I swam a lot! And by a lot I mean I collectively trained and competed in swimming for close to 26 years. That's 26 years of swimming 4-6 times per week in a cold pool, lake, ocean and rivers but it was the pool mostly where the torture took place. Lap after exhausting lap I counted endless strokes, controlled my breathing, applied power into various parts of my body and anticipated results. But mostly I did math. All of the breathing, body awareness and energy expenditure led to one outcome: time. It's pretty simple really when you think about it. The pool is 25 meters (mostly). How fast can you get from one side to the other and what does it take to make a faster time and ultimately more successful. Thus the math!
I was out on my bike yesterday morning and I thought that business development (BD) is so much like swimming. I've been living in a BD world for many years now and have worked in the field for my own companies, digital marketing agencies, sports marketing agencies, sports teams and athletes so let me tell you what I learned from all those swimming laps that helps me in BD.
Essential to success in BD and swimming is having the best resources. When I swam I always made sure to have the best training plan, smartest coaches, experienced physios and top of the line equipment as possible, like the the really good pull buoys. You know the one's which won't chafe your inner thigh. The same holds true at a company. What is that great piece of advise? Get the right people on the bus. When you're at an agency or any company having qualified staff goes without saying but also having the right resources like market intelligence services, software and tools to allow the best decisions to be made. No matter if you're hammering out 5 x 400 or hammering nails in a wall having the right tools is crucial.
Best resources equals best finish.
The warm up is a place in swimming where many people rush through if they do it all. Warming up is like doing your background research on an industry sector or brand before you pursue them. Warming up in swim training should be very slow, methodical and allow your body to become more aware of the new aquatic environment. Careful attention should be placed on what's around you, especially in the ocean. During swim sessions I'd also take note of how fast my peers were going in their warm up. The same goes for researching a potential client. I want to know what they're doing and more importantly what their competitors are doing in their lane (space). Information is vital and just as I processed information during each lap I want to gather as much information about the potential client as I can.
Warm up equals research.
In most swim practices your main set is typically the hardest and this is where you're basically trying to make certain times for certain distances. Let's take 100 meters for instance and the workout calls for multiple repeats of 100 meters coming in at 1:30 (one minute and thirty seconds). This is the equivalent of having your first couple of meetings with your potential client where you're finding out their goals. If that 1:30 - 100 meter set is difficult, you have to pay careful attention to all the little things in each lap. All the smallest details add up to time savings and success in each set. Those details are how much you're reaching with every stroke entry, how much force you're applying to your hand during the pull phase, how streamlined you are off the wall etc. In BD this is equivalent to the attention paid in putting together a proposal. All the details do add up including making sure the creative is excellent, strategy is first class, pricing is accurate and the overall objectives can be reached. In either the swim set or the presentation if the details aren't focused on then the chance for success or winning the client falters. I remember when I was working in BD at an agency and I got us a few meetings and ultimately into the pipeline of what is arguably the largest luxury auto maker in the world. Just getting the meetings was no easy task and took months. But I was organized and relentless in my pursuit and we finally received an RFP. It was massive and took our entire team of C level execs, creative, strategy, BD and admin to complete it. After an exhaustive process we hit SEND. It was entered and there was no turning back. Our team regrouped after a day or two and we reviewed the RFP we submitted. We had typos, a lot of typos. This was not good. We didn't check it thoroughly enough. I didn't check it well enough and we didn't get the work. A little extra time spent proofing would have really helped. In swimming a little goes a long way too. A couple of extra hard kicks, taking one less breath or two or three faster strokes can have you coming in half a second or more faster, ultimately beating that 1:30 goal. The same can be said of a BD proposal. A couple of extra minutes or days spent ensuring all the pages, fonts, spelling and details are perfect can be the deciding factor if you get the deal done.
Main set equals proposal writing.
The cooldown and recovery phase of a swim practice is where you get a chance to focus on the workout itself, what was accomplished, how you felt and what can be learned. It's a time when you slow way down and reflect on the job as a whole. It's a few strokes of slow backstroke or smooth breaststroke.
In BD the cooldown is relative to getting the team together to address where the proposal went right or wrong and what learnings can be taken from the project. Too many times athletes don't cooldown well enough and too many times BD teams don't take the time to regroup and process what went right or wrong.
Cooldown equals awareness.
Although I don't swim anymore I continue to see many parallels between sports and business. Or maybe it's just all the chlorine in my head!