My eight-year-old Justin, plays in a baseball league. He has a practically perfect, beautiful swing—a swing that when executed properly could rip a home run. And yet he often fails to make contact with the ball. It used to be because he wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball. Eventually he realized that he couldn’t swing and pray that the ball the pitcher threw would magically meet the barrel of his bat. He had to focus on where the ball was and adjust upward or downward. He was the one responsible for making contact and increasing his chances to get on base.
Then something interesting happened. He’d swing at everything, no matter where it went. The problem with that is that some pitches are bad pitches.
One evening after a game, Justin walked toward the car with his head down because he’d struck out. His dad patted his son’s head. “You have to pick your pitch, son.”
He explained that part of the process of keeping your eye on the ball is knowing when to adjust and when not to swing. “I know you’re excited to make contact with the ball. But if it’s a bad pitch, you waste a swing and increase your chances of striking out when you could have waited for a better pitch.”
At the very next game, Justin hit two doubles and a triple. He’d applied the lessons his father had taught him and was reaping the results. Unfortunately, our six-year-old did not have the same luck. He is on the same team as his brother. He stepped up to the plate and when the ball came flying toward him, he held his swing. At the next pitch, he swung and missed. Strike. Then he held his swing again. After a few pitches, the coach told him, “Ryan, this is your fifth swing. You HAVE to swing, no matter what.” Ryan swung and fowled off, but he didn’t understand that he’d met his pitch count according to the rules of the league and could no longer wait for a good pitch. On the next throw, he held his swing and was called “Out!”
He cried his way to the dugout. “I did what dad told me to do.” He said, tears streaming down his eyes. Although he was following the right principle, he didn’t understand that the principle has its limits. There are only so many times you can wait for the right pitch before you have to swing even if its not the perfect pitch.
That fine line is just as difficult to master in our businesses as it is in baseball.
Sometimes we think our product, offering, or service is so good we can sit and wait for the customers to find us. But customers and clients don’t magically appear on our doorstep. Having a good product or service isn’t enough. Being good at what we do isn’t enough. We have to adjust our sales pitches and our marketing efforts to speak the same language as our potential customers. We have to focus on their wants, needs and struggles instead of thinking our work or talent speaks for itself. That’s how we keep our eye on the ball in business. It requires a deep understanding of our business, our clients, and the outcomes we’re looking for.
As for picking our pitches, we are often so hungry that we say “yes” to every business opportunity and every client we come in contact with, even if they’re not a good fit. We eat the marshmallow. (If you don’t know what that means, click here). We overlook that we are not engaging with the ideal customers or that our clients are underpaying for our services because we desperately want the sale. This can create a vicious cycle in our businesses where we’re working too much for too little. A dangerous business model that ultimately results in unhappy customers and frustrated business owners. What’s worse is that if you kept your eye on the ball and were patient, the right pitch could increase your chances of hitting a home run. But there are moments when we have to swing. When the bills are due, or we have to prove ourselves, or we need exposure, sometimes we have to go for it even if it’s not the perfect opportunity.
Like most things, the answer is in the middle. Keeping our eye on the ball and knowing when to hit versus when to hold is an art, not a science. You will strike out from time to time. You will swing when you shouldn’t and you will hold when you could’ve swung. And sometimes you’ll lose sight of the ball. But no matter how often you strike out, the only way you’ll improve is if you keep showing up to the game and stepping up to the plate. The more you do, the better you’ll get at picking your pitch.
A Moment of Clarity
When thinking about your business, always keep these two simple rules from baseball in mind:
Keep your eye on the ball.
Pick your pitch.