Tenth Inning – Business and Baseball: The Game Reflects Your Preparation

Free Baseball ~ Ken Singleton*

The difference between a good baseball player and a great one is not that the great one doesn’t make mistakes. What makes him great is that he knows how to handle it when he makes one. ~ Unknown

Major League Baseball Game

When you watch a Major League Baseball game, it can seem like magic. The organ is playing, the crowds are madly cheering, the diamond is groomed just so, and the players are all in the zone. It seems impossible that they can miss a ball or not make it to the base on time to beat the throw from short.

What you don’t see is all the preparation that goes on behind the scenes. The steamy spring training scrimmages under the blistering Florida and Arizona sun. The thousands of swings in the batting cages. The pulled muscles, the locker room pep talks, the sweat, the pain. What you see is the best of the best – after all the hard work is done. The three hours of game time are only a small part of the professional baseball player’s day in day out 8 – 10 hour routine.

For us, business works the same. When you see someone’s “perfect” website, or watch their seamless launch, what we don’t see is, like the baseball player, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it. You see the beautiful product displays, not the clogged toilets, piles of spreadsheets, and hours upon hours of hard work.

Transfer this to your own endeavor: Any professional athlete will tell you that you’re only as good as your preparation. If you don’t practice hard, you can’t play hard. And if you don’t play hard, you won’t win.

How much effort you are willing to dedicate to the background work of your business will determine how far you will go. Everyone from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs to David Ortiz to Alex Rodriguez knows that it’s the hours that you put in off the field that determine how far you go on the field.

To be a success in business, you have to be willing to:

  • Practice. Do dry-runs of your processes to make sure they work.
  • Listen to your coach. Accept feedback from your mentors and coaches without getting defensive. They’re just trying to make you the best you can be.
  • Try new things. Adjust your grip on the bat, try a new marketing angle, and take a few risks in a practice game to see how it works.
  • Work with your teammates. Team spirit grows from the hours on the practice field, in the dugout, and in the locker room BETWEEN games. What can you do to create a spirit of teamwork with your employees before you’re under the gun?

While playing to a crowd can be invigorating, exciting, and motivating, the real motivation must come from within. Remember that character is how you act when no one is looking – and character is what makes a real winner.

* Ken Singleton, former Baltimore Orioles star and New York Yankees broadcaster calls baseball after the regulation nine innings, “Free baseball” since people only pay to see nine innings, but if the game is tied after nine, they keep playing until one team or the other wins – at no additional charge.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #2: Set Up a Successful Referral Lead Generation Process

Referral Marketing Communications Plan woman on headset phoneA recent article in a sales magazine told of the experiences of a veteran successful sales manager. He said that when his team received stacks of business cards and leads after a trade show or sales promotion, often the leads just sat, untouched, on the desks, or worse, ended up in the garbage. Not good! Hundreds – possibly thousands of leads – left to wither and die. Just imagine the lost business… Is that what you want for your company or store?

If you don’t have a marketing strategy to handle your referrals as part of your marketing mix, you might be losing the same referral business. Here’s how you can create a successful referral marketing communications plan:

  1. Map it out. You ask your client for a referral, and you get one. Great! Now what? If you get the name on a card or sheet, where does that go? If you get it via email, who receives it and answers it?
    Grab a large piece of paper or a mind-mapping software program and go step-by-step through your process. Start with the request for a referral and keep asking yourself “Now what? Now what? Now what?” until you’ve worked the entire way through your process and that referral has been converted to a customer.
  2. Get buy-in. Rare is the referral marketing program that is handled by one person. Usually someone – a web master, a Virtual Assistant (VA), a co-worker – helps at one or more steps processing the referral. Identify those who will need to help you, what they’ll be responsible for, and get them excited about the benefits.
  3. Look for problems. After you’ve implemented your referral process according to your map, give it a month or so. Then come back and re-analyze it. Is there a referral “bottleneck” at a particular step? Are referrals going off-track… getting lost? Figure out where and why, and fix it.
  4. Refine. Times change and people change. Your wizard VA disappears to some place without internet access. You decide to stop your Twitter and Facebook social marketing activity. You revamp your entire business. As a result, you need to revisit and refine your referral marketing process as your business changes and your customer profiles evolve. Everything might still be working well, but you may need to adjust things to accommodate how referrals are coming to you, or how you’re contacting new leads.

Processes can seem stilted and, for some people, boring. But getting it down and getting it right is a critical step to making your referrals pay off.

Ninth Inning – Business and Baseball: Slumps Happen

Losing AthleteYou watch enough baseball games and other sports, and pretty soon you realize that even well paid – sometimes exceptionally well paid – baseball players and athletes have slumps. Even fabled winning teams have slumps. (As I write this, the New York Yankees have just gone through a 2 wins and 5 losses streak – but still lead the American League East by 8 games and have the best record in Major League Baseball). And in the classic baseball movie “Major League,” one of the players has taken to sacrificing chickens and rubbing mysterious voodoo tchotchkes on his bat in order to get a hit. Some of the other players belittle his efforts – until it appears to work. Superstitions aren’t just the stuff of Hollywood; Hall-of-Famer Kiki Cuyler refused to move to a different spot in the batting order; Dolf Camilli used to rub the batboy’s head before entering the batter’s box; and possibly one of the most famous that players of all levels have adopted: Tapping your bat on home plate before each at-bat.

The problem with superstitions like these is that they work… until they don’t. Eventually the slump happens, no matter how many chickens sacrificed or batboys rubbed. Sometimes, baseball slumps just happen. You’re on fire the entire season until one day you wake up, do everything you did the day before, and suddenly you can’t get a hit to save your life. You’re in a slump, and it hangs around until it breaks – or you do.

Businesspeople experience their share of seemingly inexplicable slumps, too. And just as in baseball, you have a choice: Through or out.

Top-notch marketing blogger and best-selling author Seth Godin based his book, “The Dip,” on this very principle. He says that dips – “slumps” in baseball speak – will happen; it’s not a question of if, but when. And when it does happen, you have a choice to make. Are you going to give up, or are you going to slug through?

If your reasons are strong enough, you will continue to get in that batter’s box, says Godin. You’ll put out products, talk with customers, market your wares. And you’ll also work behind the scenes to improve your chances of getting a hit. You’ll review your statistics, you’ll work with a coach and you’ll keep refining your process. And then you’ll keep on swinging. And eventually, the slump will end and you’ll get that hit.

Of course, giving up is always an option. More than one baseball player or athlete has let the slump get the best of them and quit without ever managing to make it back on base. The choice is yours. In the meantime, your competitors will be facing the same challenges at one time or another. The spoils will go to the one who can stick it out – and put their voodoo to work.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Tip #1: Ask!

Referral Marketing Communications Plan ConversationIt’s disappointing how many business people tell me they don’t regularly receive referrals from their existing customers. When you dig a little deeper, however, the reason becomes clear: Most times, they’re not asking for referrals!

You might feel that if people are happy with the products and services you deliver, they’ll naturally tell others. While this is sometimes true, guess what… it’s not necessarily so. There are three main reasons people don’t refer friends and acquaintances, even when they like doing business with you and are very satisfied:

  1. Laziness. Most of us are lazy. We don’t go out of our way to do something unless there’s something in it for us.
  2. They forget. Out of sight, out of mind. Once the transaction is complete, or they use your product, they forget about you – unless there’s something that brings you to top-of-mind again.
  3. No one asked them to! It sounds crazy, but just asking someone to refer you can increase the amount of referrals you receive. All you have to do is ask!

While asking for referrals doesn’t have to be complicated, there are some guidelines that will likely make your request more successful:

  • Ask at the right time. Right after your customer has received great service is the perfect time to ask for a referral. The experience is fresh in their minds, and they’re more likely to have strong positive feelings they won’t hesitate to share.
  • Ask when you’re having personal contact. When your client is in front of you or on the phone with you, or when you’re wrapping up a series of personal email exchanges is a great time to ask for a referral. That personal interaction increases the chances of a positive response.
  • Ask specifically. “Do you know anyone else who might be interested in our services?” is a great question, but even better is, “Who do you know who might also like to offload some of their accounting services to a responsible bookkeeper?” is better.
  • Ask for all the information you need. Getting a name is useless without an email address or phone number! If your customer doesn’t have the information on hand, set a specific time to call them to follow up (call – don’t email – because emails are too easy to ignore).

Asking for a marketing referral may seem uncomfortable at first, but practice makes perfect. Do it enough times and it will become a natural part of your interaction with your customers – with fantastic results.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Introduction

We’re starting another series – this one on Referral Marketing.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan Man on Cell PhoneWhether you’re a self-employed dog-walker, an online business coach, a direct sales consultant, or a multi-million-dollar purveyor of electronic gadgets (Apple, anyone?) the number-one source of your best new leads is through referrals.

Experts say that leads received via referral:

  • Cost less to convert
  • Are more likely to purchase
  • Are more likely to refer you to even more business

So when you get serious about growing your business get serious about referrals, a lucrative source of new leads.

Over the next several posts on a referral marketing communications plan, we’re going to cover a series of tips that will have your referral-based business skyrocketing. Even if you just implement one or two of these marketing tips, you should find an almost immediate increase in the number of leads heading your way.

Ready to get started? Let’s hit it.


Eighth Inning – Business and Baseball: Review the Statistics

Baseball StatsHidden in the announcer’s booth at every baseball game, is someone charged with a very special job: Watching each and every pitch thrown, ball hit, and play made, and recording it all in the official scorebook. Each ball, each strike, each walk, each steal, all duly accounted for in the scorekeeper’s book. Then, after the game, the scorekeeper calculates statistics: batting average, earned-run average, slugging percentage, and a host of other mind-numbingly-precise details.

Not only do these statistics give the announcers something to talk about during the inevitable lulls in the game (“This batter is 2-for-3 against left-handed pitchers with a “Q” in their last name!”), they also provide invaluable information for the coaches, the players, and the team (business) owners themselves. The stats are reviewed and rehashed, posted and celebrated or decried. Statistics matter in baseball.

They matter in business, too – big business or small business. Knowing that a certain outlet is bringing in the bulk of your sales, or that a particular product’s appeal has dropped off significantly, or that one sales page is doing twice the business another is, are all valuable bits of information. Sure, an entrepreneur can get lost in the numbers, but there are a few basics business owners must track on a regular basis:

  • Site visits/page views/unique visitors. How many people come to your site – or store? How many pages do they view? How long do they stay? Do they come back?
  • Conversions. When they visit, brick and mortar or click and order, do they take the action you desire, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for your mailing list, or asking to be contacted?
  • Total sales and total expenses. How much are you bringing in, and how much are you spending – in other words, are you profitable?
  • Referrers. Where are your visitors coming from – who is sending you traffic, online or in your office/store, and why?

If you don’t do business online, the same general topics can be tracked for any business, from the smallest home based business to large manufacturers and retailers. Instead of site visits, you may track the number of people who come into your store or who call your toll free number, and what percentage of those calls actually turn into orders. You can track total sales and expenses, and what brought the visitor into the store (billboard, radio ad, referral from a friend, etc.).

But tracking these statistics isn’t enough, just as knowing that your clean-up batter always walks the first time up in a home game isn’t enough. You have to DO something with that knowledge, and review it again and again, looking for patterns and trends. You need to know as much about your business as those color announcers know about the home team – and they have all those recorded statistics to back them up, just as you do.

That’s where success lies.

Seventh Inning – Business and Baseball: It Hurts Worse When You’re Losing

Watch any sporting contest for long enough, and you’re sure to see at least one injury or near-injury. The runner stealing home collides with the catcher blocking the plate; the pitcher gets mowed down by a line drive; an outfielder runs into the wall. It happens – because they play hard and they play to win.

What’s interesting is that, many times, the same tumble that might earn one player a few days on the DL (disabled list), is nothing more than a shake of the head from another player. What’s the difference?

When you see a player get hurt sliding into home for the winning run, he’s more likely to leap to his feet and be carried off the field on his teammates shoulders rather than be carried off the field on a stretcher. The simple fact: It hurts worse when you’re losing.

The same is true for small business. If you pull an all-niter (more on that in another article) to get your first product ready to launch and it’s a rousing success (or for my department, producing a sales meeting and product intro that had the audience on its feet cheering), you’re less likely to complain of sleep deprivation. The adrenaline of a great play or a great program carries you through the discomfort. But if that same person, or group, pulls the all-niter for a product, product intro, or meeting that flops, they’ll feel a lot more tired – and discouraged.

Here’s what to do when you experience your own jaw-clenching mess-up:

  • Remind yourself that a setback is just that: A temporary obstacle, not a death sentence. Tomorrow is another day, another game, another chance to improve.
  • Look for the lesson. Dig deep into a missed play or loss to find the nugget of wisdom you can use to improve your next go-round. Did you find a great new widget for your blog? Did you increase your traffic? Did you make any new contacts? These are all achievements that will outlive the pain of a bad tumble.
  • Watch the instant replay. Replay that awful crash not to beat yourself up, but in order to avoid a similar pile-up in the future. Were there warning signs you missed? Did you know the outcome was inevitable? What can you do differently the next time around?

Losses hurt. But they don’t have to send you to the Disabled List for the rest of the season. Remind yourself that there is a win hidden in a defeat, and commit to finding and extracting the lessons. It’s all just part of the game. The only true failure is to fail to learn from your own mistakes.

Sixth Inning – Business and Baseball: You Play Better with a Coach Who Knows the Game

Is life too complicated, or is it your approach to life that makes things complicated? ~ Joyce Meyer

It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. ~ Attributed to Hanoch McCarty

Coaches matter. In fact, a so-so team can be taken to an unimaginable level based solely on the coach they have. Coaches serve many roles for a baseball team:

  1. They see the big picture. A pitcher or first baseman may see the game only from their limited perspective; the coach sees everything on the field and how all the pieces fit together… and guides the team to take advantage of unseen situations.
  2. They have the wisdom of experience. The average coach has lived through more games than the average player, and they’ve seen things that some players haven’t. They bring that experience to the game – along with a strong drive to win.
  3. They are invested in the outcome, but they are in it for the long haul. Just as kids can’t see past the end of the school year, players sometimes can’t see beyond the end of the season. The coach helps players develop for many seasons to come.
  4. They inspire. Because they care deeply about the players and the game, they are able to connect with the team in a way outsiders cannot. (If you have any doubt of this, just check out some of the famous “locker room” speeches from great sports movies such as “A League of Their Own” or “Knute Rockne All American” – both excellent movies!)
  5. They get you in shape. No one WANTS to do stadium steps or run wind sprints, but the coach knows that these unsavory exercises are needed to whip the team into shape – and win.

Just as you’ve never seen a winning ball team without a good coach, you’d be hard-pressed to find a winning entrepreneur without a good business coach as well. Rick Godwin reminds us, “You SEE things differently when you THINK things differently!” – and that is what good coaches teach you to do.

Business coaches perform many of the same roles that a baseball coach does – especially for a starting business. Whether it’s a home business or a small business in a small office, they help keep things in perspective, guide you from their experience and wisdom, help you think and see past the next quarter, and motivate and inspire you to move forward. They know what needs to be done, and in what order, so they keep you from wasting time and energy on unnecessary tasks. They also help you to see, as Thomas Carlyle said, “The idea is in thyself. The impediment, too, is in thyself.”

The best coaches get personal satisfaction in helping you succeed, so choose wisely. Find a mentor with a history of successes not just in business and entrepreneurship, but as a coach as well. You wouldn’t want a baseball coach who was still reliving his glory days as a Major Leaguer and felt in competition with the players on his team; you also don’t want a business coach who feels threatened by your success.

As Tony Robbins reminds us, “When you state what you want, then you either need to start making it happen or start making excuses why it isn’t.” The good business coach won’t allow any excuses.

Ask around for recommendations; the list of talented Major League Baseball coaches is short, and the best candidates come from referrals. The same is true in the business arena. You want someone who will help you find a way and not accept any excuses, so be prepared to work smarter and harder… and be successful.

One reason people resist change is that they focus on what they have to GIVE UP, rather than what they have to GAIN! ~ Rick Godwin

Make a decision today to develop a new and more positive attitude toward yourself. ~ Joyce Meyer

Fifth Inning – Business and Baseball: Ignore the Hecklers

Treat everyone with kindness, even those who are rude to us – not because they are nice, but because we are. ~ Anonymous

Life’s too important to be petty. Ignore little hurts & keep moving. ~ Rick Warren

Angry LemonsHave you ever watched a professional baseball game and seen an athlete just go off on a fan in the stands who went just a little too far in his taunting? It’s not a pretty sight. And no matter how abusive the heckler was, the athlete is the one who ends up looking bad. Right or wrong, the assumption is that athletes are expected to rise above the crowd, not allowing the taunts, jeers, and comments to get to him. After all, the athlete is getting paid; the fan isn’t.

This situation is similar to what we as businesspeople face. You’ve heard the phrase, “The customer is always right – even when they’re wrong.” That means that you sometimes have to bite your tongue and move forward, even when an objective observer would say you were “right.”

Here are five reasons you should always take the high road:

  1. You gain karma. Putting positive energy into the universe will bring positive experiences back to you.
  2. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes. The person screaming at the center fielder may just have found out he has colon cancer and is venting his fear. The person sending you a nasty email may have just found out her daughter is suffering from epilepsy. Giving others an undeserved helping of grace might help them when they need it most.
  3. You can’t really “win.” With customers (and heckling fans), you never win, even if you “win.” Don’t get into a spitting contest when squashing them like a bug will just make you look bad.
  4. You won’t waste time or energy. Some people are just grumpy, looking for some place to blow off steam. Fighting back only fuels the fire. Direct your energy where it can be put to best use. Martin Luther King said it best, “Don’t hate, it’s too big a burden to bear.” (Matthew 5:43 – 48)
  5. Your mom was right. Remember when she told you that the people talking behind your back were just jealous? A lot of times, that’s true. The fact that people are aiming their squirt guns your way is a sign that you’re succeeding, and the more you succeed, the more it will happen.

Yes, it’s hard to ignore the hecklers. But here are some ways you can block out the jeers and taunts:

  • Imagine them as little children. If a two-year-old was throwing a tantrum, you’d treat them with more compassion and less anger, so imagine them that way.
  • Breathe deep. When you think you’re being attacked, it’s easy to fall into that “fight or flight” response. Breathing deeply helps clear the adrenaline from your body.
  • Bring in a third party. If a response is required and you cannot answer without anger or emotion, have an objective third party answer for you. Many business people outsource their customer support email for this particular reason.

Unbelievably, angry customers are the best opportunity to create a positive customer experience. When we take a customer’s negative experience and turn it positive, the long emotional distance they have traveled makes them our strongest supporters.

Before you talk, listen. Before you react, think. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try! ~ Tommy Tenney

“Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” ~ Blaise Pascal

Fourth Inning – Business and Baseball: The Better You Do, the More Fun It Is

Batter Up

Well, boys, it’s a round ball and a round bat and you got to hit the ball square. ~ Joe Schultz

Some might say that professional athletes have the best job in the world. They get paid to play a game that many millions of people only dream about doing! They spend the day in the sun, with thousands of fans screaming their names and wearing their jersey number. How cool is that?

  • It is pretty cool… but only if you’re winning.
  • If you’re in a hitting slump or your team is in the midst of a losing streak, suddenly, the sport you love isn’t that much fun.
  • But of course, the converse is true: The better you’re doing, the more fun it is!

Translate that to the business arena. When you’re in that golden space where every product you release is a hit and your customers love you, everything is fun – even paying the bills and emptying the garbage. But when your bank balance is hovering near the red and every phone call is another unhappy client, everything seems like a chore, including the tasks you usually adore.

It is possible to make a mental shift – in fact, it’s imperative that you do so. You can’t afford the luxury of a negative attitude, so here’s how to make things more fun when it all seems to be going wrong:

  1. Focus on small successes. Did you meet a tough deadline, get a nice thank-you email, or release a new product? Recognize and celebrate – and publicize – these achievements, however small.
  2. Downplay the bad parts. Remind yourself that everything seems worse when your attitude is bad. Give yourself a reality check: Was the tone of that call from your partner as negative as you thought, or is your poor mental state coloring your perceptions?
  3. Choose to believe. As the famous author and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” You have the right and the obligation to choose your attitude – so why not choose a positive one?
  4. Do what you love. If you truly love your job in a broad sense, then the little annoyances (like emptying the garbage!) are just part of the overall mission. In other words, the more you love the big stuff, the more you’ll, “Not sweat the small stuff!”.

No professional athlete lasts long if they don’t have mental toughness that allows them to continue on, even when times get bad. As a businessperson, you need to cultivate that same mental toughness in yourself.

How you think about a problem is more important than the problem itself – so always think positively. ~ Norman Vincent Peale


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