He had been riding motorbikes since he was 14. That made it 41 years of experience. Outside of family and work it was his big passion. On the road or on the track it was something he did for the adrenaline rush, to relieve stress, enjoy the camaraderie of good mates and to just embrace the freedom it offered.
Then one day he lost the sight in his dominant right eye. Losing vision in one eye didn’t sound that bad, after all he had another. It could be worse he was often told by well-meaning, binocular visioned friends. Of course, it could. One eye is better than none, but he didn’t want to hear this. Losing sight in one eye meant he had:
- Lost depth perception, 3D vision
- Decreased ability to judge speed
- Lost peripheral vision on the side without sight
- Decreased ability to adjust for balance problems
- Decreased night vision
Now if you’ve ridden on 2 wheels, motorised or not, you’ll understand the challenges and dangers these losses will cause. His initial reaction after getting back on the track and road (now with raised excitement…and danger levels) was not great. The fun had been replaced with FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. He decided his riding days were over. But with the encouragement of his wife and close mates with whom he rode, he persevered. Here is what I learned from this person that helps me every day in selling, my business, and my life.
Weigh up risk against reward before making a final decision. Riding was part of his life. It was part of him. It was his passion. Without riding and the camaraderie that went with it, life would be very different. Yes, there were risks in continuing to ride, but the rewards far outweighed these. There had to be a way to keep riding.
- In sales, we get presented a lot of opportunities. But not every opportunity will be real, nor will they be worth the effort that may be required to win them. Ask yourself if there’s a real opportunity. If yes, what are the risks associated with pursuing it? Can you compete? Is it worth winning? What other opportunities might you have to forego?
Find a good mentor. He had a lot of friends who were willing to help him get through the problems he faced. One lifelong friend became his mentor. He never thought after 40 years of riding a mentor was something he would need, but having someone to share the highs and lows of his experience and to coach him on what he saw he needed to do was an enormous help.
- I’ve been fortunate to have good mentors throughout my career. From when I started as an apprentice draftsman, through my brief engineering career, my sales and sales management career and still today. A trusted mentor is invaluable to keep us focussed, challenge us and keep us on track.
You don’t have to lead; it’s OK to follow. But follow someone you respect and trust. With a lack of depth perception, 3D and peripheral vision comes a loss of granular speed awareness. All of these combine to make riding, especially cornering much more difficult. His mentor was not just a friend, but someone he had shared riding, skydiving and life experiences for 30 years. He trusted him. Getting back on his bike, starting with rides with just he and his mentor, following his mentor uphill and down, through tight bends and sweepers helped him regain his confidence and get back to riding with his mates. He’s no longer at the front of the pack when he rides, but that’s OK.
- Strong salespeople do not just need to take the lead, they need to know how to follow when the situation demands. Follow the lead of the client. Follow the lead of support staff. Follow the lead of management. Taking a ‘following’ position helps us become more aware. Followers learn diplomacy. Following helps create and develop awareness. And while required of both leaders and followers, followers tend to work harder to achieve consensus in decisions.
“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader”- Aristotle
B2B – When in doubt go ‘Back 2 Basics’. Because his riding skills had been built on a strong foundation, it was easy to go back to the basics, adapt his riding style to his new reality and then gradually rebuild his confidence.
- There is so much talk these days about traditional selling being dead. Some starting their careers in sales are ignoring the tried and tested skills required to grow not just revenue but their personal sales careers. And those more experienced are often distracted by the latest ‘bright, shiny, new thing’ in sales leaving behind the skills they had used successfully in the past. Like great buildings, sales success is built on a strong foundation. Don’t ignore the basics.
Adopt and adapt the latest technologies. The technology available in motorcycles these days matches anything available on 4 wheels. Getting a bike with traction control, ABS, automatic clutch, tyres that grip like an Ibex to a cliff face all made for safer and easier riding…but he still needed the basics to stay upright. So he adopted the new and adapted it to his basic skills.
- I’ve seen the way people buy change at a faster rate in the past decade than in the previous 3 decades of my career. Similarly, how we sell has changed with the advent of better, faster communications, artificial intelligence, machine learning and a wealth of other emerging technologies. We ignore these at our peril. As salespeople, we need to understand these changes and apply them to how we sell. As sales leaders, we are responsible for helping our staff embrace these technologies and changes in how we sell. We need to help them understand how to apply them and adapt them to the basics they have mastered as their foundation. And remember, you’re never too old to learn.
Don’t make rash decisions. If he’d followed his initial instincts he’d have walked away from his passion. But following the advice from and support of his wife and close friends he dug deeper to understand the real issues and how he might overcome them.
- In sales, we need to qualify hard and qualify early, but this qualification is not just to provide a ‘go/no-go’ decision, but to help identify the missing information needed to make that decision. We need to regularly evaluate the opportunity, get missing information, enlist appropriate support as needed and be prepared to walk away if and when we need.
Commitment. Once he’d made the decision to keep riding, he was fully committed to doing everything that was needed to achieve his goal. He was committed to those who were helping him achieve his goal.
- Similarly in sales, once we’ve decided an opportunity is worth pursuing we need to be committed to doing everything we need to see it through to its conclusion; whatever that conclusion may be. We need to be committed to ourselves and our clients.
Step outside your comfort zone. The perceptiveness that was lost with the vision in his right eye made a whole lot of things difficult, not just riding. How he rode had to change, but so too did many other things. Again, had he gone with his first instincts he would have given up riding. He had to go to a very uncomfortable place. Not just physically but mentally. He had to challenge what was instinctive and force a change to what just came naturally after so many years. And he made the changes slowly. He practiced in low-risk situations and gradually rebuilt his confidence.
- To be successful in sales today we need to challenge the status quo; our prospects, our clients, our teams and our own. We need to be prepared to disrupt the way things are done. We need to be challengers. As I’ve mentioned already, how we sell is changing at a rate we’ve never seen before so unless we are prepared to step outside our comfort zone to adopt and adapt these changes we’ll be left behind.
“Be willing to step outside your comfort zone once in a while; take the risks in life that seem worth taking. The ride might not be as predictable if you’d just planted your feet and stayed put, but it will be a heck of a lot more interesting” – Edward Whitacre, Jr., Former Chairman and CEO of General Motors and AT&T)
Have a goal and steps to achieve it. He set a realistic goal – where he’d like to get to and when. He then laid out the steps needed to get there, the actions needed and who was going to help. Effectively he had a process to get to where he wanted to go.
- In business and sales, going ahead without knowing your goal and objectives is a recipe for failure. Have a vision (pardon the pun) for where you want to go. Set clear objectives. Have a well defined and proven sales process. Match it with your prospects buying process.
“The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise and is not preceded by a period of worry and depression” – John Preston, Boston College
Appreciate every experience. As he learned how to ride in a manner that was now needed to accommodate his visual limitation, he embraced every experience. There were some good times and bad. Even an accident that would have been unlikely in his fully sighted days. But each experience was a learning experience and one that added to the stories he could share over a beer or two with his mates.
- In sales, we will never win every deal. We will make mistakes. We will adopt new sales tools and processes. We experience highs and lows. Embrace them all.
“Be passionate. Believe in your purpose. Believe in yourself. Enjoy your success” – Wayne Moloney
It’s been 11 years since I awoke blind in one eye. Yes, I’m the one-eyed motorcyclist. That day was scary. I had no idea why it was happening or if it this was something I was going to experience in my other eye. Fortunately not.
The point of this article is not to seek sympathy or kudos. I know there are others far worse off than me. I have a follower on LinkedIn who is blind and has a successful career in internal sales – huge respect. The fact is we all face challenges of varying magnitudes in life and in selling. We need to find a way to work through these if we are to be successful.
I’m still riding and enjoying it as much as ever. Not because I’m riding better, faster, longer than in the past, but because I appreciate it so much more. I nearly walked away from something I loved and not walking away has taught me a lot…things I apply to my daily life, how I sell, how I manage and how I help my clients.
Afterword – I’ve since met Aussie rider Ben Felten. He’s totally blind and holds the world speed record at over 260kpm (165mph). Makes my dramas seem trivial really.
This article was first posted by Wayne Moloney on LinkedIn