Sales Tips from a World Series Hero: Mastering Fundamentals, Perseverance and Practice

by Linda P. Kester January/February 2016

In a Q&A with Ron Swoboda, Linda Kester captures the former baseball player’s thoughts on success and how to create a winning team. Swoboda offers useful advice for sales professionals, including mastering fundamentals and communication through perseverance and practice.

In 1969, Ron Swoboda played a key role in helping the New York Mets win their first World Series championship, beating the Baltimore Orioles. Swoboda is an intelligent, articulate, affable guy who played nine years in the big leagues. He is a Mets icon known for a phenomenal catch he made in game four of the 1969 series. He is held in such esteem that he was asked to throw out the first pitch of game four of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past season.

While Swoboda was in South Florida to coach the Mets Fantasy Camp, he was generous enough to sit down with me to share his thoughts on baseball and life.

Q. What makes a winning team?

To win it all, you have to have it all. Baseball has such a long season with lots of games. There’s a lot of ebb and flow. In baseball, if you are getting better, you can stumble a little bit in the beginning of the season, but there’s a point where you need to do the things you need to do if you’re going to succeed.

I won one year. One year, I played on a winner. Most guys don’t get that opportunity. In baseball, you better be able to get ‘em out and shorten the game. That means good pitching. A winning team in baseball has to have good pitching because good pitching beats good hitting.

In 1969, we had a superior pitching staff. This helped us hold down the opposing team’s offense. We were never out of games in the third inning. If we got three runs, we’d win. Great pitching takes pressure off the hitter. You didn’t feel like you needed five or six runs to win.

Q. How do you put a good team together?

If you are the guy putting the team together, you have to have some go-to guys that create impact. You can win with a handful of impact players. There is absolutely a connection of having go-to pitchers: Starting pitchers and finishers. If you have a handful of those guys, you can be a winner. Not every guy on a winning team is a champion or a go-to guy. But if you have a good core of go-to everyday winners, they can lift the game of the other players. Impact performers can create a space for the average performer. Most teams have some impact players that can take you deep in the game; they create opportunities for the more average guys to contribute in winning ways. If you don’t have those guys to get the game to a point where you can win it, then you don’t have any lift. Take a guy like me, who was an average player, and throw in some of those moments where the team lifts you, then you make championship plays. We had a great starting rotation, and we could close games. Our starting rotation got better, and our game got better as the season went on. There were injuries, but we played through them. We scored more runs because we picked up Donn Clendenon, but without good pitching we’re not there, period.

We played good defense behind that great pitching. So when the ball came into play, we made the play. We were a very good defensive team, and pitching is part of defense. With good pitching, the ball doesn’t come into play as hard, as tough. You don’t have many difficult fielding plays. It keeps you in a position where what you’re able to do is enough.

Q. What should a baseball player do if he falls into a slump?

Look hard at what you’re doing. What’s happening to you? See if there is something you can fix. That’s the hardest time. You have to ask meaningful questions, but practice becomes so much more important. Nowadays, you have video back up. We didn’t have as much of that. You look at what you’re doing, and ask yourself when you are practicing, ‘What will get me back to something useful?’ You keep going to fundamentals. Ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the fundamentals? Is there something in there that is keeping me from succeeding?’ If you don’t understand the fundamentals, you are always going to be a bigger victim of the ups and downs. If you really understand the fundamentals, you can find your way out of the valleys a little faster.

Q. How do you handle failure?

I really believe if you can impersonalize it, you’ll be okay. Failure is only you if you’re willing to accept it. If you’re not willing to accept it, and you are willing to work through it and not take it personally, you will be better off. There is something about when you fail at something, you take it personally. You think, “I’m no good at this. I just can’t do this.” Well, you just don’t know. The only way you get to stages of growth is with a constant effort. Otherwise, you flatten out, or you go away. The survival rate in baseball is pretty hard. Most guys who come into professional baseball don’t even get a sniff of the big leagues. They move on and they don’t progress. But it’s not just the guys with innate ability, it’s guys that hang in there and work at it and don’t accept failure. Don’t accept it, and don’t take it personally. They aren’t embarrassed by an initial failure. They don’t accept the fact that failure describes them, and that’s hard to do. Get your ego out of the way. Ego is not a bad thing. It’s keeping your ego from turning on you when things go rotten — that’s the hard thing.

Q. How does baseball relate to life?

Baseball is like life because it begins in the spring and ends in the fall; it goes through a complete growing cycle. Baseball makes you disciplined, and that helps you succeed in life. Everyday you have to get there on time, you have to practice and you have to do the drills. You can’t get there an hour late; if you’re late you can’t play. It makes you demand high standards from yourself. You build a solid base of good habits that you execute everyday even if you don’t feel like it.

In baseball, as in life, when you are succeeding, you are relaxed and confident. When you win 11 games in a row, you don’t need a pep talk. You think, “Hey, we can make this happen.” When you are on a winning streak, the game slows down. When you are not succeeding, you lose your sense of what you can do. Understand the work you have to put into a task, and then practice.

Q. What kind of support did you need to be successful?

I am very lucky. I have been married to my beautiful wife, Cecilia, for over 50 years. She is a woman of substance. From the minute I saw her, there was something about her that made me say, “This is a quality human being, and I want to be with this person; if she wants to be with me then that’s the best thing that can happen to me.”

Swoboda is an amazing man. He lives in New Orleans and is a radio and television broadcaster for the Triple-A Zephyrs. He is also writing a memoir, the working title is Here’s The Catch. It’s about the 1969 season, and the events that were taking place during that year: the Vietnam War (Swoboda went to Vietnam with the USO); Apollo 11 and the Woodstock music festival.

His thoughts about baseball and life can be applied to equipment leasing sales. He says, “You need to play the game with joy, the game is the celebration of all the work you put into it.”

Sales Tips from Ron Swoboda:

  • Master the fundamentals. Even if you stumble, you can still win if you do what you need to do.
  • Team communication is essential. Some people are good at prospecting (openers), and some people are good at closing the deal. If they work together and share ideas, they can lift the entire team to peak performance.
  • Nothing beats perseverance. Swoboda says, “Failure is only you if you’re willing to accept it.” Having a bad month in sales does not make you a failure. Don’t take lack of success personally. Impersonalize failure and keep going.
  • Practice. Understand the work you have to put in and practice. Review your performance. Use technology to improve your skills. Sell with joy.

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