Want to grow your business? Buy a grapefruit.

Want to grow your business? Buy a grapefruit.

Posted: 03 Mar 2016 10:43 AM PST

They were about 12 years old and among the poorest kids I’ve ever seen.  Central Mexico is a long way from the glamour and riches of Acapulco and Cancun, and these kids were living at the opposite end of Mexico’s Haves vs. Have-nots society.  They were scrambling around on a dirt field, shoeless and dressed in rags but having more fun than Julia Roberts on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree.  Their diversion?  Soccer.  And they were playing it beautifully: crisp passes, perfect spacing, incredible foot control.

If I’d taken any of those kids and placed them in the middle of a College Prep Starbucks sipping SUV driving First World High School soccer game they’d have made every other player look like a concrete-footed buffoon.  I’m certain these athletic marvels had never been to a sports camp or gotten a video analysis of their kick or had a protein shake or owned a pair of soccer cleats, but their grasp of the game’s fundamentals was a thing of beauty.

Sometimes I reflect upon these kids while sitting in a sales or marketing meeting with a company that wants to grow its business.  More often than I care to admit, the conversation quickly spirals into a misguided wish list of money pits: “If only we had more exposure in the marketplace.  Call an ad agency.”  Or, “Let’s get more data on our website visitors.  Call Hubspot.”  Or, “I wish we came up sooner on internet searches.  Call Google.”  Or the one that really makes me bristle: “The problem is we don’t know what’s happening with customers and sales.  Call Salesforce.com.”

Back to the 12 year old soccer players:
If you want to become a talented player worthy of jumping into a pickup game in Central Mexico, where do you begin the journey?  Well, you could go out and buy a fancy uniform but walk out onto that dirt field and you’ll get clobbered.  Or you can hire a PR firm that broadcasts all over Mexico what a formidable soccer player you are and how you’re going to light up the field.  But again, without thousands of hours of practice you’ll immediately be exposed as a fraud.

The only way you’re going to earn a credible spot in the game is to first spend years working, sweating through, and ultimately mastering the fundamentals.

In business the fundamentals I see time and again most in need of attention are human connections and one’s ability to develop them.  No matter what you’re selling, if your team is unable to connect with customers, understand their needs (or better yet, challenge them on what the real problems are), and enthusiastically solve the customer’s need, no amount of market research, data tracking, or sales forecasting will spawn your growth.

The next time you find yourself ogling over the latest Big Data Market Research Sales Pipeline Metatagging Instamatic Marketing Tool, STOP.  As yourself, “When’s the last time my senior executives and I took our top customers to lunch?  … that we spent a day in the field cold calling with our salespeople to hear the latest objections?  … that I got on the phone with an upset customer and personally walked through resolving it?  … that I invested in the skills and attitude training my team constantly needs to stay ahead?”

Long before Pelé stepped onto a professional soccer field he’d spent a lifetime molding his raw talent into something refined.  Heck, long before Pele even kicked around a soccer ball he’d been dribbling grapefruits off his knees because that’s all his family could afford.

Give me the financially deprived yet fundamentally sound, barefoot-equivalent sales team and we’ll take the field any day vs. the fancily equipped 800 lb. guerilla who just ran a bunch of Super Bowl ads.

The next time you’re compelled to buy your way to success through a new advertising/PR campaign, CRM database, or website tracker put your wallet back in your pocket.  Your success depends more upon mastering the fundamentals – human connections and your ability to develop them – than it does on big data analytics and marketing strategy.

Focus.  Train.  Connect.  Execute.