Sales Lessons from a SquirrelThis week is National Squirrel Awareness Week. (I swear I’m not making that up.) It caused me to reflect on my father and his long-running battle with sciurus carolinenis.

Like many homeowners, my father had a bird feeder in his yard. And, like many a bird-fancier, he struggled for years to prevent squirrels from eating all the seed intended to attract songbirds.

His first countermeasure was to grease the pole on which the bird feeder sat. The squirrels learned to jump onto the roof of the feeder from a nearby tree branch.

He then covered the wooden roof with sheet metal so they would slide off. The squirrels responded by dropping straight down onto the roof’s apex.

He next pounded nails part-way into the roof, creating an uninviting porcupine effect. The squirrels mastered the art of jumping to the edge of the feeder’s roof, grabbing a couple of nails by their forepaws, and hoisting themselves up.

Refusing to give up, my father purchased a “squirrel-proof” bird feeder. It featured a spring-loaded perch that would support the weight of several birds, but would close the feed doors if a squirrel sat on it. This worked well for several weeks until the day I glanced out the window and called my father over to witness an astounding sight: A squirrel had figured out that by standing with one foot on the perch, one foot on the side of the feeder, and one forepaw on the edge of the roof, it could shift its weight to the foot on the feeder’s side, use its free paw to shovel out some seed, then shift its weight back to the foot on the perch and eat the seed it had managed to extricate before the door shut.

My father bought several other “squirrel-proof” bird feeders, and every time, the squirrels figured out a solution to the designers’ challenges. The final score was Squirrels 12, Humans 0. How is it that a creature with a brain the size of a pistachio can outwit the species that created space travel, the Hadron Super-Collider, and Double-Stuff Oreos?

And more importantly, what can salespeople, managers, and business owners learn from this humble animal? Here are the squirrel’s secrets. (Not to be confused with Secret Squirrel, the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 1960’s.)

1. Focus
Squirrels don’t multi-task. They’re focused on the goal at hand and nothing else. They may have really small brains, but they put every neuron to work solving the problem.

2. Experimentation
When one attempt fails repeatedly, squirrels try something else. If that doesn’t work, they try something else. And so on and so on…

3. Motivation
Failure means hunger, sickness, and possibly death. Success means a full stomach, not just today, but every day the feeder is refilled. (Sort of like a repeat customer. Hmmm..…)

4. Determination
Given the above motivation, it’s no surprise squirrels stick to the challenge until they succeed. They’re 100% committed.

How do you stack up against this fuzzy-tailed quadruped? If the birdseed is your sale and the feeder is all the objections, competitors, and other obstacles standing in your way, do you have what it takes to raise your paw in victory? Or are you just road kill waiting to happen?

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