Blisters and Lost Toenails

We all have a friend who does long runs, big hikes, or some other show of athletic prowess. You know the kind I mean, the ones that push their mind and body to the limit. Rather it’s strenuous and physically rigorous (think triathlon) or just new to their body (think Couch to 5k), the journey starts with victory in mind. We dream of the t-shirt, the finisher medal, and the post-race social media selfie of success.

Yes, this is about me and a mountain hiking adventure but it parallels how people approach business challenges. Are you the planner who trains, asks questions, and gets a coach, or are you the type to just take off running and get blisters and lose toenails? Sometimes, the glory of victory is so enticing and we don’t take the time to break it down into the steps we need to take to cross the finish line.

I am on such a journey. My friends and I have decided to hike Mount Katahdin in Maine. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a massive undertaking. They asked, it sounded like a fun time, and so we all bought plane tickets and booked hotel rooms. We have a few months to prepare and this is where I started to realize just how differently we approach challenges.

I started my preparation by watching a video about the world’s best free climber, Alex Honnold. He has been climbing for years, has extraordinary strength, and the balance of a gymnast, and can easily and lightly ascend sheer peaks like a mountain goat. 

  • Have you ever climbed a mountain?
  • Have you ever done something dangerous?
  • Are you a risk taker?

We know we need to train so we scheduled some hikes in Wisconsin. Mostly so we’d know what it really felt like to hike. I grabbed my six-year-old, hardly worn, practically brand new, trusty hiking shoes and headed off to Devil’s Lake. I’m in good shape and the hike up was easy—but the way down? Oh boy!  I spent the next 40 minutes nervously inching down the rocky trail. I worried—will my knees would absorb the descent? Will my feet would hold the ground? This is not a life-threatening hike, but a hard fall would certainly hurt and lead to a vacation-ending injury.  

My hiking partners visited the local hiking outfitter and purchased new shoes. They were excited and scampered down easily and their boots firmly gripped the slippery rocks. Inspiring as Alex’s climbing in Free Solo is to watch I realized it did nothing to prepare me for the hike I am planning. My favorite line of the movie is that the people who know about climbing solo are freaked out at what he is doing because it’s so dangerous. Luckily, the mountain I am climbing is nothing like El Capitan.   

The next week, my husband and I headed to the hiking outfitter. Now you might read this next part and simply dismiss it as the difference in the way men and women shop. And you’re partly right but I’ve been in sales my entire life and I know the best solutions come when you have all the pertinent information. 

I spill the beans to the sales guy. I tell him about my Devil’s Head experience sliding around on the rocks. I tell him where we are going, the 4000-foot elevation gain, we’re doing Saddle Trail, with no ropes. I expect the hike to take 10 hours and oh, by the way—this is my first climb. He listens, asks questions, brings three pairs of boots, and explains that one is especially good for new climbers with bad knees, hips, and back. Thank you, I know he listened and is talking in my language. He heard me say injury prevention is my primary concern. I parted with a big chunk of money and happily left the store with the perfect hiking boots.

Conversely, my husband tells his sales rep he needs hiking shoes. That’s all. Just needs a pair of hiking shoes. He rolls his eyes as I share all the details of our upcoming journey. Fast forward to our first hike in our new gear. His shoes are too narrow. They are uncomfortable on the flat ordinary pavement. He gets blisters, not one, but a couple. Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes!

I simply told him he didn’t give the salesperson enough information to recommend the right product. They didn’t sell you the wrong product—you failed to buy the right one! Do you see the parallel to marketing? If we, as salespeople, just hand over what you think you want without digging into your real needs the solution will seem like a failure because it doesn’t fit your needs… or in this case your feet! The sales guys at the outfitter have climbed mountains, and they know the best tool for the job. If you slow down and let them ask you questions their recommendations will fit! 

In marketing, we call this a Client Needs Analysis. Fellow hikers, we all face mountains. Some are actual mountains, but you face slippery slopes running your business, too. It can be dangerous work with opportunities for injuries and pain. Make sure you select a partner who has been up that mountain and can recommend the right products for the job. If you get the right advice, it will be money well spent. Take the time to let your marketing partners know about your journey—or you will get blisters and lose toenails on the hike to success.

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