Although the remainder of spring training this year has been canceled in Major League Baseball and the regular season — at least at the time of writing this — has been pushed back, it’s normally an exciting time of the year for players and fans alike — a fresh start, optimism for a great season and an opportunity to enhance skills and performance. The goal is to head into the start of the regular season firing on all cylinders.
While marketers don’t get the luxury of “spring training,” we can learn a few lessons from the way the game of professional baseball is played. Just like a pro team, it’s critical as an agency to win today while also building a team for the future. As an agency owner, I try to apply these five principles to our business:
1. Build a balanced team.
Championship teams often have a combination of utility players (capable of playing more than one position at a high level) and position players (experts) who are at the top of their game in a given role. I found this to be true at IBM and it’s proven to be important in running a B2B marketing and communications agency.
A mentor and former boss taught me about patience when building a team — by finding people who are the absolute best at what they do, and who never settle in the interest of time or convenience. There are times when a project requires an expert — or team of experts — to truly deliver work that sets your agency apart. But not a day goes by when you don’t need a utility player or two capable of doing great work across different roles.
2. Use analytics to win.
Major league teams are increasingly using analytics to make major personnel and strategy decisions. Owners, coaches and players have access to an incredible amount of data. Just consider that “20 different pieces of data are recorded with every pitch, ranging from pitch velocity to the angle of the pitcher’s arm,” according to SportTechie.
As B2B marketers, we have more data than we know what to do with, and the winning agencies are finding new ways of using data as a competitive advantage. Almost every aspect of the work we do can be improved by using analytics; it’s a matter of how much focus an agency puts on it.
3. Win on the road.
Great baseball teams find ways to win games while away from their home turf. Between the travel, different fields and heckling fans, every team faces similar challenges during away games.
In much the same way, the best agencies have an ability to adapt to shifting dynamics — for example, when a multitude of projects are at play, within a variety of sectors — and hone in on the task at hand, often in the face of adversity or with an opportunity or a challenge they’ve never encountered before.
4. Singles and doubles win games.
It’s a long, 162-game season and it’s hard to rely on home runs to win on a consistent basis. Great teams often win a lot of games when they get a lot of base hits, especially when they’re at the right time, with runners in scoring position. Being able to deliver hits — especially when it counts — is key in building a championship team.
“Landing a whale” certainly isn’t a bad thing for growing an agency, you just can’t rely too heavily on it. Getting the “right” projects — ones that set you up for success — can turn out to be just as valuable in the long run. You never know which project can lead to a “big” one. So treat every project and client, big or small, like you’ve got one chance to prove yourself.
5. Build and embrace your fanbase.
As a die-hard Mets fan, I can speak to the intense loyalty that baseball fans have for their team, whether they’re winning or losing, year after year. One of the fan favorites for the Mets is “Rookie of the Year” Pete Alonso (a.k.a. the Polar Bear). Fans don’t just love him for his incredible performance, but because he also shows a deep appreciation for the fanbase. Every team in the league puts a focus on engaging and thanking fans for their loyalty — it also makes good business sense.
From an agency perspective, you’re only as good as your last project with a given client. But as you deliver great results on a consistent basis — and often exceed expectations — you build trust and, ultimately, advocacy. Establishing a set of “fans” who believe in your agency can only happen organically, yet it’s critical to growing the business. There’s nothing more powerful than word of mouth, especially from a trusted source. We start by making sure today’s clients become and remain fans of our business. The best way to do that is by delivering amazing work and making a positive impact on their business.
Just like baseball, execution is everything in the agency world. You can have the best strategy in the league/business, a great team and solid plans, but none of that matters once the players step onto the field on opening day. We challenge ourselves to improve the way we execute and the results we generate by focusing on the execution. Get that right and the rest falls into place.