Everything I know about marketing, I learned in the NFL, Pt. 2

By Fran Tarkenton

Tarkenton Financial


In my last article, I shared four of the seven most important principles from my 18 years playing football in the NFL that have guided me in my three-plus decades in business. Here, I’ll reveal lessons five, six and seven.

Lesson 5: Put the right people in the right positions

No player can do everything. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. In the NFL, one guy can have great speed, but might not run precise routes. The other is great at catching balls over the middle, but doesn’t do well on the outside. The third catches balls out of the backfield, and on and on.

To build a winning football team, you have to have pieces that fit well together and then you have to use them properly. I had to know what my teammates were capable of and what they were comfortable doing, and then find ways to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. That way, I set both them and myself up for success.

It’s no different in running your practice. You need to work effectively with people. Whether it’s your assistant, a junior associate, your insurance marketing organization, or other outside service providers, this principle applies.

Look closely at the strengths of your team, as well as your own. What is your role, and what are theirs? Choose your teammates wisely, put them in a position where they can succeed and then trust them to do their job and hold them accountable.

Lesson 6: Study your stats

One of the great things about sports is how much data is out there. From age 24 until I retired at 38, I was in charge of installing the entire pass offense for my teams. To do that, I went over piles of data — what worked and what didn’t — in every conceivable game situation against every team in the league.

I had to know what types of plays succeeded, so that we could focus our efforts on things that had a chance of working. There was no room to waste time on failed plays. So, I analyzed scenarios. What could we do well on 3rd and 4? What could we do well on 3rd and 10? What could we do close to the end zone? What could we do from the left hash mark versus the right hash mark? Insights from all that data helped us put together a great plan.

When it comes to business, I am still obsessed with data. Every day, I review the important numbers, including where money is coming in and where it’s going out. I know how tempting it is to spend time on projects that have no chance of succeeding. However, if you follow the data, you’ll be working the process, rather than simply relying on hope.
As it relates to your practice, ask yourself what marketing activities led you to new clients or sales opportunities this year? Which failed and why? What changes are happening in the industry and within your clients’ lives that can lead to a win for the client and growth for you? When you get down to the core of the data and really study it, you’ll see where you should be spending your time.

Lesson 7: Find a good coach

My philosophy has always been to keep learning, and my coaches taught me so much in football. I played for years for Bud Grant in Minnesota, but I also played for Don Shula, Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry in Pro Bowls. Through it all, I was always asking questions, trying to learn and improve. And my coaches were the best, most knowledgeable people for me to seek out.

The right coach knows what it takes to succeed. Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick coached the teams in the Super Bowl last year, and they did it using the same formula: dedication, constant reinvention and fundamentals. They’re not the coaches making headlines for outrageous statements or crazy decisions; they just go out there and coach their players to make them better.

I had great mentors in business, too. I wanted to learn from the best. I always sought out the right kind of people, getting information from those who had great skills, integrity and success. This is a critically important activity, since successfully running a practice requires skill across so many different areas. From marketing to selling to customer service, operations to compliance, you have to find coaches.

Coaches are our partners in success. They can hold us accountable and draw out our motivation. They can see our potential, help us get out of our own way and shape the way forward. Make it a point to identify your coaches and learn from them by being inquisitive. Then, make it a point to pass on that learning to others. There’s a different reward altogether in experiencing success through helping others in their journeys.

In my career, I’ve found that there’s never a bad time to think more carefully about your approach to business, marketing and reaching your goals. I encourage you to review your performance against these principles and see what modifications you can make to better your outcomes in 2013.