With the Ashes Down Under starting with such an enthralling First Test, I’m reminded to talk cricket. In fact, there are two types of sport aren’t there? American sports, and the proper ones that everyone else plays.
Firmly in the latter category for me is indeed the wonder of cricket. Yet it seems the England change of attitude and fortune following from the debilitating Gooch-Atherton axis that continues apace seems to owe some part to the adaptation of a baseball trick.
Previous coach Peter Moores apparently gave successor Andy Flower a book called Moneyball. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will soon do. It’s being turned into a movie as I blog for release next year, starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The story is of a losing-team turnaround into winners, primarily because of their new (“sabermetric” in American) approach to stats. The figures that directed core opinion in the game were, they decreed, no longer useful. Outdated and irrelevant, they then sought out better numbers. One obvious impact was with the signing of new players. Overlooked by others, this team saw something special in recruits from looking at things their new, different ways.
The England cricket team, fresh from their stunning superiority to bring the 20-over World Title home, apply similar thinking. Apparently they have assembled a team of four (yes, that’s 4) statisticians. Just to look at stats in new ways.
Former Aussie coach and beneficiary of possibly the largest collection of world-class players to coincide in a single era, John Buchanan, also sought out similarly new numerical angles. He found that nightwatchmen for instance are a waste of time, and continued with the practice to not enforce the follow-on. I heard his dressing room nemesis Shane Warne once mock his teaching that bowling three successive maidens provides an 85% chance of taking a wicket (“a coach is what drives you to the game” was Warne’s arrogantly misguided view in the face of this apparent ‘personality clash’). Here’s Buchanan’s approach in his own words.
1) Ignore existing … statistics – these are just the ‘outcome numbers’ of a process of getting there.
2) Search for valid and reliable process numbers that give a truer indication of performance.
3) Seek the numbers that ‘guarantee’ my team a win.
4) Use these numbers over time to look at trends …, and trends in individual and team performance.
For years, cricket has been the most stat-fertile of sport. Averages and scoring rates are now no longer the basis of England’s decision making. New angles arise from aspects such as when runs are scored and wickets taken, in tandem with whom and under what circumstance.
In a sales environment, stats play a surprisingly small role. This is probably because one over-riding stat is so dominant; performance against target. Yet how many salespeople know any other key indicators, personal to them?
What’s your average sale?
Typical cycle time?
Follow-up meeting lag?
Success by key contact role?
Prospect request latency?
Competitive pressure differences?
I bet there’s quite a few new ones where examination and pursuit of improving would propel sales. All sellers could likewise benefit from developing their own, new stats.