In American business settings, football metaphors are everywhere. Especially during the NFL season. When we move ahead with a customer suggestion, we’re “taking the ball and running with it.” When we take an ambitious, calculated risk, we’re “making a Hail Mary pass.” We’ve learned a lot from football.
But is there anything that football teams can learn from business? We like to think so. If you want to win in the NFL, there’s a lot you can learn from B2B. For starters, here are five important lessons that NFL teams can learn from B2B marketers:
1. It’s a team sport and fundamentals count.
In B2B, we build a successful program around content – good, relevant, engaging content – and then we consider all forms of media – owned properties beginning with your website, earned media through PR and social media, and paid media including print and online ads. Each part of the program has to do its part. Successful NFL teams build around the offensive and defensive lines. The “skill positions” get the attention, but they know who to take out for a steak dinner after a big game – the linemen.
2. Don’t rely on the big play.
In B2C, a clever ad or viral video can result in a lot of buzz and, maybe, immediate sales. The B2B buying process is usually longer, involves many people or functions, and has a high impact on the organization. Impulse buys are not typical. So B2B marketing has to find ways to connect messages with diverse audiences, every day, in many types of media, for extended periods of time. Think of grinding out a 90-yard drive, 18 plays, 10 minutes off the clock.
3. Planning is strategy-driven.
In B2B marketing, there is a limitless array of tactics that can be used to achieve a goal. Without a strategy, there is no direction and effectiveness suffers. Likewise, every week, every team in the NFL has a game plan – it’s their strategy for winning based on their strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses (SWOT analysis at work!). While teams may run the same play every week, the plan influences when the play is run, how, from what formation, etc.
4. Pay attention to statistics.
In the NFL, the bottom line is wins and losses, but every position, player and play has metrics around it that are used to analyze performance and the success of the game plan. This comes right out of the B2B marketing playbook. The ultimate goal (usually) is growth at the top and bottom lines. But it takes a lot of small steps to get there, and each part of the program can and should be measured and evaluated to make sure it is contributing to the goal.
5. Play to your strengths.
In B2B, you can be successful whether you have great quality, or great service, or superior engineering expertise, or a unique combination of attributes that your customers value. The key is finding your differentiation and then being true to it in everything you do. In the NFL, there are lots of ways to put together a winning team. Pass-happy teams can win; teams with strong running games can win; teams with very little offense can win with a strong defense. Granted, in the Super Bowl one-dimensional teams are often at a disadvantage. But in marketing, there is no post-season with only one winner, so there is more than one way to win.
B2B marketing is a unique and rigorous discipline, so it’s no surprise that a football team – or any kind of team – could learn a thing or two from B2B marketers. But when it comes to sheer, breathtaking inspiration, nothing beats the real companies and industries that B2B marketers serve every day.
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