Everything I know about marketing, I learned in the NFL, Pt. 1
By Fran Tarkenton
It’s easy to think of athletics and business as two separate, distinct areas. On the one hand, you’ve got the jocks. On the other, you’ve got the financial and marketing gurus. But here’s a little secret: The most important principles that have guided me in my decades in business all came from my 18 years playing football in the NFL. In this article, I’ll share what I offer up to the financial professionals with whom I work — what I believe to be the seven most important marketing lessons needed to run a successful practice.
Lesson 1: Master your position
I didn’t have the greatest physical gifts, so to become a successful quarterback, I had to be smarter than the others. So, I studied film more than anyone else. I scrutinized opposing defenses. I also studied opposing offenses, to see what they were doing against other teams. I talked to Johnny Unitas, Don Meredith, Bart Starr and all the other great quarterbacks at the time, to find out what they thought and what they were doing. I mastered every detail of playing quarterback in the NFL, because I knew it was those little details that separated success from failure.
That same principle has served me well in business and marketing, too. In financial services, we have to learn about our industry, our clients and how we can serve them with products, services, information and knowledge. We can only do that by mastering our position. We have to pay attention to every little detail, and do the little things that can lead to success. That proves true whether you’re playing quarterback in the NFL or going out there and serving our senior market.
Lesson 2: Know your target
You always have to know your goal. During my football years, I had to find a way to take my team of 11 guys and make first downs — and then turn those into field goals and touchdowns. To do that, I had to deal with reality. That is, how things really are, not how I wished they were.
What could my offense do? What could the defense do? As the quarterback, it was my job to identify and solve problems, the greatest of which was how to make our offense work against a defense that was trying desperately to stop us.
Knowing the target and becoming a student of reality in order to achieve it are equally important in marketing. Our marketplace is our marketplace. We have to know how it really is, not how we wish it to be. Who is your target audience? What age, income and geographical area can you best serve? You need to know your prospects' needs, fears and hopes — and then come up with solutions. My philosophy is to have genuine compassion and understanding for whoever I’m working with, and address their needs before my own. It’s all about knowing the goal and solving problems to get there. Lesson 3: Plan your plays
In the NFL, the right game plan makes all the difference. I had to have a new game plan every week. I needed to be nimble when planning. After all, the other teams had coaches, too, and they were also coming up with new plans. As the plays happened and their defense introduced new ways to stop our offense, our plan had to dynamically change from quarter to quarter — at times, even from minute to minute. But no matter what, there was a plan.
As an athlete, the concept of planning plays was a principle that became deeply ingrained. There simply was no better way to get from point A to point B than by having a well-organized, detailed plan, and revising that plan as the situation changed. I believe T. Boone Pickens said it best: “An idiot with a plan will beat a genius with no plan.”
In the business world, there are many who do not plan. But they do so at their own risk. I’ve seen the outcomes that unplanned activity creates. In business, I always want to have a plan. With it, you’ll be better, more effective and more efficient.
Lesson 4: There are no silver bullets
Repeatable, consistent success is not a matter of luck; and it’s not about bogus “proven” systems, either. In football, success requires strategy, practice and study. So many fail because they spend all their time chasing a silver bullet: "If we could just get this one piece, we’re set!" But the real route to success is paved with the fundamentals.
Years ago, I played in a Pro Bowl for Vince Lombardi, head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The play book for the game was outrageously small, so I asked Coach Lombardi, “Are these all the plays? Don’t you think we could learn more?” As it turned out, his entire play book for the Packers wasn’t much larger. They just ran that same handful of plays over and over, to the point where they could execute flawlessly in any situation. They didn’t rely on gimmicks or tricks; they just killed you with fundamentals.
In business, we get bombarded with every get-rich-quick marketing scheme imaginable. But if you think that there is some secret that no one else knows, you’ll be in for quite a surprise. There are no silver bullets. When everybody’s got the same products, the same rates and similar commission systems, you are the point of difference. What you have to offer is skill, integrity and willingness to put forth the effort to build relationships based on trust. That’s what it’s all about.
As we approach the end of this year, I encourage you to review your performance against these initial principles and see what modifications you can make to better your outcomes in 2013. In my next article, I’ll cover lessons five, six and seven.