. My small company business, I’d look for sales entrepreneurs, and then I would teach them the art of sales.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. I got time for one or two more questions. Again, I could talk to you for hours about baseball. Here’s another quick question. Little baseball question here. Who’s your favorite player of all time? Not the greatest player but who’s Tommy Schaff’s favorite player of all time, and then who’s your favorite current player? Maybe the same answer.

Tommy Schaff: Favorite player to watch, favorite player I respect? I have 6,000 books and I’ve 6,672 bobbleheads. You say, what’s your favorite player? Well, for what context?

Fred Diamond: I’ll give you an idea. There’s a frequent listener of our show, his name is Dan Satinoff, he’s with Trellix. He’s a huge Fred Lynn fan. He just loves Fred Lynn. Loves everything about the way he played and still keeps in touch with him. My favorite player of all time is Mike Schmidt. I grew up in Philly, very underappreciated, best of baseman of all time arguably, very unappreciated by Philadelphia fans because they’re not the smartest fans in the world. My favorite player right now, Bryce Harper. Love his energy, love his leadership, I think he’s a true winner. You don’t have to get too detailed.

Tommy Schaff: First of all, you have good taste. If Philly doesn’t understand Mike Schmidt’s value then Philly’s got a problem. That would shock me.

Fred Diamond: Growing up, they didn’t.

Tommy Schaff: I know him as a guy, third baseman with speed, first of all, stroke bases. He hit for power, he could glove anywhere, so he’s a great choice. Oddly enough, Fred Lynn is in my top five. The first game I ever saw in person was Minnesota Twins versus Boston Red Sox Memorial Day, 1975. Freddie Lynn was a rookie, he was the MVP that year. He also wore number 19, which is my birthday and he’s a kind nice man, despite being a USC grad.

I get to play with him as one of my heroes three years ago. Maybe it’s longer than that. It’s may be 2019. He’s a great fellow. Mine in that context was Rod Carew. My favorite players, I just love him, respect him, loved him as men later in my life. Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. I told my kid to stand in line with Harmon one day, he’s like, “Why are we waiting in line to see this old man?” I said, “Would you stand in line with your kids, to see Albert Pujols?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “That’s Albert Pujols.”

We get there and I said, “You were my favorite player when I was a kid. You and Rod Carew.” He said, “I’m not dead yet, kid.” He said, “Kid, do you play?” He goes, “No.” He goes, “My brother and I played every day. We played every day. My mom said, ‘Quit playing on the grass.’ She said to my dad, ‘Honey, the kids are ruining the grass.’ He said, ‘Honey, we’re not raising grass, we’re raising boys.’” That made my kid laugh a bit.

I loved Rod and I loved Harmon. Today, I like both school. It’s hard not to like Trout, although he’s hurt every six minutes. Aaron Judge today is a hard choice even if you hate the Yankees. He’s amazing, he does everything, he’s a fine citizen. To date we’ve seen nothing he’s ever done wrong as a human. He says respectful things. Somebody once asked me recently, who would you like to meet that you haven’t? Because I’ve met most of the good ones. I said Aaron Judge’s parents.

I would like to know how you raise a person to be as humble and verbally perfect as Aaron Judge. I love that he’s having a monster year. When it comes to people that crush it, my favorite player to watch today who embodies everything of five tool and is a prototypical Classic Cardinals player is Tommy Edman. Tommy Edman is smart, Stanford grad. He can hit. He has weird power at times. He can pick from any position. He can catch. He’s speedy fast, he’s a sparkplug. He also wears number 19, so Tommy Edman is my guy of choice today.

Fred Diamond: Yeah, and good answer about the Aaron Judge too. We’ve all gotten to know him and how he was raised and how his parents raised him as he just broke the 62 record. Stories that I didn’t know about and just absolutely beautiful stories about how as an adopted kid, how he appreciated his parents raising him and that’s a great answer.

Tommy, I want to acknowledge you. Again, we had some mutual people in common and you’ve done such an amazing job in your career helping so many sales professionals get better at the art and science of sales. That’s the mission behind the Institute for Excellence in Sales is to help employers actually attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier talent. I just want to acknowledge you for the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of sales professionals who’ve you’ve helped not just take their sales career to the next level, but also to take their lives and improve their companies as well.

Good for you and it’s been an honor and pleasure to meet you and thank you for connecting me to some amazing people that we’re going to have on the Sales Game Changers podcast coming up as well. Tommy, we like to end every show with an action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas, give us one more specific thing people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Tommy Schaff: I’ve already said it but it’s something a person could hear 58 times. Not everyone is your prospect. Someone who can sell anyone isn’t a great salesperson, they’re a liar. There are people that need you more than other people and there are people that don’t need you at all. Work very clear and be transparent on what you’re good at and who you serve, and who you don’t, what your difference is and where your difference is valued.

When I do a seminar, with frequency, I bring out an old ball, Fred. It’s ragged, it’s been played with in the yard, it has grass stains on it and it has scuff marks from cement. I hand it to a person and I say, “What would you pay for this ball in a rummage sale?” The person says, “25 cents, 50 cents.” I say, “You know it’s got some signatures on it. Would that make any difference?” The person says 10 bucks. I say, “That ball you have in your hand, turn the ball, it’s signed by Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, and it’s the only ball in the world that I know that’s been signed by both. What would you pay for that ball?”

See, there are some people that value what you have. You need to know what you have and where its value is and who cares about that value and offer that ball for sale to someone who cares and who understand its rarity, the enormity, that Jackie Robinson started April 15th, 1947, Babe Ruth died in ’48. There was a year and a half that that could have ever happened. It likely happened in the ’47 World Series when the Yankees played. Babe was obviously old, but that would be a place where they could have come together.

I think in this era, it’s imperative to profile. Spend your time with less. Get clear who are the 20 best prospects and instead of doing social media so everyone calls you, do targeted surgical strikes, higher leveled, and use the language. Don’t speak Chinese to the French. Don’t speak solutions to the person with the problems. Speak problems to executives with problems and then watch your sale cycles reduce, your size of sale increase, your referrals go up, your ability to say high instead of delegated down go up and live a happy life. That’d be my advice.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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