Lesson Learned

Several years ago, I trained for a marathon.  I had never been a distance runner.  I felt I was built for speed.  But all my peers were running marathons.  It was a badge of honor that you had the discipline to do the training and work the 80-hour work weeks.  It was a great stress reliever, but I learned some very painful lessons.

I had two very good friends that had run the Chicago Marathon a year earlier.  One was going to run the White Rock Marathon in Dallas with me that Fall.  We printed our training routine from a magazine, pre-internet, and started our process.  His wife took us ten miles out into the country and dropped us off.  We ran back to my house and laid on the driveway making sweat angels.  That is when he informed me that he was done training.  He didn’t have the heart to run another marathon that soon.  So, I was left to train on my own.

My first mistake was with my equipment.  I wore one pair of shoes, with only the inserts that came with the shoes.  My second mistake was running on concrete and asphalt trails exclusively.  My third mistake was over training.  I had started too early for the program I was on.  I was ready too soon.  I ran 22 miles, by myself on Sunday 8 weeks before the race.  I have a high threshold to pain.  That was a hinderance as well. 

We held a company meeting in Hawaii 6 weeks before the race and I went out for a training run with a coworker and friend.  He asked me why I was dragging my leg when I was running.  I was shocked.  I had not realized it.  When I returned home, I went to my doctor.  He took X-rays and determined I had 4 stress fractures in my right leg.  He told me I was done running.  I had trained for 3 months, running up to 50 miles a week, and it was over. 

I didn’t believe him.  I thought I could take a few weeks off and still run the race.  I took a few days off, then tried to run 4 miles.  I made it 2 miles, then had to limp home.  Now that I was aware of the pain, it became excruciating.  When I got to the house and told my wife, I broke down in tears.  All the training, all the sacrifices, and I was done.  I felt betrayed by my own body.  I felt like I had let my family and friends down.  It was just too much pain, physically and emotionally.

In 2009, at the start of the Great Recession, I felt the same pain as my business lost 95% of our income when I had three contracts cancel in the third week of January.  They valued our work but couldn’t keep us on retainer when they were having to lay off staff throughout their companies. I understood.  It was still painful.  I had gotten comfortable working with my three clients.  They made up a salary for me, and any additional work I earned was my bonus.  All the work I had done and all the sacrifices I had made and in one week, it was gone.  I had not prospected as I should have.

I swore I would never make that mistake again.  But last year, I did it again.  I had started another company with a partner and was preparing to blend NineRuns with the other company.  I was preparing to become the CEO of the joint company.  I stopped prospecting for NineRuns.  When the new company didn’t materialize, I had to start over.  I had to prospect heavily.  It has paid off.  I’ve learned from the experience and I will make the same statement on prospecting.  I will never quit prospecting for my company.  The experience of almost losing my company in 2009 must not have stuck.  We are in great shape now, but it can slip away if we aren’t aware and prospecting for new clients. 

I learned a lesson.  There is an old saying that a man who chases two rabbits catches neither.  I learned that lesson again.  Have you had that experience?  Have you taken your eye off your business and quit prospecting? 

Chasing rabbits reminded me to finish the story on my marathon pursuit.  I healed, but never ran a marathon.  I’m impressed by those that can do it.  I am just not built for it.  I loved the Zen of running.  I loved the endorphin rush during and after.  I moved to shorter races.  I ran 5 half marathons and several 10k and 5k races.  I learned to rotate shoes, buy inserts, and run on softer surfaces.  I learned to enjoy the effort and not push the limits of my body…after I tore my meniscus in both knees…  I now ride a bike!  And I prospect daily!

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Are we really listening?

This past week I spent a few days with my nearly 91-year-old mother.  I enjoyed the time.  I relaxed and truly spent time with my mother.  For the first day anyway.  Then I started worrying about things I needed to do in the business.  She noticed. 

This is a transition time for us.  My mother has always been the head of the household.  She is fiercely independent, and she is locked into her ways.  She has earned that right.  Because my father had a physical disability early in life, she was forced to be in charge.  She has been in charge for the past 50 years.  Not by choice, but by necessity.  Now, she still wants her independence, but we need to start to think about the next phase. 

Like most, I’ve always held my mother in high regard.  I thought she knew what she was doing and had respect for that.  We have very different ways of doing things and different ways of thinking, but she oversaw her life.  I’ve noticed the physical changes and have told her that she is fine to stay in her house, by herself, if she is not a danger to herself and others.  She is having a difficult time keeping up with the house.  She needs some help.  I just don’t have the time to work on her yard.  I live several hours away.  This week, I noticed other changes.  I truly listened to what she was saying.

I do not get hints or subtly.  She wants my help and has hinted at it in the past, but I wasn’t listening, apparently.  She is sharp as ever, but there are some things she just doesn’t understand and at this phase in her life, she doesn’t want or need to spend time to figure it out.  She has me for that.  I needed to listen.  I heard her this time.  I’m acting, based on her needs.

In your business, do you truly listen?  What opportunities to help our customers are we missing because we are living in the past?  What do we miss because we aren’t able to see the current situation? 

I have a past client who had a tenured sales team that all had retirements soon.  Compound that with their customer contacts that were nearing retirement as well.  Relationships had to be forged with additional influencers within the customer.  Failure to do so would put the customer relationships in danger. 

The message to them was not that you are all getting old.  The message was that a single point of contact with your company and your customer is dangerous.  Break that relationship and you could lose the customer.  We created a “zipper” relationship map and executed on it.  We worked to pay attention to relationships in the near term, so they could benefit in the long term.  Recognizing the transition possibilities is critical to solving problems for both my client and their customers.

I find it interesting that there is a focus on work/life balance, when our personal lives and business lives are so intertwined.  One reflects the other.  If I am aware of what is happening in my personal life, it helps me understand my business life.  I used to work it the other way around, without much success.  My family shared with me that I can’t treat them like customers.  But I can treat my clients like family.

I’m working on helping my mother with her transition.  She will not give up her independence, and I will do everything in my power to ensure she doesn’t have to.  I’m sharing options with her and she will come to her own conclusions.  In the present moment, I’m going to help her do what she needs help with, and take the stress off her, like she has taken it off me for the past 50 years. 

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One of the basic building blocks of trust is integrity.  Do you do what you say you are going to do?  Are you open, honest, and forthright with people or do you shape the “truth” to fit your needs?  These are questions we face every day.  We, as salespeople build our long-term relationships based on trust.  Creating any challenge to your integrity wipes out trust.

My wife and I are building a home.  In 2015 we sold our home in 10 days and had to move into temporary housing.  That “temporary” has become 3 years.  When we sold our home, we had a hold on a lot in a development that had this fabulous view.  We felt it would take us 6 months to sell, not 10 days.  The development we had targeted didn’t open for 9 months.  Our temporary housing became more than temporary. 

When we walked the lot that we had a hold on, it became less desirable.  The view was spectacular, but the road noise was deafening.  Fifty-five thousand cars a day passed by less than 100 yards away.  We let the lot go.  We then put a contract on another house with a phenomenal view.  It too had issues.  Our inspector informed us it needed $100k in deferred maintenance.  A nice way of saying it was a money pit.  That lead us to building our home.

This is the 4th house we have built in our lifetime together.  My wife is an outstanding realtor.  She knows how to do this, and we have had great success in the past with new homes.  This home will be terrific when we are finished.  Getting it finished is the issue.  We wrote the original contract in June of 2016.  The builder, which is a division of a prominent national corporation, has now committed to closing on our house in late April.  That’s nearly two years from the original contract date.  This is not a mansion.  This is a great home for us now, and later in our lives.

This brings me back to integrity.  The president of the division didn’t sign our contract until he was replaced.  That was January of 2017.  He was trying to sell the lots.  He didn’t want to participate in building higher end homes.  We are on our 6th supervisor for the build.  We have an outstanding sales person working with us now, but she replaced an inexperienced sales person who didn’t share well.  The delays were blamed on the city permitting, scarcity of framers, unethical builders, etc.  None of the blame was placed on ineptness of the company. 

Our supervisor has challenges with honesty, therefore he has lost our trust.  Mistakes in the building process are caught by us, or our inspector and the supervisor tries to explain them as beneficial.  They are not.  He has told us 3 different dates that the close will come on, and they have now expanded over 7 months.  I will never build another house with this builder, and I will never recommend this builder.  They build a fine home, but the people, other than their sales person, are difficult to work with and difficult to trust.  Without trust there is no long-term relationships.

When I was very early in my selling career, I needed to sell 12 specialty drills to qualify for Presidents Club.  The drills were not a fit for my territory, but I wanted to win the award.  I sold the drills to a customer and guaranteed the sale.  I shared that I needed it to win the award.  That was my first mistake.  I was now obligated to a customer in an “off the books” kind of way.  My second mistake was taking the drills from the initial customer and selling them to a second customer.  They couldn’t sell them either.  I just quit going to the customer.  I burnt a relationship to win an award.  I lacked the integrity to do the right thing.  I learned from it and vowed never to make that mistake again. 

This situation with my home reminded me of the mistake I made and the relationship I damaged.  It brought back regrets.  It brought home a feeling of unworthiness.  The question I must ask myself is, “Am I reflecting my shortcomings on the supervisor?”  Is that why it frustrates me so?

Do you have an example of where you lacked integrity in your past?  Has it hurt a relationship?  Have you vowed never to do that again?  I’m hopeful I’ve learned.  I can’t put my short-term benefit in front of my customers, nor can I look at a short term over a long-term relationship.  I need to be self-aware.  I won’t make those kinds of decisions again.  Will you?

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It’s the best time of the year!  The weather is perfect.  March Madness has started, and spring training is underway.  Baseball is just a few weeks from getting started.  It’s difficult not to be optimistic about the chances of your team, whether it’s baseball or basketball.  I love springtime. 

I grew up in Kansas and was always a fan of the Jayhawks.  I went to a game in Allen Fieldhouse when I was in high school.  We were at the very top row and it still was an experience I’ll never forget.  The energy in the arena was spectacular.  It wasn’t a great Kansas team, but it was a fun team to watch. 

When I was in the 6th grade at Rural Center grade school, I thought I was being clever because I had snaked an ear bud up through my shirt and I was listening to the World Series game between the Tiger and the Cardinals.  They were always day games back then, and I was listening during class.  I thought I had hid my radio well and no one knew.  It was 30+ years later that my 6th grade teacher told my mother that I had done that.  She knew I was a sports fan, so she let me get away with it.  Baseball runs that deeply for me.

I love the competition.  It’s carried through into my personal life as well.  I struggled with losing.  It didn’t happen gracefully, and I was not skillful when it did.  Through the years I’ve been able to address losing differently.  I’ve worked to differentiate what I do in business and personally.  I still don’t enjoy losing, but I do my best to change the playing field, so I don’t lose.  I look for the skillful learnings that come with defeat.  There are always skillful learnings if I slow down enough to see them. 

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t build your strategy on competition.  You can’t win, if your opponent loses.  That may sound counterintuitive.  In business, if you win and your customer loses, you will never work with them again.  If you have another seller that you “defeat” by winning an order, they will learn from it and you must keep improving.  Winning is never forever.  If I’m playing golf, and I win, and my fellow golfers feel like they lost, I lose my foursome.  How we react to winning and losing can affect our relationships with our customers and our friends.  It was a hard lesson to learn, as a young man.

We moved to St. Louis and had season tickets for the Cardinals.  Going to the stadium to watch games was like going to a shrine.  If the Cardinals won, the city was a fun place to be.  If they lost, there was a bit of a hangover.  Business suffered it they lost.  I found that interesting and it was one of things that helped me learn to take a more skillful approach.

I believe great sales people are naturally competitive.  But when is it too much?  How do you overcome the losses and keep going?  There is an understanding that great sales people can take rejection in stride.  Does that mean they don’t care?  Does it mean they aren’t competitive?  I believe they handle it well because they are on to the next competition.  They learn from the defeat and vow not to make the same mistakes again. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will watch our teams to see if they win or if they lose.  Either way we can learn from both.  I’m going to enjoy spring and keep learning…

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A Lesson In Awareness

I was delivering thank you letters to our silent auction donors for our foundation this past Saturday, when I came upon an unusual situation.  I almost missed it.  It was my lack of awareness, that caused me to have the near miss.

We have a large population of homeless people in Austin.  We “see” them every day, panhandling on high traffic corners and in certain areas of the city.  People who work with the homeless will tell you not to give them money.  Most have addictions and mental illness that we are supporting by giving them cash.  They have facilities and people to help them.  I’m selective in who I give money to, but I don’t know that there is a specific criterion for when and how I do it. 

The homelessness has become part of the scenery.  I hate to say that, but it is the truth.  When we see them every day, we begin to accept it and it becomes the norm.

Saturday was a beautiful day.  Our weather was perfect, and I was enjoying driving to deliver the letters and the window stickers the merchants could display to show they had supported the foundation.  I was in a shopping area that was anchored by several national brand big box stores.  I had never seen a homeless person in the area, but as I walked out of one store, and got in my vehicle to go the next location, I noticed a man laying on the sidewalk.  My first thought was that it was unusual for a homeless person to be in that location. 

I backed my vehicle up, and started to drive off, when I noticed blood on the sidewalk.  A lot of blood.  I saw the man reaching for his water bottle, and bag and trying to get up.  I saw the blood on the back of his head.  I pulled into a parking spot and got out of my vehicle to help him.  At that point I didn’t care if he was homeless or not.  I felt I needed to help.

Later that day I had a hard time processing what had happened.  I didn’t know how to feel.  I nearly drove past a man in need of help.  While the injuries weren’t life threatening, they were severe enough that he had to be taken to a local emergency room.  How could I ignore him if he were homeless and laying on the ground?  The blood was the trigger for me to stop.  If there wasn’t blood, would I have stopped.

For me, it is about awareness.  Am I living in the moment, and aware of what is going on around me?  Am I caught up in my own issues, good and bad?  Do I have empathy for others?  What made it okay for me to drive by a homeless person, but not someone who was bleeding?  I don’t have the answers, just the lessons.  I’m focusing on being more aware.  I’m focusing on being aware and skillful in the work I do, and the life I lead.

The gentleman that was laying on the sidewalk had fallen.  He was disoriented and had hit his head hard.  He thought he had stumbled and had fallen because of it, but I’m not certain.  He hit the back of his head, so my guess is he passed out.  He was the manager of a store that was 15 feet from where he was laying.  With the help of another gentleman that came out of a store, we helped him back to the store he manages.  His employee shut the store and took him to the ER, because he couldn’t afford the ambulance.

I went back to the store later in the day to talk to the lady.  She was shaken, and the last she knew was when she dropped him at the ER.  I will check back later this week to see how he is doing.  I’m committed to being more aware.  I’m committed to taking the time to see others for what they are, and not making assumptions.  I’m committed to being part of the solution. 

I’m still struggling with the situation.  I almost drove off and ignored someone in need. 

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What Does Success Look Like To You

What does success look like to you?  Is it money in your bank account?  Is it a promotion?  Is it something else?

I’ve never really given it a great deal of thought before, but it hit me hard this week.  Success for me is seeing others around me being successful.  It’s celebrating the smaller things that lead to growth opportunities.  I don’t say this as I stand on a pedestal and I don’t judge others for their view of success. 

In 2013 my son joined my company in a market development role.  I hired him for several reasons, not the least was giving him an income, so he could rent his own place and quit eating my food.  I say that in jest.  He had just moved to Austin and was working on other revenue streams, but he was living with my wife and I while he was doing that.  The salary I paid him gave him enough of a bump that he could rent an apartment.  It was great to have him working with me.  I loved the conversations we had as coworkers, not just father and son.  He was smart and assertive, but out of his area of expertise.  We deal with B2B companies, and his expertise was with direct, one on one clients.

After a couple of years of work, he moved, with his wife, to Dallas, then to St. Louis.  When he moved away we agreed that it would be best for him to go on straight commission with my company and pursue other areas that fit his expertise.  It’s a nice way of saying we parted ways.  We did it knowing that we would have a much better father and son relationship again.  He had learned all that he was going to from being in our business.

Was that a success?  Yes and no.  We both learned more about each other, and we both learned how to communicate clearly with each other.  I was very proud of him and saw great potential.  He just needed the right fit.  That right fit was not with another company.  He is an entrepreneur through and through.

When he was in college, he bartended and managed a bar.  After college he continued to do that, and I remember asking him, “Are you going to be one of those guys? Thirty years old, tending bar in a college town dating coeds?”  His response was “I fail to see the downside Dad.”  He was right.  He meant his wife and she is awesome.  He also used the time to come up with an idea on how to make it easier for people in the hospitality industry to hire and get hired. 

Two years ago, he and his best friend started a business to support hiring in the service industry.  It has grown to the point that they are expanding beyond hospitality, and they have investors ready to help them financially.  The concept has now become reality.  They have a software as a service model that is helping both the employer and the employee match up.  On Friday I received a call from him sharing some great news on a prospect that is closing, and that they have moved another step closer to potential investors pledgeding money. 

I was trying to tell him how proud I am of his journey.  Not just the good news, but the journey he has taken to get there.  I couldn’t get it out without getting emotional.  Initially, I was embarrassed by it.  Then I realized that is was what success was for me.  Success for me is seeing my kids find their sweet spot.  It’s finding their perfect wife/husband.  It’s finding their perfect job, their perfect house, their perfect place where they are happy and contributing to society. 

The last time I got this emotional with my son was when he called me and told me it was really cold in Columbia, and he had purchased hand warmers so he could do his workout outdoors.  He saw a homeless man on the street and he stopped his car and gave the man the hand warmers and a blanket. 

He continues to make be proud, based on the man he has become.  He will be successful in business and in life.  “Find you passion and the money will come.”  I said that to him when he was just a boy.  He has lived it since and I’m celebrating each step with him. 

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Driven By The Numbers

Today I’m riding in my 200th spin class.  There are others who have done this and others who have probably done more classes, but they don’t track it.  For some reason, I do.

Spin classes are great for me to get my heart rate up and get an intense workout without further damaging my knees.  My knees aren’t bad, but I feel it if I run.  So, I do spin classes.  I get on a stationary bike and work for 45 minutes of intense, rhythm based, choreographed, aerobic and anaerobic riding.  And I love it!

I love it because it keeps me in shape.  I triple my resting heart rate, and it keeps my weight in check.  I love it because I do my spin classes at Ride, in Bee Cave, TX and they have what they call a “Ride Tribe”.  They have a group of people that spin together on a semi-regular basis.  I know most of the first names, and none of the last names, but we share a common purpose and intention when we spin.  We hold each other accountable without judgment.  We also accept new people into the tribe and welcome them and encourage them without judgment. 

I want to go back to my initial statement.  Others have done 200 classes, but it wasn’t recognized, and it wasn’t even counted by the individuals.  Why is it important to me? 

For most of my career, I’ve been in sales or sales leadership roles.  There was always a number attached to the work I’ve done.  I love the challenge and the chase to reach that number.  I’m motivated by the number.  I want to celebrate the number being reached. 

Sandy is the instructor leading the class today, when I reach 200.  She shares the need to celebrate and she asked me suggestions for the playlist of the music we ride to.  Being an old DJ, I like alternative rock.  It reminds me of the music when I was growing up. I shared several songs with her.  She asked me to ride the podium with her.  I declined the offer.  It’s not about ego or recognition in front of the tribe for me.  It’s about reaching a personal goal.  Reaching another milestone.  I appreciate her wanting to put me in a spotlight, but it’s personal for me.  Others have done it without making a big deal of it and I was just sharing it with her as a friend that it was a milestone for me.  I don’t want to be in the spotlight or on a podium. 

I believe a key component to successful sales person is the drive to hit a number.  The drive to reach a goal or milestone.  A key piece of that is understanding why.  What is the motivation behind it.  It’s true with our customers as well.  What is their motivation?  If we understand their motivations, can’t we do a better job of satisfying their needs?  Wouldn’t it differentiate us from the other sellers that call on our customers?  Customers pay for differentiation. 

There are a lot of spin studios in Austin.  There are many different spin instructors.  I initially chose Ride to spin at because they are close to my home.  I’ve stayed at Ride because they haver created a sense of community with the Ride Tribe.  Their instructors are invested in us and we are invested in them.  They challenge us, and we respond.  They differentiate because they understand that we each have separate motivators and they help us achieve our goals.  Each class starts with setting intentions for the class and ends with leaving our stressors behind and taking with us the things that worked for us.  Pretty deep stuff for a spin class.  I’m excited to ride and reach the milestone.  Then I’ll set the next goal!

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Unconditional Love

Unconditional love is an unusual topic in a business blog.  So please bear with me. I participate in an annual golf outing each summer for the past couple of years.  The group is made up of a core of about 5 people who have played together for over 25 years.  The rest of us come and go, based on our ability to get away for a weekend. What makes it interesting to me is not the golf, it’s the group itself. 

The core is a group of men who have known each other most of their lives.  These are people who went to elementary school, middle school, and high school together.  Their bonds run deeply.  They have witnessed a lot of changes through their lives, and each other’s lives.  They have seen successes and failures and have always been there to support each other. 

They have watched and supported each other as they have gone through the cycles of life.  They graduated from college, got married, had babies, and raised them.  They have seen health, and sickness.  They have seen struggles in their professional careers and in their personal life.  There has always been one constant; they had each other.

I grew up in the country and felt I had lots of friends as I grew up.  I have one friend that I grew up with, that I stay in touch with.  I had people in my wedding that I haven’t stayed in contact with.  One person in my wedding, I can’t even find on Facebook or LinkedIn.  I’m not wired like the group of individuals that are in this golf tournament.  I believe that is why I find it so fascinating. 

What drives this type of relationship?  What is the common thread that keeps this group in contact with each other all these years, through all the miles between them?  They all have very different professions.  They all live in different cities, so it isn’t proximity.  What drives this bond? 

I believe it’s unconditional love for each other.  They all have challenges, but they listen to and support each other.  They have positive attitudes.  One has a son who is experiencing some health challenges.  He is also in a job search, and he hurt his back and is working through the limitations that has caused.  Yet he remains positive.  Being around him is a pleasure.  He will be successful because he believes he will be successful.  He has his buddies to support him.

There are several studies around how to keep people at your company.  They show the best way to connect with a company is to have friends at your company.  You stay because you like the people you work with.  Your friends at work, have your back.  Deep friendships may be rare, but business friends are a must. 

I’ve been fortunate to have deep friendships that I’ve developed through working with some great individuals.  I can’t say it’s been an on-purpose strategy.  I’m grateful for the few, long lasting relationships that I have developed with coworkers through the years.  Have you given it thought?  Are you grateful for your relationships and nurturing them with a purpose? 

I may never have a lifetime group of friends like the group that has welcomed me into their golf outing. I’m happy they have included me.  I’m still recovering from 54 holes of golf in two days.  I’m still in awe of the deep friendships they have developed and supported with unconditional love, through the years.  They are inspiring me to do better.

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