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

I’d like to share an intriguing baseball story that also happens to complement some fantastic marketing advice from a work friend of mine.

First, the baseball story:

Steve Dalkowski

Steve Dalkowski: The fastest MLB pitcher you never heard of

Until just a few years ago, I had never heard of Steve Dalkowski, the fastest pitcher in Major League Baseball history. He routinely threw a fastball well over 100 mph (161km/h) with top speeds of over 125 mph (201 km/h)! As a minor leaguer in the late 50’s and early 60’s, Dalkowski struck out 1,396 batters in just 995 innings.

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

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

Steve Dalkowski

Steve Dalkowski’s performance improved dramatically in the early 60’s while playing for Earl Weaver, who was 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 transform his performance? Earl Weaver realized Dalkowski just got confused and pitched more wildly than ever while coaches tried to teach him how to throw a change-up, hold a base runner or execute 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 maybe an occasional slider. Two pitches. Just throw strikes.

Keeping it simple is game-winning advice for marketers as well. Buyers are smarter than ever, and less likely than ever to bother trying to figure out what your technology does. If they get confused or distracted by your message, they’ll simply move on.

Which leads me to my marketing colleague who recently shared with me some simple yet fantastic advice from a rock star technology sales manager. Asked by my friend how he became so successful, he answered, “Because I know my fastball and I know my curve ball.”

He explained 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 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.

Sales and Marketing Fastball

While that rock star sales person 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?

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Five Years On: Innovation as a Driver of Good Business and Social Good

I recently revisited this article, among the first I wrote for this blog back in early 2009. America and the world was still reeling from an unconscionably cratered economy; and yet, there was substantial optimism that the global economy – as well as global society and well-being at large – would recover and become stronger. That optimism has since been proven to have been on the mark.

Now more than ever five years later, the advancement of global business and global civilization are increasingly viewed as intertwined and no longer commonly regarded as mutually exclusive. With that in mind, it is even more gratifying to look back at this write-up (which I have since refreshed and updated just a bit) on Bentley University’s 2009 Leadership Forum: The Business of Healing Our World – a special event to promote and encourage business initiatives and innovation, to quote Gloria Larson, Bentley University president, “that are both good for business and the broader social good.”

Read the complete article.

If you liked this article, you may also like:

Collective-We Firms Eat Exclusive-We Competitors for Lunch (and How to Become One)
Everything I Really Need to Know About Product Marketing I Learned in Elementary School
Doing the Wrong Things Right

Innovative Companies Don’t Have Employee “Sediment”

I really liked this tweet by Sandy Kemsley that noting someone’s Twitter gaffe clearly intended to comment on the need to monitor employee sentiment.

Just as ‘many a truth is said in jest,’ many a truth can also be said by mistake as well: companies should monitor – and avoid – employee “sediment.” Doing so will help ensure an environment of innovation and free-flow of new ideas.

Somehow ’employee sediment‘ triggered a memory (from ‘sediment’ to ‘dirt’ … ‘soil’ … ‘plants’) of an article I read about “potted plant syndrome” in the workplace:

There was a boss who complained that everyone around him was a “potted plant.” He couldn’t understand why his managers wouldn’t take charge of an idea or come up with solutions. In his management meetings, if a manager suggested how to handle a problem or come up with solution, he would tell them how they could do it better or differently. Or, he would argue that they were wrong.

He didn’t realize he was killing commitment and innovation.

The boss was a one-person idea prevention department. His staff was tired of standing out with an idea only to get it shot down, so they stopped offering them. The oblivious boss had sown a staff of “potted plants.”

Company-Potted-Plant-Staff-Meeting

And now a quick true story of employee ‘sediment’…

A business professional (we’ll call him “Rick”) met with a company leader to discuss how he wanted a certain SaaS tool to work. Rick listened and asked questions, teasing out from the leader the specific desired outcomes and results he was looking for. In the course of the conversation, the leader drew his thoughts and answers to the questions on a whiteboard.

The next day, Rick presented the plan describing how the actual production implementation would work, delivering the end results the leader had described. Rick’s plan included a time-saving idea involving a simple update to certain existing data that would provide the desired end results much more quickly with fewer workflow steps. Even better, Rick also noted a flaw in one of the leader’s primary assumptions as to how the solution should work; however, Rick’s proposed data update would resolve that issue as well.

Instead of being pleased, the “leader” was angry!  “I told you exactly what I wanted!” he sputtered. “What is this?!”

leader-air-quotesAnd only then did Rick realize the unfortunate reality that the “leader” never wanted Rick to propose an innovative solution; no, the “leader” wanted Rick to merely replicate his desires, wishes and assumptions, exactly as instructed on his whiteboard… flawed assumptions be damned.

Did this “leader” want fries with that?!

Keeping his incredulousness – and that snarky fries remark – to himself, Rick simply obliged and completed the project to the “leader’s” exact – and faulty – specifications. Sure enough, the system processes the “leader” had mandated proved to be so needlessly complicated, the end users rarely followed them.

Not long afterwards, Rick, not terribly interested in becoming a “potted plant,” chose to move on… to much greener pastures.

If a company doesn’t want “potted plants” for employees, they should stop burying their ideas.

Monitor employee sediment, indeed.

If you liked this article, you may also like:

The “Door of Success” Opens Both Outward and Inward

“I’d Like to Have an Argument, Please” – An Innovation Message from Monty Python

The Impact of Imagination Level on Product Marketers and Managers

Business Managers Can Learn a Lot from Data Scientists

Source: HikingArtist.com (CC)

In a recent thought-provoking TDWI article, David Champagne informed readers of The Rise of Data Science: a discipline of emulating the scientific method when analyzing data, in a conscious and laudable effort to ensure objectivity and avoid poor analytical practices.

As I had just recently blogged on the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, a type of flawed analytical logic business intelligence users might fall into, David Champagne’s article caught my attention.

 

From David Champagne’s article:

Back in the “good old days,” data was the stuff generated by scientific experiments. Remember the scientific method? First you ask a question, then you construct a hypothesis, and you design an experiment. You run your experiment, collect and analyze the data, and draw conclusions. Finally, you communicate your results and let other people throw rocks at them.

Nowadays, thanks largely to all of the newer tools and techniques available for handling ever-larger sets of data, we often start with the data, build models around the data, run the models, and see what happens.  This is less like science and more like panning for gold…Perhaps the term “data scientist” reflects a desire to see data analysis return to its scientific roots…

Barry Devlin, in his business-focused commentary on David Champagne’s article, noted the worlds of science and business have rather different goals and visions, which I interpreted as data science might offer limited benefit to business managers.  But perhaps the best practices of data scientists have a lot more in common with those of business managers after all, in light of some commentary I came across on effective business decision-making.  That commentary gave high praise to the manager who utilizes the scientific method in the decision-making process. The author was not a technologist, but rather: Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management.

Revisiting Peter Drucker’s writings on effective decision-making process will show surprising similarities to the best practices of data science, and yield beneficial insights for business managers seeking to make more effective, data-informed decisions.

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Become a Crow / Fierce Competitor in Business: A Users Guide

Venture capitalist and entrepreneur Mark Suster once shared an awesome pearl of business wisdom (via Kellblog): In a strong wind, even turkeys can flyin his blog post of the same name.

This insight came from Mark Suster’s colleague Ameet Shah, a co-worker at Andersen Consulting  in the late 90’s.  Andersen Consulting was the largest independent consulting firm at the time, but amid scores of existing competitors and newly-funded Internet consulting startups…

…the market seemed crowded and our leadership position that had been built over many years seemed to not matter any more…[But] Ameet said to me, “Ah, I’ve seen this many times before.  See, Mark, in a booming market you can never tell the winners from the losers.  In a booming market buyers aren’t very discerning and companies that have weaknesses can mask them…Andersen Consulting always gains market share in down markets.  That’s where the companies who are [only] good at marketing tend to crumble…Don’t worry, we’ll be fine, just wait for the next downturn.”  That had never occurred to me.  In other words, in a strong market, even turkeys can fly.  (emphasis added)

A company that works to “gain market share in down markets” and seizes “the next downturn” as an opportunity is most certainly the opposite of a “flying turkey” business.  I’d call it a “crow” business, referencing the amazing adaptability and intelligence of crows, as I have blogged previously.

I also suggest reading Jeffrey Fox’s book, How to be a Fierce Competitor: What Winning Companies and Great Managers Do in Tough Times – a great user’s guide on how to become a “crow” business.

Read on for a review of this great book along with more insights from Mark Suster’s great blog post.

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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

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Businesses: Don’t be a Gorilla or Eagle… Be a Crow

The good old “800 pound gorilla” metaphor came up in recent conversation, reminding me of a clever article I read a few years ago on the subject of animal metaphors, which are all too common in business-speak.

This company or that company is the “800 pound gorilla.” Another company might say it “strives to be an eagle in its industry.” And infamous ex-Sunbeam CEO “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,  who fired scores of workers with raw impunity, was partial to the mighty lion, adorning his office with a huge lion image, in honor of its predatory, eat-or-be-eaten carnivorousness.

I say, forget all of those animal metaphors. Instead, companies should strive to be the crow of their industry.

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