Back from the Bermuda Triangle

Late, great sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote after an extended absence:

I feel I owe my friends an explanation as to where I’ve been all these weeks. Believe me, I would rather have been in a press box.

In Murray’s case, he had been temporarily out of work because he had had to have one of his eyes surgically removed, due to a detached retina.  The experience produced one of his most poetic, touching columns.  My reasons for not posting here in a month aren’t nearly as noble.  Mostly, I’ve just been consumed with work.  But I intend to start posting again soon.  With the playoffs underway and the start of free agency only a few weeks out, there is certainly plenty I can write about and I miss the pace of regular posts.

More will follow soon, I promise.

–Graham Womack

What am I, the Barry Zito of sales?

I have been pleased to see that Barry Zito has put together some strong outings as of late, including a 7-inning effort in the San Francisco Giants 10-2 win over the Colorado Rockies last night.  It certainly hasn’t been a smooth ride for the former Cy Young Award winner the past few years.  One minute he’s an ace.  The next minute he’s struggling to stay in the Giants’ starting rotation. It always seems to be an uphill battle for Zito.  Every spring, he pitches himself into a hole, compiling a win-loss record of something like 1-6 with a 7.26 ERA to start June.  He then spends the remainder of the season trying to get right.  In general, he’s a much better second-half pitcher and tends to have a string of strong performances late in the season, though it’s usually not enough to push his winning percentage over .500, get his ERA under 4.00 or live up to his $126 million contract.

I don’t think Zito fails because of mechanics or effort.  I think his problems generally boil down to nerves, a lack of confidence.  I know this because I experience the same sort of struggles on my job.  I work in sales, for an Internet startup, and I spend my days cold-calling businesses, pitching my firm’s service.  One minute, I am on fire, getting through to lots of business owners, setting up free trial accounts and closing deals. However, if I go a few days without a trial or a closed account, my pitch quickly goes to shit.  My anxiety spikes every time I get a live person on the phone, I speak faster, stammer when given objections, and sigh when they invariably hang up the phone on me.  It can be pitiful to listen to.

I tend to easily forget that I’ve been successful before in my job, that everyone is rooting for me to succeed and I have all the tools to make this happen.  My guess is that Zito has a comparable inner monologue.  Still, I know how reassuring it is for me when I start succeeding again.  Zito must be feeling pretty good today.  I hope he keeps up the good work.

Wood Bats vs. Aluminum Bats: A Business Metaphor

A thought occurred to me on the BART ride home today.

As part of my job, I cold-call businesses.  It’s tough work, but gratifying, and I generally like the challenge.  I’ve been struggling lately, though, letting my nerves affect me and having a hard time focusing.

However, I turned a corner today, which lead to an epiphany.

We generally call two types of leads.  As we sell an Internet-based service, a good chunk of our calls are simply to companies listed in Google Maps– 10-box leads, as we call them.  A smaller percentage of our leads are people enrolled in Pay-Per-Click campaigns.  At first, I only called PPC leads, and I hit my stride somewhere around my fourth week, setting up nine trials.  Since then, I’ve mostly called 10-box leads and my numbers have been drastically lower.  My boss clued in on this this morning and instructed me to start calling the PPC leads again.  Right away, my numbers jumped.

Here’s what I learned: Calling on 10-Box leads is like trying to hit a baseball with a wood bat, while calling a PPC lead is like hitting with a metal one.  Pros may be able to hit with the wood bats, but I’m still learning on this job.  I can hit farther with aluminum.

Baseball saves the day. Again.

I am now in Week 4 at my new job, continuing to cold call businesses to pitch my firm’s service.  I was on the phone yesterday with a spa owner in Eureka Springs, Arkansas when a thought occurred to me.

Arkansas has long been famous for its natural hot springs, and baseball teams used to flock there for spring training, along with mobsters like Al Capone.  Babe Ruth ended a holdout one winter while at the baths with sportswriter Dan Daniel.  Daniel recounted years later in the memoir, No Cheering in the Press Box, about how he helped broker the deal between Ruth and Yankees owner Colonel Jacob Ruppert.  It was pointed out to Ruth that he made more than the U.S. president at the time, Herbert Hoover. “What the hell has Hoover got to do with it?” Ruth reputedly quipped. “Besides, I had a better year than he did.”

Anyhow, I was on the phone yesterday with this spa owner, a woman named Nicole, when it occurred to me to ask if Ruth had ever frequented her business.  As I’ve mentioned here before, I have this uncanny tendency to connect everything to sports.  There was Rick Burleson, the architect I called a few weeks ago who has the same name as a former All-Star shortstop.  One of my clients also has the same surname of a former Sacramento Kings backup (though she’s no relation, I checked.)  As for the spa owner, her business is also located inside a hotel that’s been around since the 19th Century so it made sense that Ruth may have come through at one point.  She wasn’t sure, though.  I told her I would do a quick Google search.

This picture turned up and I sent it to Nicole.  She signed up for a trial account of my firm’s service this morning.

Oh, you’re not that Rick Burleson?

I recently started a new day job in Berkeley, California.  Unfortunately, I can’t make all my money as a baseball blogger/historian.  Thus, I pay the bills doing sales work and have recently begun a position as an account executive for an Internet start-up in the East Bay.  In a given day, I’ll cold call upwards of 50-60 businesses, pitching review services, and I get to talk with some interesting characters.   Occasionally, they have names I recognize.

One of my quirks, dating back to childhood, is that I have an encyclopedic brain.  Some people probably use this to become ace scientists or attorneys.  I simply clean up every time I go to bar trivia, pulling out the names of hit movies and politicians like I was a walking Wikipedia.  My knowledge base unfortunately doesn’t extend to much that has practical use, though I like to put on my resume that I know most World Series winners and the names of all the U.S. presidents from the 20th century– backwards.  If I ever figure out how to make money off this, I’ll be set for life.

I bring this all up because I recently called on an architect named Rick Burleson.  Some may know that there was also once a baseball player named Rick Burleson, who played shortstop for the Boston Red Sox and California Angels in the 1970s and ’80s.  I brought this up in my initial call with the architect and he laughed, telling me had Burleson’s baseball card.  We set up a follow-up call for this morning and to prepare, I did some research on-line on Burleson the Ballplayer, learning he’d been a four-time All Star and had finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 1974.  He even placed 13th in Most Valuable Player voting in 1975, when he hit only .252 at the plate.  His nickname was Rooster.

Unfortunately, Burleson the Architect didn’t have much time to talk when I reach him today.  I’ll be sure to tell him about how he once got traded for Carney Lansford when I next call.