Lessons from the Roller Derby Rink
In October 2009, I tried out for the Boston Derby Dames, Boston’s first and only all-female, flat-track roller derby league. For 3 ½ hours, a group of us were put through the paces by a few of the league’s veterans.
You may wonder how I found myself on a roller rink in Bradford, MA on a Sunday evening with 50 other women dressed in skirts, fishnets, and a variety of creative outfits. Here’s the short version: I saw the movie “Whip It,” which inspired me to take in a double header hosted by the Boston Derby Dames, which prompted me to dress up as a roller-derby chick for Halloween (yes, that’s me in the picture), which naturally led to trying out. (Makes sense, right?)
Despite the fact that I hadn’t skated in 25+ years (other than circling a roller rink for an hour the day before tryouts), I went for it. Needless to say, the tryouts proved challenging. It struck me that a few of my experiences that night could be translated into lessons for B2B marketers.
Lesson #1: Choose the approach that works best for the situation at hand – but make sure you have many options. One of the first skills we had to demonstrate was the ability to stop. Who knew there are three official ways to stop on quad roller skates?! There’s the old “drag your front toe” stop, the t-stop, and the “turn-around-and-go-up-on-your-toes” stop. While I managed fine with the standard stop and okay with the reverse stop, I struggled with the t-stop. Though the veterans explained that we could ultimately use whichever stop we were most comfortable with, they also explained that the situation at hand often dictates the type of stop used.
This makes me think back to my days in marketing communications and product marketing. While it’s always easier to resort to a commonly used tactic, it’s important to consider the full range of options at your disposal. For example, perhaps you see fairly good click-through rates when you send out an email blast pointing your in-house list to articles on your site. But how can you be certain that you’re not missing other opportunities to engage prospects and customers if this is your only outreach method? Try shaking things up by sending out invitations to an exclusive, interactive session with a top executive or an industry thought leader. Or send them a link to a recorded podcast or video that shares information you’d normally disseminate in article format.
Lesson #2: Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Next we had to skate in reverse for three minutes straight. Unless you skate often (which I clearly don’t), you probably haven’t skated backwards that much. I was quite nervous (all eyes were on me). While I’d like to say I got out there and glided around with no problems, the truth is that I ran into the cones and fell a few times. Much as I tried not to be embarrassed by my tumbles, I was. But I looked around and reminded myself that all the women trying out were in the same boat. And the veterans actually applauded those who pushed themselves, even if they fell down. Because the real point was that you dared to try. So I just kept getting back up. And once I got into a groove, I was fine.
Thinking back on my days as a product marketing manager, there were numerous times I had to step into unfamiliar situations. I can almost feel the knots in my stomach as I recall presenting to 500 sales reps, or defending numbers I had crunched in preparation for a new product launch, or debriefing industry analysts on our new positioning. But there’s nothing like baptism by fire, as they say. And what’s the worse that can happen? Sure, you might trip as you walk out on stage, hem and haw your way through your argument, lose your train of thought, or get pulled apart by the executive team. Just remember – it happens to everyone at some point. You just dust yourself off, get right back up, and keep at it until you feel comfortable walking into that situation.
Lesson #3: It pays to persevere. At the end of the night – after being worn down by seemingly endless drills – we were given our final challenge: skate around the rink non-stop for 10 minutes in a crouch position. Now, you would never need to go that long in an official roller-derby bout; a bout is made up of a series of 2-minute jams and you don’t usually skate in all the jams. But, as the veterans pointed out, if you can make it for 10 minutes, you’ll find those 2-minute jams to be a piece of cake. I think it’s fair to say that nearly everyone was dreading those 10 minutes. And my dread proved to be well founded – half way through I was certain that I must be trailing flames because my legs were burning! But I pushed through and made it to the end. In fact, all 50 women did.
So what can marketers take away from this? There are numerous times as a marketer that you have to work long and hard to see your ideas come to life. Perhaps you’re repositioning a product and getting push back from the sales team. Maybe you’re proposing to incorporate social media into the marketing mix, and the executive team is opposed. Whatever the situation, if you feel strongly about it and find ways to psyche yourself up mentally, your perseverance will likely pay off. Just keep telling yourself that the end is around the next corner.