Beware the Tailwind

Today, like every Saturday, I went cycling with my friends. I pedaled down to the bike shop, met the guys for a ride in the country, and then headed off for the solo ride home. After three hours on the bike, that ride home can be tough. But not today! Today I was the lucky recipient of a “way-home-tailwind,” 15 mph of glorious assistance pushing me along, making me feel like a much better cyclist than I really am.

I love a good tailwind, but what if I always had a tailwind? What if I could go fast without working hard? My muscles would atrophy, I’d put on weight, and I’d forget how to put in the hard work required to get faster. In other words, I would get weak, fat, and lazy, and when the wind turned against me, which it’s sure to do, I’d be stuck with no strength to fight it.

A lot of you are getting weak, fat, and lazy. Don’t run to the mirror or get offended, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about your business. The economy is hot, and you’re growing without executing a disciplined sales process. To support those increased sales, you’re investing in people, equipment, and space. You’re getting heavier, even as your sales machine gets weaker. And when the wind turns against you, you’re going to be in trouble… unless you get to work on your sales process, right now!

Here are three things you can do to prepare for that inevitable time when your tailwind goes away:

  1. Run a disciplined sales process. Some of you haven’t done this, because you can’t keep up with the sales you have. Do it anyway, you can’t afford to let that muscle die. If you have more sales than you can handle, start tightening the filters: get more specific on your target market, raise prices, make it harder for people to fit your criteria, but don’t stop selling.
  2. Stay lean now, so you can stay loyal later. Add people slowly and carefully, so you don’t have to cut them when things slow down. Your employees are asking you to hire people to help them keep up with the work, but if you help them see things through the “lean now, loyal later” lens, they will buy in.
  3. Consider adhering to one of the hardest disciplines of all: slowing down. Jim Collins often speaks of “the 20-mile March”, the discipline of setting a reasonable growth target and hitting that target every year, not exceeding it when times and good, and not falling short when times are hard. You don’t have to get it all now; it might make sense to hold back a little, build cash, and get operationally strong, so you can crush your competitors when things get tough. Crushing competitors – it just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside!

Your business is like an athlete. You have to train all the time, even (or maybe especially) when circumstances are in your favor. Circumstances will change, but your need for performance will not.