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I’m a big baseball fan. Big. Huge. And, we’re in my favorite part of the baseball season: the World Series. Right now, just a couple of teams remain, to determine baseball’s best team. And while it’s easy to tire of sports metaphors, hang with me for a minute. Baseball may look like a kid’s game, but it’s also a multi-billion dollar business. The average ball club achieved over $200 million in revenue in 2011, with some teams taking in billions. These teams may play a game, but they’re playing for keeps. And there are some key traits winners possess whether they’re managing paid search, building a brand, or, yes, playing baseball.

What are those traits? Let’s look a little deeper:

  1. Consistency. Teams play 162 games over the course of six months just to get to the playoffs. But the “season” starts well before then. Teams begin signing players they want for their just a few days after crowning the previous year’s champions. The “off-season” doesn’t exist. Just like your business. You’ve got to show up ready to play every day, day after day, all year round.
  2. Team players. Teams covet great players. But more than that, they covet players that complement one another. The best teams aren’t necessarily the ones with the most stars. They’re the ones with the fewest “weak links,” the ones who play to their strengths. You’re not going to be great at everything. But as my Biznology colleague Frank Reed pointed out recently, you’re better off making the most of what you do well and surrounding yourself with people both willing and able to cover for your weaknesses.
  3. The right measures. If you think online marketers like analysis, you’ve never met a baseball fan. Those dudes count everything. But they all do it with an eye to figuring out what wins games (or at least arguments at their local watering hole). As the book and Brad Pitt film Moneyball point out, and as I’m fond of reminding people, “People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins.” Similarly, you shouldn’t think in terms of traffic. You should think in terms of qualified traffic. You shouldn’t think about page views. You should think about bounce rate. You shouldn’t think about clicks. You should think about conversion rate. And micro-conversions (the steps that lead to conversions). And customer segments. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And when you can’t manage, you can’t win.
  4. Adaptability. Anyone who watches baseball with any regularity knows that the team you finish the season with isn’t the one you started with in April. Whether it’s trading non-performers, promoting players from the minors, shifting offensive and defensive strategies or what have you, all contribute to the end result. Likewise, great marketing teams adapt to changing situations and seize opportunities when they pop up. They do it wrong quickly. It’s not to say you shouldn’t have a plan. But, you’ve got to be willing to make changes when your plan isn’t getting you where you want to go.
  5. Hustle. Finally, great teams hustle. You hear it every year. They “want it more” than the competition. Few teams in the playoffs (and few of the folks competing with you) lack real talent — if they did, they wouldn’t be much competition, would they? But to remain consistent, to work well with your team, to measure your successes and learn from your errors, to be willing to change when the situation calls for it, and to do it day after day, all season long, you have to want it. You have to work for it. You have to hustle.
  6. Luck. What? Luck?!? What role does luck play in this? Well, a lot more than we’d all like to admit. But whether it’s a bad bounce on the playing field or a bad economy limiting your options, sometimes some things are beyond your control. I know plenty of businesses who were doing everything right just before the economy cratered in 2008. They didn’t make their own struggles; the plummeting economy did. Except, here’s the thing. To paraphrase one of my favorite maxims, “Luck favors the prepared.” Take care of items 1-5 above and you’ll not only be better prepared to weather some tough times, you’ll also be better prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

Winning might not be the only thing, but whether it’s your marketing, your business, or your favorite baseball team, let’s face it: losing sucks, Happily, the teams in the playoffs offer a model that works for any business. You might not care about baseball. But, when you’re playing for keeps, sometimes it helps to learn from a game.

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About Tim Peter

Tim Peter helps companies put the web to work to grow their business. Since 1995, he has developed innovative e-commerce and digital marketing programs that have delivered billions of dollars in revenues. An expert in e-commerce and digital marketing strategy, Tim focuses on the growth of the social, local, mobile web and its impact on both consumer behavior and business results.

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