4 Lessons From Adventure Racing That Apply to Enterprise Consulting

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Running through the wilderness, kayaking down rivers, and biking up mountains, are all components of my favorite hobby—adventure racing. Perhaps the most challenging and whirlwind aspect of it is competing nearly 36 hours straight outdoors in the harshest elements as my teammates and I push each other beyond our physical and mental limits.

What is adventure racing? It’s a multidisciplinary team sport across the unmarked wilderness that involves running, hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking in search for various checkpoints plotted across the vast course. The winner is selected not by the fastest time, but by how many checkpoints they retrieve in the least amount of time.

I complete one of these races nearly every year. It’s grueling, but it’s a great opportunity to bond with my team (my brother-in-law and some of my friends), tackle challenges, and literally get lost in the woods over the weekend.

It’s probably no surprise that an adrenaline junky like myself thrives in the fast-paced world of enterprise consulting at Bullhorn, the global leader in CRM and operations software for the recruitment industry. It’s the thrill of getting out there, the chance to build new relationships, and the opportunity to help clients achieve new levels of work productivity and business growth that keeps me engaged as an enterprise executive. 

What lessons can I apply from my favorite pastime to my career and my customers? Here are a few of my favorite ones:

1. Develop a strategic plan—and constantly review it. Before racing, my teammates and I ensure that we create a strategic game plan. We don’t know what hurdles the exact course will contain, so we scour the area via maps and study the geography via images as much as possible so that we’re prepared for any type of terrain. Especially important to every race is bringing devices to make clean water. Because we’re drinking out of streams, rivers, and puddles, we need to bring iodine tablets and filters to prevent illness.

Back at work, strategic planning in enterprise consulting is absolutely critical to success. Before consulting prospects, we do our homework. We research their competitive stances, their value propositions, their media coverage, their social media presence, etc., so we fully understand what the company does, the goals they’re trying to achieve, and how they fit into their respective industry. The same is true for customers—before any big meeting, we develop a plan for how we’re going to approach the conversation or the project. We need to be prepared for everything, and we continually review our plan with our entire team to make sure we’re executing against it.

2. Overcome obstacles with perseverance. When we’re racing, it’s inevitable that we’re going to get hurt. We’re frantically running on uneven terrain, careening down jagged mountains, and kayaking in rushing water. As a result, we must be mentally tough to overcome all the elements, including the sweltering heat and humidity in the summer. Persistence is key. When my team members and I feel like we’ve hit mental walls in the race—and trust me, there are guaranteed to be many walls—we take a moment to visualize the problems and strategize for how we’re going to go over, around, or through them.

The same can happen in enterprise consulting. Sometimes, we can hit obstacles that we need to overcome to deliver incredible customer experiences. We come together as a team to find solutions, which could be ways for finding new contacts to create relationships or developing strategies to ensure successful product deliveries in new regions. The good news is that when there are walls, there are also opportunities on the other sides of them. Knowing that our teams will encounter multiple obstacles and having the confidence and persistence to work through them together is an important key to success.

3. Recruit a team with various talents. Nobody can start a complex journey, or complete a race, alone. It takes an entire team. My team is composed of a sailor who is an expert at reading plots and maps; a former land surveyor who can find routes through any terrain and measure distance with his steps; a financial analyst who excels at weighing risk versus opportunity; and a joker who keeps everyone’s spirits high.

Turning to my enterprise team, it takes a large team with complementary skills to go to market successfully. This means that we have diverse representation of thought and background at all levels and all functions; a solutions consultant who demos our product; an account director who owns the client relationship; and a vice president who oversees the account strategy. Each person on my team brings unique skills and talents, and we rely on each other to get the job done.

4. Leave no point unchecked. Most teams in adventure racing sacrifice checkpoints for speed. They want to be the first ones across the finish line, but they may neglect some hard-to-find points just to accomplish that feat. My team, however, knows that quality and speed can coexist. We’re smart about which points we go after. If there are points that seem far off on the map, we go after them. We might be the last team to physically finish the race, but we jump ahead of our competitors because we have all the points.

To measure customer success in enterprise consulting, we create scorecards—a list of strategic initiatives assigned with numeric values that we want to accomplish with our clients each quarter. We use scorecards as tools to ensure that our customers are receiving the best service. We review scorecards to make sure we’re going after all the possible points for our customers. I’m obsessed with my customers, so I’m always going after all the points for them. 

Adventure racing is the ultimate thrill and challenge. It sharpens my critical thinking skills, it enables me to strengthen my relationships, and it allows me to push myself to the extremes. Much is the same in enterprise consulting, but there’s one prize that’s worth it all: seeing our customers succeed and meet their boldest objectives.

Jason Smith is vice president of Enterprise Americas for Bullhorn, the global leader in CRM and operations software for the recruitment industry.

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