I have gone skiing only once in my life. It was a disaster. With zero practice and expensive equipment borrowed from a friend “showing me the ropes” (words used loosely, figuratively, and literally as you’ll learn). That day, at Perfect North ski slopes in Indiana, I learned skiing would never be my specialty.
My friend Ken and I suited up and walked to a long tug rope dragging people up a small hill. He told me to just grab onto it and I too will be pulled safely upward. Between my poor balance and his simple instructions, I struggled, falling down off the rope over and again. Once I reached the “bunny hill for the kids” he told me to “just ski down”. With one small push off my poles, my legs got crossed, I immediately hit the powder, and tumbled the entire way down.
My friend assured me, “Don’t worry, Joe. You don’t learn on this hill. You learn on that!” as he pointed up to the top of the uppermost slope. We took the ski lift to the top of the tallest course. Mind you, this is Indiana, not Vail, but for someone who had worn skis a total of 10 minutes, it was daunting. As I tripped coming off the ski lift, falling to my knees, I asked the all-important questions. “How do I ski? And how do I stop while skiing?”
“That’s easy,” Ken began. “Just go down the hill, and when you want to stop, slightly angle your feet inward and push out at the sides.” Easy enough, I figured. So with a dozen pumps from my poles, I took off like a bat out of hell down the mini-mountain. I whipped past skiers taking their leisurely stroll down the slope. I was a man possessed, confident that my relentless speed was an obvious sign of my domination of this pastime.
When it came time to stop, I recalled my training (again, word used loosely). I turned my skis slightly inward and pushed out. Ken called this a “snow plow”, but I call this “just throwing snow up at your sides while not slowing you down in the slightest”. At the moment I realized my continued acceleration when reaching the bottom was a problem, not a prize, Ken slid past me screaming “What are you doing, Joe?!” A split second later, I struck the tug rope (my earlier enemy) at full-force, knocking a dozen people clean off their feet, while simultaneously being clotheslined myself.
When I stood, people glared upon me like the bull in the China shop I was. Children that had been clinging to the tug rope to reach the bunny hill were crying for their parents after have been thrown yards due to the impact. Elderly snowbirds scoffed as they brushed snow from their parkas. I was an outsider in a land of snow and innocence that disrupted the sanctity of their Sunday slalom. So I did what any quick-witted person would do. I jumped to my feet, pointed to different areas around the complex and shouted, “Did you get the shot, Jimmy?” “Sal, did that look good for you?”, “How’d that turn out, Stan?”. Then I turned to the audience that had witnessed the accident and put them at ease. “Do not try this at home, folks. I’m a professional stunt man and we’re filming this for an upcoming soap commercial. Thanks for your time.” I hunted down the skis that had been ripped from my body, covered the newly torn holes in my borrowed ski pants, and hoped that, between my public lie and my convincing performance, I’d be less disgraced. I embarrassingly limped into the lodge, sat down, and ordered a drink. It took me a few hours to get the guts up to attempt skiing just a few more times that day, each time throwing snow at my sides, landing face first, destroying equipment, and collecting bruises. I never went skiing again.
Cut to my comfy couch while I watch this winter’s Olympics from Pyeongchang, South Korea. I sit amazed at the level of ease athletes make events look. Shaun White, both an entertaining personality and competitor on snow, had put himself in the position to win his third gold medal in the halfpipe. During his third and final run for the gold medal, he makes amazing displays of acrobatic twists and turns in the air. I wonder what goes through someone’s mind to even realize they can do that, let alone want to. Who says to themselves, I’m going to ski up that slope, go really high in the air, and keep trying to flip as many times as I can until I hit the ground again. It just seems like insanity or a death wish. Nevertheless, Shaun White nailed his run and won gold. On my couch, I celebrated his accomplishment with him. I watched the emotion wash over him and appreciated the effort put into it. I will never be that good at skiing or snowboarding or tubing, or sledding or skating or anything else on snow or ice in my life. It is not about a lack of practice. It is about a lack of passion and desire for it.
That evening, I was speaking to a friend in the industry asking how I go about my daily work. For almost 10 years I have been diligently training automotive dealers (along with forays into a few other industries) on the best practices of lead management and lead handling. For almost 10 years prior to that I had spent time in the trenches, both executing and training this skill in my own job at a car dealership, getting better and better. I began writing articles for industry magazines about my tactics long before I started my own company and recognized that I truly was light years ahead of the curve compared to my regular competitors. Some of the most successful lead management strategies today in automotive weren’t tasks I simply adopted, but instead actually created and invented. Please know there is nothing I like talking about less than myself, unless it’s sharing self-deprecating stories as the one above, but I recognize that not everyone can be Shaun White. Not everyone is in the position to “go for the gold”, but with enough passion, endurance and practice, everyone can be the best at something. My something is how to best handle sales leads for retail operations.
My friend on the phone said, “I don’t know how you do it. I can’t imagine saying the same thing over and over to people for a decade. It has to be so boring, I’m sure you can’t stand it anymore.” I thought about it. And he was wrong. While sometimes it can be redundant training people on some of the same tactics over and over until they get it locked in, I enjoy the sport of lead management. Whether it is introducing my strategies to someone who has never thought intuitively about lead handling, or refreshing a seasoned sales team on necessary steps, it is training someone to compete. It’s a competition. And managing and closing leads hasn’t stayed the same since I first began. While many of my philosophies have remained the same, methodologies to reach the end goal have only become more complex. Technology has aided the training and results. Lead handling to me was never just one thing. Snowboarding could not have been just a stationary hobby for Shaun White. For me, lead management has grown and advanced. The tricks and tactics have expanded so far beyond my initial objective of handling an online or phone prospect from lead generation to appointment to sale, it is like the powder is always fresh and the course is always new.
When Shaun White approached his third run on his final day, he knew he needed to perfectly land two 1400’s back to back to bring home the gold. Something he had not ever done in competition. Something he didn’t do for his first gold medal. He doesn’t get tired of snowboarding because it isn’t the same thing over and over. He isn’t experimenting with slalom or ski jumping or figure skating or luge competitively. He’s a halfpipe guy. Now I could make a guess that Shaun White is likely above average at those events because winter games and extreme sports are his environment so he’s likely much better than the average bear. When I speak at conferences in and out of the industry, lead management may always be at the forefront but I’m more than competent speaking on curriculum such as inbound marketing, sales training, digital marketing and more. But Shaun only goes for the gold in snowboarding and he is loved for it. Snowboarding may be old hat to Shaun White as lead management is to me, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting if you make advancing the field as a goal. You do not need to position yourself as a master-of-everything and expert-of-all. There should be pride in having a specialty.
Many people are required to do the same monotonous tasks in their jobs day in and day out. One day looks like the next and your performance at your job is being judged regardless. It is possible to make costly mistakes even while performing mundane duties. That doesn’t mean that your role, and your segment of industry, isn’t changing in dramatic ways. Processes can always be improved. Time to completion can always be shortened. New technology can always be deployed and embraced. Something as simple as doing things right every time and finding ways to make things better can make you happy at work. It comes down to caring about the consistency. If you embrace the goal of always improving what you’re working on, you’ll forever be going for the gold. It took a bad fall in the snow, a friend’s call after a show, and Shaun White’s gold to make me realize: Doing one thing well is all you need to be happy.