Editor’s Note: Sam Bayer is the founder and recently retired CEO of Corevist, a Durham-based bootstrapped software company launched in 2008. Bayer launched his career in 1980 working for IBM, which he left when he founded his first entrepreneurial endeavor Axiom Systems in 1987. Axiom would eventually be taken public through an initial public offering. Bayer notes that his entire 42-year professional career was guided by his determination to negotiate win-win value with his customers and fueled by his thirst for knowledge and scientific approach to problem solving. Now, he will be recounting his entrepreneurial leadership experiences in his “Stories at Work” series for WRAL TechWire. You can also follow Bayer on instagram @sam.bayer and at firstname.lastname@example.org any feedback about this series.
DURHAM – I measured the target carefully, much like a golfer prepares for a putt, by throwing three slow motion closed fist punches. First came the step forward to gauge the distance to the target. Then came the corkscrewing fist, starting with knuckles down, coordinated with a same side hip twist. The foot, and twisting hip and hand would simultaneously come to their final strike point delivering maximum power for the board break.
After three practice punches I bowed to the judges and announced my readiness to break. The two Black Belts, arms extended to hold the 11”x12”x1” pine board, girded themselves for my break attempt. Within seconds each would be holding one half of the board in their respective hands confirming my Brown Belt testing readiness.
And then came the thud heard around the dojo.
A teachable moment
I clearly hadn’t delivered the 250 lbs of force required to break the board and it responded in kind. The board’s thud, combined with my guttural wince of pain, turned the heads of my fellow martial artists and alerted Ms. Peck, my 8th degree Black Belt teacher, to a teachable moment. That’s when I first crossed paths with Bruce Lee’s wisdom.
“A blow is never hit at a mark. It is driven through a mark. Follow-through is just as important in fighting as it is in any other sport and it can only be obtained by punching through and beyond the point of attack.” Bruce Lee
Such is the way we learn.
Experience pain and figure out a way to avoid it in the future. There were many of these lessons learned along the way to earning my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. One of my favorites was don’t block punches with your face, but I digress.
A lesson on throwing punches, for entrepreneurs
Punching through a target is just as important in business as it is in sports.
Take hitting sales targets as an example. Every organization has sales targets and does everything in its power to make sure that they are met. The consequences of not hitting them can be quite painful, if not existential. They usually can’t be fixed with the simple application of ice on the knuckles or offering ego encouraging pats on the back.
An entire industry has been built around providing tools and training to improve the reliability of forecasts and probability of closing deals.
All the standard sales playbooks tell you to improve your forecasting odds by following some form of iterative and continuous prospect qualification process. The sooner you cull the time sucking tire kickers out of your pipeline the more resources you can devote to those that will help you hit your target.
But what if we changed the sales process to not focus ON the target, but to focus on a point PAST the target instead? Not to be confused with setting a HIGHER target and accepting less than 100% attainment which is the equivalent of putting 4 boards in front of the martial artists in hopes that she’ll at least break one of them.
Creating a free trial edition of software (freemium model), and focusing a customer success team on facilitating a life changing experience for a customer using the trial version, is focusing on a point past the target. The customer doesn’t have to sign a contract in order to test run the software, but if they love it, they’ll come back and buy it. Focus on delivering value…which is usually on the other side of contract signing…and the board will easily break.
Can you think of other scenarios where “punching through the target” could help you achieve your business goals more reliably?