Growing up I was fascinated by the art of story-telling. My Dad was a great comedic storyteller and would entertain a crowd at get togethers with stories of his childhood adventures and work exploits.
Even though over the years I heard some of the story’s countless times, my dad’s ability to engage the audience and inject hilarity was a skill I studied without realising it. I quite simply loved being around him and enjoyed his ability to work an audience.
When I entered the world of work, I was always interested in those who could tell a story with humour, cadence, and punctuation.
This interest served me well in customer facing roles as I was always (mostly) interested in learning more about my colleagues, clients, and contacts.
The Story of a Salesman and his Surprise Purrrsession
When I worked for a software company, I had a mentor called Russ who was a musician and an incredibly cool guy! When he spoke on the phone, he had a certain relaxed manner and cadence that was very compelling. He could make people relax and when he walked, he seemed to glide unhindered by others around him or obstacles in his way.
Russ played slap-bass to an extremely high standard and from memory had once toured with Ocean Colour Scene at the height of their fame. I loved listening to his stories and the way he delivered them.
When I was learning the craft of Sales management Russ would often support me on my initial visits and lead by example in his interactions. He would also tell a tale or two in the car.
One such story sticks in my mind and it concerns a one-time colleague who was renowned for his dedication and drive to get results.
This Sales professional had risen early (sometime around 4am from memory) as he had a long drive ahead of him to see a prospective customer.
While he was packing the car for the journey and meeting, he realised he had left his laptop inside and he returned to his house quickly to retrieve it. He then locked the house, placed his laptop in the back of his car, closed the door and left.
After a couple of hours, the salesman was somewhere in the Midlands and could hear a strange noise coming from his back seat. Initially he ignored the sounds, but soon he grew concerned and pulled over at the next service station to investigate.
He jumped out of the car and pulled open the back door not knowing what to expect, and then he spotted the source of the noise.
It was his neighbour’s cat from the cul-de-sac where he lived.
It was curled up nicely on his winter coat on the backseat and was staring at him through one eye.
The cat must have jumped into the car while he fetched his laptop, and the salesman simply hadn’t noticed.
He now had a quandary!
A Salesperson’s Catitude!
The world of software sales is an aggressive business. Most opportunities are highly competitive and every day, week, month, quarter, and year the people who sell in this industry are focused on targets, margins, and WINS!
They must deliver!
This salesperson was a veteran of the industry so knew that to secure his sale and progress towards his targets he needed to have the meeting. His mind went into solution mode and he jumped back in his car and drove to a local ……….. TESCO!
There he stocked up with a water bowl, mineral water, cat food, another bowl, a small litter box, some cat litter, and a toy!
He then drove to the venue for the meeting where he set the cat up in the boot of the car with its new bespoke apartment. ( I assume he cracked the window to supply fresh air, my suspicion is that this guy thought of everything).
What happened then was the stuff of legend at the company I worked at.
The salesman had the meeting, won the order, returned to his car, drove the few hours home, opened the back door of his car and casually allowed the cat to jump out and walk back to its house.
The owners of the cat never knew their pet had been on a day trip having a wonderful adventure.
And the Salesman never told them….. But why?
Because he didn’t think it was either a big deal or funny!
He had a job to do, and the cat was just another obstacle to overcome. His mind (as always) was on his work.
Maintaining a Habit
Earlier this week I had a message from a relative from one of my students. The message was polite and quite straightforward.
‘Student A will be taking a break from karate for a while as they are having to do extra revision classes and they are tired’.
Now this isn’t unusual. In fact, it happens quite a lot, especially in year eleven when the pressure and reality of GCSE exams kicks in.
But in this instance, I didn’t reply with my default approach of ‘I understand, it’s only a break, the door is always open’ etc etc.
I know this student well; he is a member of my family and I care a great deal about him. I also know that if he stops now, he is likely to never start again.
So, I decided to dig my heels in, and I phoned his Mum. She explained that he had increased hours at school and he needed to work hard to do well in his exams. I explained that I think he should compromise, reduce his training to once a week and then tickover with karate through his final year at school.
I may be biased but I have witnessed how karate has improved this student's confidence, helped him develop his social skills and boosted his physicality and fitness. I think that is a lot to sacrifice, especially when an hour’s exercise and escape from study once a week could offer the perfect tonic to the pressure of exams.
My Mum is one of those wonderful family matriarchs who defends everyone. When I shared with her my concerns for my student, she simply said.
‘Don’t forget Matt, not everyone is as dedicated as you.’
In some ways my Mum was right and I work hard not to expect my students to repeat my schedule or commitment. But……. I am not asking him to train seven days a week. I am asking him to maintain a habit of one hour’s training once a week.
I think that is infinitely doable regardless of the pressures of year eleven or otherwise.
At that point I realised I am the salesman, karate is my product and my obstacles are the cat!
Others would miss training or take the cat home ....
... but NOT ME!
I will find a way to get it done and be indifferent to the obstacle after!
(Perhaps that’s why I have always loved that story!....... hmmm that’s deep! 😊)
The Desire for the Dojo
Over the next few days, I intend to speak with my student. He has told his Mum and others that he wants to continue training, but he is just so busy. I will emphasise to him that a single hour of work a week is a small drop in the ocean when you factor all the hours in a day.
If he really wants to train, I will make it possible for him. But I feel he needs to be honest with himself and then me.
Does he still want to train?
Is he really under so much pressure? ....
.....Or is he just feeling tired?
(Because if so tiredness is the obstacle).
Does he want to concede and stop?
Or will he seek to overcome?
I will put my storyteller hat on and repeat the tale Russ told me of the Salesman and the Cat. I think it serves as a good analogy.
Will my student return the cat or make it comfortable and then get to work?
Life throws us obstacles. To overcome them we must be honest with ourselves as to whether we want to.
It would be a shame if we missed out on wider benefits as we were simply ‘feline’ tired. 😊
See you in the dojo!