The Stretch – What 10K Run Taught Me About Sales

Author: Sami Qahar

It all started when I had taken a shower and had come out of the bathroom when my four year old daughter asked me if I had a baby in my tummy. It was not a fault of my daughter, it was mine. I have always been very proud of my fitness record and despite crossing the dreaded 30 mark in 2011, I was proud of the shape I had kept myself in. Until work stress and lack of sleep took its toll on metabolism and I started gaining weight and got a bit out of shape.

Right then I decided that I had to do something about it. I love food, so dieting was not an option. I tried various combinations of exercises and they did not seem to work. In all that, I wasted another month. Since there was no progress, I had to start running as nothing else seemed to work. I hated running and found it extremely boring kind of workout. Nonetheless, there I started. I used to run between 2.5K to 3KM in half an hour every alternate day, dying out of boredom on the treadmill and running out of stamina. With the help of a bit of meal timing control, there was some progress.

And then one day on someone’s Instagram I saw a post about Nike’s #WeRunDXB run and I with my wife, decided to register ourselves in it. It was an impulsive decision. The longest I had run by that time was 3.8K. 10K was more of a farfetched dream. Despite having cold feet many times, we decided to go for it in the end, just to have fun. What could be worse anyway? That we don’t complete the race? Big deal. And on the day when the time came, I completed by first 10K with ease in 74 minutes, at a very strong pace. Since then, my routine and lifestyle has changed. I have developed a love for running. I feel leaner, fitter and good about myself after losing 10 pounds in less than two months. Now I easily cross 5K in the same time in which I used to run 3K. Every alternate day I run 6-7K and now my target is to reduce the time as much as possible. So far, my longest run since Nike is 7.6K in 40 minutes and I targeted to do 10K in one hour by the end of January 2016. There was another run event in Dubai on 22nd Jan in which I aimed to finish 10K in 1 hour. Fingers crossed.

There are a lot of similarities between this entire experience of running and my current job in Sales. People who have worked in sales field or are currently in it, can relate to it. I can look back at it to see the success my team and I have enjoyed this year, has worked on the same philosophy. Here is how I see the link:

If imagining it makes you uncomfortable, go for it.

Before moving to sales, I had spent eight years in FMCG marketing. 8 years is a long time. It makes you get deep in your comfort zone and you find it very difficult to come out of it. I felt the same about running. I was never a runner before and thinking about running 10K in one stretch made my uncomfortable as I never thought I was capable of doing that. I went for sales coming out of my comfort  when I did not imagine that I was capable of becoming a sales guy. Today I can say that it was one of the best decisions I had taken regarding my career, just like going for #WeRunDXB was for my personal health and fitness.

Stretch yourself and set new benchmarks for yourself.

I had already started running two months back but I never stretched myself beyond the 3K I was achieving in half an hour. To me that was my limit. Until I went for 10K. Since then, my average has reached 6.8K per run; more than double of my average before. My pace is 30% faster than before. Only because I stretched myself to a level where I didn’t think I could get and then the benchmark changed. I realized that I could have done more when I was doing less undermining my own capabilities.

Sales field works the same way. In 2015, we decided to stretch ourselves in certain part of our business and go for seemingly unrealistic targets in that segment. Q1 saw us overachieving, we increased the targets further up. Q2 saw us delivering the second increased targets as well and the same was repeated in Q3. Averages changed. Benchmarks were redefined. One of our customers was averaging 600K until last year, we stretched ourselves to go for 2 million in June this year and we achieved it. Since June, the average has been above 1 million because the psychologic barrier of a ‘small customer’ was broken. A territory delivered a quarter’s volume in one month more than once. Consistency was the key as we proved to ourselves that our results were not fluke.

Design; not default.

My 10K did not just happen. There was practice and pre-planning involved. There was conscious pacing during the actual race. There was hydration. There was terrain adjustment. And now, I have invested in good quality running shoes for more comfortable running. Same applies for the sales business. The results I mentioned above did not come just because we increased the targets. Increasing the targets and delivering the Q1 helped in opening the team’s mind. They started looking at small opportunities, areas to improve and ideas to gain share from competition. There was a clearly drafted mechanism behind the results, just like the pacing and hydration of running.

Do not cheat.

During the 10K run, there was a point around 5K where there was a U-turn. When I was there, I had thought to myself, I can take the U-turn here and I’d save a kilometer. There is no one looking anyway. But then I thought, who am I cheating? Myself? So I didn’t. The satisfaction I got from completing the 10K would not be the same if I had looked for a short cut. There are no short cuts in sales either. They can give you a one-time short term success, however, you cannot survive in the long run if you have a short cut mentality. We have seen it over and over again. Being honest to oneself in any business is of utmost importance. In the end, we are selling detergents and soaps and cold drinks and milk. Compromising on your personal values just to sell more of detergents is not worth it.

Hunting in teams is more fun.

I couldn’t have done 10K if I were doing it alone without my wife being there with me. If anything it was her idea to start running and she also ran her first 10K with me. Since then we run together whenever we get time and challenge ourselves to do more or run faster. And when I travel, which is quite frequent, we share our running update with each other to get the other person out of the couch. It’s the same with sales. You can’t do everything alone. You need to have people around you who share your vision, who understand their role in the grand scheme of things and fit in perfectly in the jigsaw of the organization. I have been lucky to have people with me who have a ‘sure, why not’ thinking instead of ‘yeah, but’ thinking.

2019 has just started. The previous stretch will not be valid anymore. We will have to stretch ourselves more and go for bigger challenges. The clichéd quote actually fits here… shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you still land among the stars. In our case, we didn’t miss. Now we have to shoot for Neptune.

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