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3 Lessons Having a Stroke Taught Me

3 Lessons Having a Stroke Taught Me

Curt Zondervan

I woke up one morning at the end of the summer of 2012 feeling great. I didn’t know that something had already happened that would change my world profoundly. I didn’t know it, but I’d had a stroke overnight. There were no outward symptoms. No paralysis, no drooping face; as strokes go, mine was pretty minor. It wasn’t until I pulled up to the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts that I even knew something had happened; I couldn’t speak well enough to order!

I returned to work 90 days after the stroke. I was making sales and producing – but I wasn’t producing at the same level as before. I had recovered much of my ability to speak and communicate but selling effectively requires more. This brings me to the first lesson (and please note that you don’t have to have had a stroke to put these lessons into action – and in fact I wouldn’t advise it:

Lesson 1) Perform a SWOT analysis on a regular basis – In particular, if there has been a major change, examine your (or your organization’s) Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In my case I just wanted to ask myself, “Can I still do the job”, but I should have been asking, “Is this the BEST position for me”.  I wanted to push through even though an objective SWOT analysis would have led me to another conclusion. My strengths had changed, my weaknesses had changed, and more importantly the opportunities and threats had changed.

With a bit of hindsight, it’s pretty easy for me to admit that I was in a bit of denial. Not unlike dealerships that still haven’t admitted that the Internet fundamentally changed their landscape and that they, perhaps, need to make substantial changes to their sales process.

Lesson 2) Balance – I made some changes to my life right after my stroke that I referred to as moderation, but that was inexact – really it was all about balance. Folks that talk about cutting this out or cutting that out when they chase the elusive ‘moderation’ are rarely successful; they normally revert to their old habits. For example I used to love hamburgers and still do; in an average week I would visit McDonalds at least 7 times for one meal or another. But I didn’t attempt to cut them out of my life completely.

I still eat hamburgers, but today I make them count for more. Rather than every day, it’s maybe once a week. Now if I’m eating out, and the restaurant is known for really good burgers, that’s when I order one – and I truly savor it. I choose the right time for one, I choose the right venue, and I put my all into it!

The lesson for dealers is don’t put all your marketing eggs into one basket; not 100% SEO or all pay-per-click. Not even all digital or all traditional. Life (and marketing) is all about balance.

Lesson 3) Control what you can, don’t count on ‘luck’ – Cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. can all be controlled with diet, exercise, and medication. I was trusting ‘luck’ when I should have been taking more control. The marketing reality is that ‘control’ means spending money. Having a strategy that revolves around SEO means if Google decides to change the algorithm, you are at their mercy.

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As a GM or Dealer Principal, I can understand completely why I wouldn’t want to put my success in the hands of one entity – especially not one that I’m not even paying. When I pay a Cars.com or a KBB, they have an obligation to provide what they promise and I have recourse when they don’t. The other benefit is GMs understand what they are paying for with an AutoTrader or a TrueCar while a lot of SEO is still pretty mysterious to a lot of car guys.

Please note that I am NOT anti-SEO. I’m not. What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t make the heart of my strategy something I can’t control completely. And as always, refer to Lesson #2 – Balance.

In conclusion, I’m doing great. It took a (small) stroke for me to change my life for the better. The changes that have occurred in retail automotive over the past decade or so could be seen as a wakeup call for dealers – the progression to a ‘more transactional’ online presence for dealers promises to be more disruptive than the research consumers have been conducting online for the past few years. These 3 lessons could be a big a help to dealers looking to navigate uncharted waters.

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