Posts Tagged selling

Going Back to the Woodlot to Find Success

I cut a lot of firewood when I was a kid. Well, I didn’t actually do the cutting. Because I was too young and clumsy to handle the chainsaw, my job was to carry logs to the truck. These logs ranged in weight from those I could carry with one hand and toss into the truck from a few feet away to those that I rolled to the truck and tried to coax in without smashing my toes. None of them were labeled with their weight, so I didn’t always know if I was strong enough to move the log in front of me, but I always had to try. A scowling father with a revved-up chainsaw cast a pretty large shadow over any self-pity I could muster.

I don’t move logs any more. I move weights around the gym, and they are all marked, so I can stay in my comfort zone. While clearly marked weights are obviously a necessity in the gym, I’ve recently noticed that the convenience of knowing the weight also makes complacency very convenient too. I know what I can lift, so I lift that. When I was lifting logs, I didn’t know what I could lift without trying. In the woodlots, I pushed myself out of necessity. In the gym, I don’t have to push myself, unless I really want to.

I discovered this on a machine designed to work upper back muscles. Someone left the machine without unloading their weights, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, unless, of course, they leave the machine with the exact weight I want. Usually, that doesn’t happen though, and it didn’t happen the other day on that machine. Whoever was there before me left ten more pounds than I wanted on each side. After swearing at the unidentified offender under my breath, I started to take off the extra weight, but then caught myself. Maybe it was time for me to challenge myself with a little extra weight. Maybe God had put on his strength coach hat and wanted me to push myself.

I left the extra weight on the machine and predictably struggled through my sets. Whereas I could regularly hit my rep goals of 10-10-8-8 with my old weight, I struggled to reach half of those reps with each of the four sets. I had invited defeat into my workout, and it was uncomfortable – uncomfortable but not unproductive. Sooner or later, if I keep pushing myself, I expect to handle the extra weight.

As often happens as I daydream between sets, I started thinking about how we face similar challenges in everyday life. Maybe a client or boss expects more effort than we anticipated, yet we proceed stubbornly in our comfort zone, predictably falling short of our potential. Maybe we have the opportunity to volunteer for something new, but decline because we’re not sure if we’re capable of the effort. Maybe a friend or family member needs our time, and we fall short because we don’t want to add any more responsibility to our schedule. When we limit ourselves to our comfort zone, we limit our potential.

I tried to stay in my comfort zone at the beginning of my first sales job, and had predictably poor results. I only wanted to call on prospects who I was fairly certain would buy from me, and I insisted on exhaustive research before I called them. I also wanted to be an expert on my product, so I could dazzle my prospects with my product acumen. Research and product knowledge are important in sales, but not as important as persistence and risk-taking to a new sales rep in a new industry. When you are trying to build your clientele, you want to make as many contacts as you possibly can, establish a rapport and solve their problems with your products.

By researching prospects who never bought from me and spending selling time studying my product, I didn’t make as many contacts as I needed, and I earned many meetings in the sales manager’s office where he would tell me exactly that. Meanwhile I watched colleagues with a tenuous at best knowledge of their prospects and our products hit their goals and cash fat commission checks. Finally, the light went off, and I switched from weight-room mode to woodlot mode, and started lifting logs that could smash my feet. Before long, I was closing deals that I never would have found if I stayed in my comfort zone.

Back in the weight room, I had grown complacent, using my age and physical condition to excuse my sub-par effort. Now, when I encounter an extra, but not unreasonable amount of weight on a machine, I accept the challenge. This means I fail a lot more, but I know that I’ll benefit from the challenge, if I don’t give up.

Try that the next time your comfort zone is challenged. Lift that log, even if it might smash your toes. It’s the only way you’ll grow.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Would You Work with Freddy Krueger?

Looking back at it, I’m fortunate that the receptionist paged her boss and not security or the police when I showed up in the lobby. I saw the fear and uncertainty in her eyes, and I couldn’t really blame her. I looked like I just tumbled out of a slasher movie.

Two hours earlier, in my haste to get on the road, I tripped over a curb and landed on my left shoulder and cheek (the cheek on my face) in my office parking lot. The pavement was wet with melting snow, dirt and the snow-melt compound that the maintenance guy had put down. When I landed, I ground all of that into my face, hands, shirt and pants. For good measure, in stunned unawareness, I wiped my freshly bloodied knuckles on my pants.

Seconds earlier, I had looked fairly good in my new black shirt and freshly pressed khaki pants. I was on my way to win business from people I had never met in person, and I was full of confidence. I didn’t look so good now, I thought to myself, as I looked in the rear-view mirror and wiped blood and dirt from my face with an old rag I found under the seat. I considered postponing, but it would have been weeks before I would be able to get all of these guys in one room again. My competitors would loom during those days.

Because I had just enough time to make the drive, I wasn’t even able to stop by a bathroom to perform triage. I was going to have to go in raw and mangled, hoping to use confidence to overcome the obstacles my appearance presented.

Many of life’s pivotal points come in moments like these, when our confidence is shaken at precisely the moment we need it the most. How we respond often determines our life direction, at least for a while.

Doubt and feelings of inferiority often flash into our conscious when we have an unexpected opportunity to assert ourselves. Maybe a boss asks for our opinion in a meeting. Maybe we have an unexpected opportunity to volunteer for an important task or meet an important person. Rather than living with regrets, we should seize these unexpected opportunities for exactly what they are – opportunities.

On my very first day of student teaching, in my very first hour, I learned that my cooperating teacher had called in sick and the substitute teacher had absolutely no idea how to teach the material. Instead of a day spent observing and getting comfortable with my surroundings, like I expected, I was thrust in front of a classroom of high school students for the first time since I was a high school student myself, three years earlier. I was nervous but it went well, and I developed courage under fire.

I was fortunate that my life had prepared me for situations like this. For about 35 years now, I’ve dragged around a mostly non-functional leg, so I’m accustomed to people struggling to suppress inadvertent stares when I walk into a room of strangers.

When I was younger, this bothered me tremendously, and I did everything I could to avoid walking in front of strangers. Even in college, I showed up early for classes and snuck away after the room cleared, in an attempt to make my first impression from a sitting position. I wanted people to know and like me, before letting them in on my handicap. I didn’t trust others not to judge me, and I hadn’t developed self-worth.

Now, as a motivational speaker, I sometimes walk across an auditorium stage in front of hundreds. I’m able to do this, because I no longer worry about what conclusions people make when they see me for the first time. I know that the people who matter could care less about how I move from one point to another. In fact, I know that if I don’t let it bother me, they won’t let it bother them.

Back in my truck after my client meeting, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and smiled. My cheek was swollen now, and a rivulet of dried blood ran from the corner of my eye, but I killed it. My heightened confidence helped me compensate for my Freddy Kruger appearance. I had not only won the account, it’s been our biggest piece of business year to date.

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