marketing is like football

They say the toughest position on a football field is the quarterback. You’ve got hundreds of plays to learn and optimize. You need to learn how to play in the scorching sun (think Miami) and adjust to the bitter cold a week later (think Green Bay). You get hit with a blow when you least expect it and need to dash to an opening that presents itself. Your team counts on your strategies to win the game and you take the blame for losses. Whether your name is Montana, Favre, or Brady, you are in control. And there’s nothing better than holding the ball and knowing what’s possible when you have control.

Before I lose those of you who are not football fans, I want you to reread the entire opening paragraph with a revised first sentence: “They say the toughest position in a high growth company is the demand generation quarterback.”

Okay, I guess we don’t have to truly adapt to the weather as marketers, but geography plays a factor! With Super Bowl 51 just around the corner, I decided to have some fun and draw some parallels between football and demand generation marketing. Feel free to drop yourself into the quarterback slot here and see if you can relate.

1. It’s a Game of Inches

Has a bad football movie ever been made? My wife, who’s the last person to suggest watching a real-life game, is always up for a football flick. And perhaps the best line ever is the reminder from Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday that “it’s a game of inches.”

After hearing that line, can’t you relate as a marketer? From the subject line tweak on your email campaign to the right CTA beside your latest blog post–the details are what make the difference. Don’t count on the Hail Mary.

2. Control and Optimize

Just as a football team can always prepare a bit more by analyzing videos, you’ll never hear a modern marketer tell you they have nothing to optimize. The field is always changing. One of the tools our team uses to ensure we can optimize and maintain control is Unbounce. Many of our campaigns require landing pages either to gate content or create an event sign up page. With Unbounce, our team is able to control and optimize the little details as the campaign progresses by making changes on the fly.

When we launched our first user conference Uberflip Experience last year, we were constantly adjusting messaging, pricing, and CTAs to entice customers and prospects to take a chance and come check out our first big event. With Unbounce, we were able to adjust these variables within minutes, as often as needed, to drive registrations to the conference.

3. It Takes More Than One Play to Score

In 2016, the Patriots scored 3.6 touchdowns per game but needed 66.3 plays per game to get there. Sometimes in football, we see exciting plays where a kickoff is returned for a touchdown, a first pass of the game is thrown downfield for 6, or an interception is converted without the offense coming on the field. But the reality is that most points in a game are the result of several downs to take a team into the end zone.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than having a prospect Google your company and phone in to say, “I just want the best price and need to be up and running today.” Love those days! But let’s be honest. Most businesses create a sequence of experiences and events that they offer in the right place, and at the right time to get a prospect over the line.

Back to our quarterback, our VP of Marketing, Shannon uses a combination of tools, such as Marketo and Bizible, to track the various “plays” needed to get a prospect over the line. Just as the quarterback would like to execute a set number of plays when there’s a minute to go and they’re down by 5, the goal in content marketing, naturally, is to minimize the number of touches needed to get someone through the buyer’s journey. We can’t rush it or skip some steps. We must learn which plays are the most important and impactful.

I’ll give you a quick example. Last year, I was standing with our CEO at an event we sponsored, Sirius Decisions Summit. We were talking about going bigger on that event for the next year and debating whether we could pull out of another industry conference to create the budget. Just as we landed on cutting the event, a prospect walked over and said, “Hey Randy, we met at last year’s conference and this time I’ve got my boss here. Could you give him that demo you gave me last time?” As he walked away more or less ready to buy, I couldn’t help but laugh since that was the same event we were about to cut. I learned last week that this prospect recently became a customer.

Although we wanted to throw our investment all into one play, we realized that winning this prospect’s business happened throughout multiple plays. In fact, this event was probably just getting him into the end zone, with a steady drip of relevant emails and sales touches to add the final nudges.

4. The Quarterback Can’t Win Alone

I started by giving all the glory to the quarterback. Don’t get me wrong. Shannon has some mad demand gen and marketing skills, but there are only so many quarterback sneaks or runs that can happen in a game. The marketing quarterback needs a strong offensive line and receivers to make each play happen. On our team, Shannon relies on our offensive lineswomen: Kelly (product marketing), Tara (demand generation), Maya (events and community), and Katie (social). She also needs help from the sidelines from people like Quentin, our graphic designer. And of course, no play would start without a solid snapper–luckily we have Jermaine Reyes, our content manager. Bottom line is that every member of her team ensures she gets time to release the ball.

football play in marketing

So if you’re into the analogy, you’re probably trying to figure out who the receivers and running backs are. Well, sales of course! Assuming the ball is the prospect (and unless you’re running an online sale), most of us rely on salespeople to get the deal over the line. On our team, we have a sales team of just over 30 members, all ready to take an MQL and work through the plays to get the deal done. Our salespeople actually need to wear a marketing hat too, because some prospects require a bit of guidance to progress.

One way our sales team coordinates with the marketing quarterback is by choosing which content to share with their audience. This is easier said than done. In many companies, salespeople search a dated wiki article, bulky excel file of links, or actually search Google for their company’s own content. Fortunately, our team has full access to our marketing content hub so they can quickly send off successful content passes to their prospects.

This ensures that the entire sequence from first-touch to last follows our brand guidelines and overall core messaging. The last thing you want is a wide receiver celebrating too quickly while heading downfield.

At the end of the day, as marketers, we need to always be dialed in to keep the leads and customers coming. Just look back to about a year ago from this time today, where neither of the 2016 Super Bowl teams even made the 2017 playoffs! What worked last year may not work tomorrow. There is no such thing as auto-pilot for marketers. Those who purchase an engagement platform and assume it’s cruise control are destined to early elimination. So whether you’re cheering for the Pats or Falcons, let’s hope the coach and quarterback have rallied their team with a few trick plays to win the customer (I mean game).

What other similarities have you seen between football teams and demand generation teams? Share your observations in the comments below!