As I sat at my boys’ (ages 10 & 11) baseball games this weekend, I was drawn to the parallels between little league and small business marketing. Now 99.99% of little league players are not going to play in the majors. And that stat is just about right if you consider the Fortune 1000 as the big league in business and how many small businesses ever grow to make it there. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great talent and unique ability on the little league teams or in most small businesses.
So with that as a preamble, here eight of my weekend observations of little league and the lessons that I can relate to the small businesses that I work with.
# 1 - The pitchers aren't very good, but neither are the batters
Let’s be honest here – there are as many balls bounced in front of home plate as make the strike zone. But the kids swing at the bounce balls as well as the strikes and many of the balls. The same can be said about most small business marketing promotions. They fall short of the strike zone or miss the mark completely, but because there are a lot of potential customers, the businesses generally get on base (make a sale) often enough to stay in business.
#2 The grass is worn out in the outfield’s ideal positions
When you look at the outfield in these little league fields, there is a bare spot where the kids are taught to stand to play the position correctly. It gives them an anchor, but inhibits their ability to learn how to position themselves for left or right handed batters or for kids that they know hit hard. The lesson here for small businesses is to not be so anchored to one way of marketing or doing business that you don’t adjust to what is up next. Have you figured out how to use social media to your advantage? Is your website anything but an electronic brochure? Move away from the bare spot where everyone else is standing and find some lush grass.
#3 The uniforms don't fit correctly
Kids are hard to size. Some had pants on that were way too big and just looked baggy and droopy. One had a uniform shirt that hung to his knees. They all were dressed similar, so that you could tell they are all on the same team – but you knew that team was temporary. So the question for a small business is how do you look? Are your colors consistent from letterhead to business cards to invoices? Do your business cards look alike? Does your signature line in email have some uniformity? All those little details matter – probably more than they should – when you are small. If they don’t match, your business looks temporary. If you’ve been around for a while, or plan to be, make the uniform, well, uniform.
#4 Batting helmets make all the kids look alike
When the kids get on base, the only way to tell them apart is by the number on the back of the shirt. The full-face batting helmets really obscure their face. In your business, is the only way to tell you apart from your competition by a number (price) ? If so, there will always be someone willing to go out of business faster than you. You’ve got to identify your remarkable difference in a way that matters to your customer and that can be easily understood.
#5 Games get called on account of darkness
Mother nature intervenes and the game is over before 7 innings are completed. Sometimes it’s because of bad pitching in one inning. Sometimes because of bad fielding and lots of errors. But it doesn’t matter. The game is over. How many opportunities have you missed to get an ideal customer because you were spending time with one that stole all your energy and enthusiasm? How many sales calls did your sales team make on people that are never going to buy because they a) didn’t want to cold call or b) there was no marketing to support them in finding more ideal prospects. Time is both your enemy and one of the only assets you can truly manage. Define your ideal customer and then spend your time with them and finding more like them.
#6 Fielding often takes more motion than required, but its okay because the runners are slow
I watched a ball hit to the pitcher. He knocked it down. Spun around looking for it, found it, fumbled picking it up and then threw it to first - and got the out. Small businesses, in their marketing execution are much like this – they take a number of extra steps and waste some time and money along the way, but in the end, doing marketing helps their business because the market is in their favor – its big and it is present. Most people like doing business with real people. Your prospects need to know you are there. You have to market yourself. You don’t have to be smooth or perfect, but you do have to take action.
#7 There is no clock, only elapsed time
Unlike soccer, or football or hockey, baseball goes on (and on, and on) until the innings or the daylight runs out. The internet has eliminated the clock for many businesses – and this is especially true for their marketing. Your website is open 24x7. Is it doing what you need it to be? Can you handle the international business you could be getting? What about all the millions of mobile devices out there – can they read your site? Business hours are somewhat irrelevant because we all can operate round the clock in providing valuable information and many times, products, whether is it 1 pm or 1 am.
#8 Scores are only kept by the coaches – the spectators don’t know the score
Although the kids always know whether they are winning or losing, those of us cheering from the side aren’t always sure. How does it work in your business? Does your team know the score and what you will consider to be a winning or losing year? When your marketing team doesn’t know how many customer you want to get this week/month/year, how do they know what to plan to do? If your service tech doesn’t know the company’s ideal customer profile, how do they know a good referral or prospect when they come across it. Transparency helps – a lot.
Sure, a small business doesn’t have the resources of a large company when it comes to marketing. But the one thing all my clients have in common with the little leaguers is passion - something that is desperately missing at most large companies.
Show your passion. Articulate your differences. Spend time with customers that value your talents. Take action. You may not want to be the .01% that moves to the majors, but I sure wouldn’t mind a major league salary in a minor league.