Does Your Sales Team Need “More Cowbell”?

Recently I watched the famous Saturday Night Live skit “More Cowbell,” one of the Top 10 best skits of all time on SNL. It originally aired on April 8, 2000 and if you haven’t seen it lately or at all, watch it here.

The skit was a spoof on what was offered up as the original recording session of the song (Don’t Fear) the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. Christopher Walken played the actual music producer/manager (“The Bruce Dickinson”). Will Ferrell is a fictional cowbell player named Gene Frenkle. Jimmy Fallen is in it, too.

In Take 1, the band starts out OK but soon stops playing because Ferrell’s cowbell part is too loud and distracting. Walken then surprises the band by saying, “I need a little more cowbell.”

In Take 2, Ferrell goes wild with the cowbell, dancing around and bumping into other band members. Again, the band stops playing in frustration. But Walken keeps yelling “More cowbell!” Ferrell then makes a speech to the team telling them he would be doing the team a disservice if he didn’t “perform the hell out of this.” Walken, in support of Ferrell’s speech, says, “Guess what? I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”

As I was enjoying the skit it occurred to me that there are more than a few leadership principles in the skit for anybody leading a sales team. Imagine that the Walken/Dickinson character is a sales manager and Ferrell/Frenkle is an enthusiastic newbie on the team.

The manager recognizes that something new on the team—the cowbell—is a great addition. It will make the team more successful. At that point it is up to the team leader to support that best practice and bring it to the attention of everybody on the team. Repeatedly. Because a new best practice is often shunned by the team, simply because it is different. Most experienced salespeople hate change. (Notice how Ferrell’s ringing of the cowbell originally causes stress and strife among the other members of the team.)

How does this relate to sales? At some point in time, every sales manager is going to want to introduce something new to their team—perhaps a new CRM system, a new skill development theme (connecting with C-level decision makers, perhaps), new techniques for selling based on market changes (such as dealing with customers who are “informed,” so to speak, because of doing more internet research).

When that time comes, you’ll want to have a player on your team willing to play the cowbell, willing to take on and champion the new idea, whatever it is. And for that role, I suggest you choose any rep who is enthusiastic to try new things, as long as they have at least a moderate level of experience. A newbie will likely be making too many mistakes for you to adequately test something new; highly experienced reps are more likely to resist change. Pick your new cowbell, support them as they learn and apply the new technique, and use their experience to demonstrate the benefit to your team.

There’s another key sales management lesson we can learn from Walken’s character. In the skit, the band ultimately accepts Ferrell’s manic cowbell playing after Walken tells them they “will all be wearing gold-plated diapers” because of how popular the band will become. Note that he doesn’t say “we’ll all have lots of money.” He talks about something that the money can do for the band. The obvious message for sales managers is to appeal to your team’s money motivation. Make the connection between the successful new best practice and more income for each member of the team. Then take it to the next step, for each rep link “more money” to something that person could use more money for (a new car, save for kid’s college, big vacation, etc.). If you want to be a great motivational leader you’ve got to push the right button.

No doubt, you’re starting to think about what you can do to make the 2nd half of 2016 even better than the first half. Why not consider a “More cowbell!” initiative for the 2nd half? Make “More cowbell!” a metaphor for whatever you need more of to exceed team goals. Does your team need to get better at making appointments with C-level decision-makers? Better at converting leads into meetings? Better at learning how to out-compete other vendors? Do you need more enthusiasm and better attitudes? Whatever it is that will help your team, make that theme your cowbell for the next few months.

Do you see anything in the “More cowbell” skit that I missed? What additional leadership principles do you see?


Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness”, which was named the 2018 Axiom Business Book Award Winner, Silver Medal. Kevin is also the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster!”.