Marketers: What’s Your Fastball? What’s Your Curve Ball?

I want to share a great baseball story that has stuck with me for a long time, which also complements some excellent marketing advice from a friend of mine.

Steve Dalkowski. Source:
Steve Dalkowski  Source: SportsHollywood

First, the baseball story.

I had never heard of Steve Dalkowski until I read an article some years back by Mike Wheeler for the Kalido (now Magnitude Software) blog. Steve Dalkowski was probably the fastest pitcher in baseball history, whose fastball was routinely well over 100MPH, with top speed estimates as high as 125MPH. Dalkowski struck out 1,396 batters in just 995 minor league games in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Unfortunately, Dalkowski’s incredible fastball was also incredibly unpredictable: He also walked 1,354 batters and won only 46 of the 236 games he started.

Mike Wheeler’s key point was that focusing on raw speed at the expense of reliability is a bad combination, whether you’re talking about a super-fast pitcher with no ball control, or super-fast data delivery without any data governance controls.

But there’s much more to Steve Dalkowski’s story – with a related marketing lesson as well.

Steve Dalkowski’s performance improved dramatically in the early 60’s while playing for Earl Weaver, then manager for the Baltimore Orioles’ double-A affiliate. In 1962, Dalkowski had the best year of his career, giving up less than one walk per inning for the first time, and a 52-inning stretch with an amazing 104 strikeouts and only 11 walks. During 1963 Spring Training, after pitching six straight hitless innings in relief, Dalkowski was told by the Orioles that he had finally made the team.

How did Steve Dalkowski finally improve his performance? Earl Weaver discovered Dalkowski had a low IQ; he’d merely get confused and distracted when coaches tried to teach him how to throw a change-up, hold a base runner, execute a pitch-out or other unfamiliar plays. Weaver concluded if the team was to ever capitalize on Dalkowski’s potential, he would have to keep things very simple. So Weaver had Dalkowski focus on nothing but throwing his fastball and an occasional slider. Two pitches. Just throw strikes. Earl Weaver probably didn’t think of this plan in business terms, but his coaching decision was certainly a wise application of the good old 80/20 Rule.

Keeping it simple is game-winning advice for marketers as well. No, not because your prospects have a low IQ! – very funny😉 Seriously, buyers are smarter than ever, but they are also very unlikely to bother trying to figure out on their own what your technology does. If they get confused or distracted by your message, they’ll simply move on.

Source: iStockphoto

Which leads me to that advice from my marketing friend. He was good friends with a rock star technology sales manager who explained his success by saying, “I know my fastball and I know my curve ball.” His ‘fastball’ was the #1 product of interest to the vast majority of his prospects; his ‘curve ball’ was his second product. Whether he opted for the fastball or curve ball depended on the needs of his prospect.

The company had other products, of course; and while he didn’t totally ignore those products, he knew his ultimate success depended on his ability to deliver a clear, compelling sales pitch for his top two products – his fastball and curve ball. So he focused right away on practicing those two sales pitches and made sure they were strikes.

While my friend’s rock star sales friend described his fastball and curve ball as being two different products, the logic still holds for other scenarios. If, for example, a company offers a single technology platform or solution as opposed to multiple products, then the “fastball” could be an engaging value proposition to answer the question, “What is it?” The “curve ball” could in turn succinctly answer, “How does it work?”

Marketing’s single most important responsibility is to define the company’s fastball and curve ball and then clearly communicate it – internally and externally – to set up your marketing campaigns and sales team for success.

In a cruel twist of fate, Steve Dalkowski severely strained a tendon in his elbow while pitching relief in the Orioles’ final 1963 pre-season game. With his post-injury fastball topping out at only 90MPH, Dalkowski never made it to the major leagues again and was out of baseball for good in 1966. One can only wonder what his pitching career might have been had he not languished for years, no doubt being constantly told to “try harder” before Earl Weaver’s wise leadership guidance.

Similarly, if current marketing messaging is not working, “trying harder” in a multitude of ways and directions with the same overall messaging will not help and instead merely waste time. The future is now. Business circumstances and technologies all change without advance notice. Marketing leaders must be willing to allow trying something new, starting with, I suggest, focusing on answering two simple but critical questions…

What’s your fastball?

What’s your curve ball?



Today’s “New Rules” Marketing Organizations Run Like Winning Football Teams

Getty Images

I recently read a great Ad Age article by Chris Kuenne, Four [Marketing] Talent Categories You Need to Win in a Connected World.  Recognizing that many marketing organizations still cling to discredited, “old school” marketing and PR, Chris Kuenne provided a timely description of the new talents, skills and attitudes found in today’s “new rules” marketing organizations that are actively contributing to company growth and success.

Chris Kuenne listed four skill categories vital for today’s successful marketing organization – Strategic, Analytic, Program Design and Technological – which, combined with talent-building marketing leadership, will yield well-orchestrated “personally relevant experiences” that “translate the brand promise into relevant and entertaining interactions that always seem fresh and new.”

To support his spot-on core point that “the old set of skills and conventional deployment will not work,” Chris Kuenne offered a sports analogy:

In [American] football, everyone is a specialist with a distinct position and responsibility. Each player goes one-on-one against his opponent, helping the team advance the ball in a linear fashion down the field. Marketing over the past 50 years reflected this linear approach, in which a brand’s marketing plan specified a highly planned, seldom altered, set of initiatives…Today marketing is closer to rugby. All players handle multiple roles, using many different skills…

I agree with Chris Kuenne’s historical and current assessment of the marketing function. However, Chris’ description of football is outdated: today’s game of football is actually brimming with innovative tactics. Perhaps I underappreciate the tactics in rugby, but I see a lot of parallels between the practices of winning “new rules” marketing organizations and winning football teams:

Transformation through Innovation. Both football and today’s marketing function have benefited dramatically from innovation.  The one-on-one, seldom-altered, linear genre of football described by Chris Kuenne is an accurate description of the “smashmouth” version of the sport as it was played over a century ago, as exemplified by the feared Army football team and its predictable but brutal, physically punishing running game.

And so it went, until Notre Dame, in 1913, under new coach Jess Harper, unveiled an innovation that would thankfully transform the game: Notre Dame took unprecedented full advantage of the forward pass (!), recently legalized but widely ignored. Practiced that summer by quarterback Gus Dorais and offensive end and legend-to-be Knute Rockne, Notre Dame’s passing plays bewildered the Army defense for a lopsided 35-13 upset victory. (Of course, clever, daring plays unimaginable even a decade ago continue an ever-accelerating trend of innovation on the football field.)

It is amazing in hindsight that marketing has not experienced such dramatic transformation until recently. At roughly the same time as Notre Dame’s game-transforming forward pass innovation, John Wanamaker, the pioneer of the department store, made his famous remark, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  Similar frustrations by marketers have continued on right up to present day!  Thankfully, marketing innovations today are replacing decades of plodding, seldom-altered, and maddeningly difficult to measure interruption marketing with a still-evolving paradigm of content marketing, permission marketing and marketing automation technologies. The marketing function is finally undergoing its own game-changing, “forward pass” of innovation and transformation. More >>

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“Missionary” Technology Really Requires a Technology Evangelist

A technology evangelist “promotes the use of a particular product or technology through talks, articles, blogging, demonstrations, [etc.]…The word ‘evangelism’ is taken from the context of religious evangelism because of the similar recruitment of converts and the spreading of the product information…”  (Source: Wikipedia)

I recently came across a blog post by technical writing and communications professional Dr. Ugur Akinci, who wondered aloud whether there was a better term to describe the title of Technology Evangelist. Ugur Akinci noted the dictionary definitions of evangelism in its original religious context; those definitions suggest communication that is, among other things, decidedly one-way. Point well taken, but none of the other alternative titles suggested – technology communicator, ambassador, champion, advocate, enthusiator (the latter one intended to provide a chuckle!) – comes close to conveying the role as vividly as Guy Kawasaki’s original term of technology evangelist: the active persuasion of people to buy into the superiority of his/her particular technology product and help spread the word about it.

Actually, the term technology evangelist becomes even more appropriate if we use more secularized religious terminology to describe the product offering itself. I have in mind an article product management professional Jacques Murphy wrote a few years ago, asking a still-timely question: Is Your Product a Missionary or a Savior?

(W)hile every (software) company wants their product to be brand spanking new, there are two very distinct strains of newness: the Missionary and the Savior. And one of those two types is a much harder sell…The Missionary product…represents a new idea or a whole new take on an old idea. Nobody has heard of it and your company is in the position of telling others about it and convincing them of how important it is…

With a Savior product, the market comes running out into the streets to greet it, cheering it along all the way. The Missionary product has to go exploring into lands unknown to make converts through its boundless zeal.

Of course, Jacques Murphy’s “market running and cheering to greet a Savior product” hyperbole has since become literally true many times over by Apple’s amazing run of true Savior products. As for software, particularly in the B2B space, every product will have some missionary, or educational, aspect to it. You will always need to effectively convey your understanding of your customers’ problems and how and why your product solves these problems in ways far superior to your competitors. Every software solution requires effective product marketing, and benefits greatly from technology evangelism.

But a “true” Missionary product will also offer a very different solution to fulfilling a need; a solution that might even be openly contrarian to current conventional wisdom; a solution that is proven to yield unique and compelling benefits for your customers, but in very new ways. Having a technology evangelist, a name and face for the product, actively advocating your unique, even contrarian solution to the market, becomes absolutely crucial, absolutely vital.

Continue reading ““Missionary” Technology Really Requires a Technology Evangelist”

“Everything I Really Need to Know About Product Marketing I Learned in Elementary School”

Dr. Stuart Payne is Principal of Northwood Elementary School, a National Blue-Ribbon School and California Distinguished School in Irvine, California. I am also quite proud to call Stuart Payne my brother-in-law.

I was already impressed with the work of Stu – I mean Dr. Stuart Payne – and his staff, and was even more so after reading his Principal’s Message in the latest issue of Northwood Elementary’s impressive parents newsletter, which summarized the goals he and his teaching staff set for the school year:

At the beginning of this year, our dedicated staff set…three goals for ourselves: (1) Rigor, (2) Differentiation, and (3) Progress Monitoring.

These succinct goals no doubt rang true for Northwood Elementary parents.   In fact, they rang quite true for me in my world of product marketing.  Let’s look at each one more closely:

Photo by courosa (Flickr CC)

Rigor.  Stuart Payne writes: “Through rigor, we endeavor to make sure that every child is challenged in a developmentally appropriate manner.”  This vital educational goal can be easily adapted to product marketing/product management terms: We must challenge ourselves to really understand our products and our markets, and convey our value in a compelling manner that our target markets will understand and be motivated to learn more.  I am reminded of a good blog post by Dave Kellogg on applying (rigorous) critical thinking for effective product positioning (I elaborate on Dave Kellogg’s post here, BTW).

One sidenote: Stuart Payne also wrote: “(R)esearch indicates…that when the work is too difficult, (students) become frustrated.”  This reminded me of a classic blog post by Kathy Sierra: Do your customers feel a similar sense of frustration trying to understand and/or use our products?  Why?  How can this be corrected (and fast)?

Continue reading ““Everything I Really Need to Know About Product Marketing I Learned in Elementary School””

“Where’s Mike” Happy Fun Contest Winners

Quick follow up: The photo taken by David Meerman Scott during his great Jan. 6 BPMA presentation (see next post) reminded me of a “Where’s Waldo?” picture, so congratulations to Dan McCarthy and Howie Lyhte who took me up on my challenge to find me in that photo.  Since they both dropped me an email quite quickly (with my correct location), I declared them both winners.

For those of you playing at home, I am a couple of rows in front of the post holding my book with a thumbs-up.

Dan and Howie will receive David Meerman Scott’s new book we’re all holding up in the photo, Real-Time Marketing & PR, plus a great bonus book I will be reviewing here soon: How to be a Fierce Competitor by Jeffrey Fox. Enjoy, guys!

Real Time with Bill Maher David Meerman Scott

Thanks to David Meerman Scott for a great presentation on Real Time Marketing for the Boston Product Management Association Thursday evening, January 6, at the Microsoft NERD Center, an impressive, event-friendly space in Cambridge, Mass.

David Meerman Scott built his presentation off his new book, Real-Time Marketing & PR.  Key highlights of David’s presentation follow!

BPMA attendees holding their happy fun complimentary copy of David Meerman Scott’s “Real-Time Marketing & PR”!  And now a challenge: “Where’s Mike?” The first non-attendee to contact me and point out where I am in this photo (click on photo to access full size version), I will get you a copy of David’s book plus a super-awesome bonus book!  UPDATE 1/12: Was lost but now I am found – See above post for my two winners/finders! (Photo taken in real-time by David Meerman Scott.)

Continue reading “Real Time with Bill Maher David Meerman Scott”

Happy New Year: Top Blog Posts for 2010

I hope you have a very happy, healthy and successful 2011!   Thank you very much for reading this blog, whether this is your first visit or one of many. 

Here are the three most popular blog entries of 2010, with a new year’s resolution to write many more in the new year!  Please enjoy.

UPDATE:  Moments after tweeting my resolution to blog more often in 2011, I see I am being held accountable (!) by WordPress’ PostADay / PostAWeek Challenge.  OK, WordPress, count me in … for the PostAWeek, that is!


The most popular post overall during 2010 was actually a 2009 post: 

Poor Communication can Scuttle Effective BI, Your Personal Brand, and a Simple Bus Ride 


Top 3 most popular posts added in 2010:

1.  Not All Interruption Marketing is Bad 

2.  Play the Product Marketing Game Like a Chess Grandmaster

3.  Animal Metaphor Farm: Don’t be a “Gorilla” or “Eagle” in Business … Be a Crow