For decades, companies have applied sports metaphors and techniques to business. In football and in business, all players must work together to execute well-orchestrated plays in order to succeed and weak players create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by the opposing team. But having an overly strong player can actually be harmful to a team’s performance. Consider the example of “outkicking your coverage.” This occurs when an exceptional punter kicks the ball so far down the field that the punt returner, aided by his blockers, actually has a greater chance of gaining precious yardage for the big play. How does “outkicking your coverage” apply to business and marketing?
A team is a system and therefore all organizations are systems. A system is comprised of interdependent and interacting elements that function together to form a whole. Systems serve a purpose and are usually made up of subsystems. Marketing and sales are part of the business system and each is a subsystem. Keeping the system in balance is critical to optimizing performance. Over-performing elements can just as easily knock a system out of balance as an underperforming one. Maintaining balance between all the moving parts is a real skill (which is why coaches and CEOs earn the big bucks). Externally this might translate into maintaining balance between your company and your customers. Internally, this translates into making sure your marketing team doesn’t get too far ahead of the rest of the organization.
Here are some examples of when marketing outkicks the coverage:
When a product or service is announced before the organization is prepared to support the orders for the new products.
When a program is deployed that produces too many qualified leads for the sales team to process.
When together with sales, features and benefits are promised that product development may not be able to deliver.
When these situations occur, real opportunities may wither and die and good customers and suppliers may defect. We can borrow solutions to these scenarios from football as well. Remember, the goal is to make sure that everyone is in the right position at the right time. This takes exceptional communication and synchronization. The kicker and the ten players on the field need to work together, otherwise the players will be moving blindly down the field. In football some ways to achieve this goal is to increase the hang time, this is the time the ball is in the air, in order to allow the rest of the team to get into position. Other techniques involve the kicker clearly communicating where the ball is intended to land, such as on the right side of the field, so that everyone will know to move right.
In business we can apply some of these same ideas. For example prior to launching a new product or service, create a special launch team that includes representatives from sales, customer service, IT, product development, marketing and media/public relations so everyone knows the intended focus of the launch. Work to make sure everyone is ready to support the launch and has adequate time to prepare. The goal should be clear to everyone on the team e.g. entering a new market segment or a targeting a specific customer persona, so everyone can be moving in the same direction.
It is up to the coach to make sure there is adequate lane and depth coverage. As a business leader and professional, you need to make sure your organization is synced up and that the organization is ready and able to address the opportunities generated by your marketing initiatives.
Football teams practice and practice. They run plays and work different scenarios. For business this means having well-defined processes in place to manage:
Product and service launches
Evaluation and prioritization of leads and processes
Alignment of internal and external expectations
For example, your company may need a lead scoring process to help decide which opportunities can be closed now, versus those that may need further nurturing. Without a well-defined process to score leads, your sales team may take a “let’s-see-what-falls-out-of-the tree” approach. This approach wastes time and can result in poor choices that translate into lost revenue. And finally, does your organization have a process to ensure clear communication and expectations between marketing, sales and product development? Believe it or not, many companies do not. In football, both the quarterback and the receiver have to understand and execute to the expected route. In business we say “the right-hand and the left-hand need to be in sync.” Otherwise, opportunities – and the game – is lost.
Want to score big? Put the right processes in place. Marketing Operations as a function can serve as a key player on the process team. Check out the white paper Marketing Operations: Enabling Marketing Centers Of Excellence.