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What the Super Bowl Can Teach Us About B2B Marketing

March 5, 2024   Posted By Joel Goldstein

About 110 million people around the world watched the Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl yesterday. Some of us watched because we’re football fans; some watched just for the commercials.

Regardless of what you were waiting to see or which team you were hoping would win, there’s an interesting parallel between the Super Bowl and B2B marketing. Should we all replace our corporate managers with athletic coaches?

It’s a crazy idea at first glance, until you realize there’s a growing body of work being published by those who study corporate performance that this is a good idea. The way to create high-performance teams, they say, is to have the team run by people who are skilled at elevating performance, whether on the field or in the conference room. And many are pointing to coaches as those who are more skilled at doing this than business leaders.

Lessons from the Sidelines

B2B marketing leaders are constantly on the hunt for strategies to elevate their teams’ performance and drive growth. Typically, we’re looking for some new technology, new message, new platform. But what if growth is found in new leaders instead? Does this offer a better playbook for scaling your company? Will this help us hire better cultivate talent and enjoy better execution?

In fact, building a high-performance B2B marketing team has never seemed more challenging:

  • The labor market remains tight
  • Surveys show employees are increasingly unengaged
  • Technology platforms are constantly shifting
  • AI is re-defining everything we do
  • The imperative to show ROI has never been higher

But we’re not talking about really replacing your existing managers (although the virtual assistant platform Time Etc. recently did just that!). The better question is, how can we apply the principles coaches use to elevate performance among athletes to our own teams and, as a result, boost marketing performance? What do coaches have to teach us?

Acting as Coaches Rather than Managers

Athletic coaches excel in creating environments where players reach their highest potential, adapt strategies swiftly, pivot at halftime, and work as a cohesive unit toward common goals. These qualities are directly translatable to B2B marketing, of course, where innovation, adaptability, and teamwork are key to success. For managers, it’s a mindset shift:

  • Managers tend to monitor, control, and dictate from above; coaches are skilled at empowering, mentoring, and offering encouraging feedback
  • Managers tend to dictate from above; coaches tend to help identify ways the individual performs best in autonomous environments
  • Coaches are laser-focused on training and support
  • Coaches excel at group and individual goal setting and communicating common objectives to the broader team

Performance leaders point to four ways managers can revise their approach to mimic coaches and get more results from their teams:

  • Performance Improvement. Coaches have a keen eye for identifying and nurturing talent, pushing individuals beyond their perceived limits. In B2B marketing, this translates to developing a deeper understanding of each team member’s strengths and crafting personalized development plans that challenge them to grow and contribute at their highest level.
  • Adaptability and Resilience. The ability of coaches to modify game plans on the fly based on the opponent’s strategy or game dynamics is a valuable lesson for marketing executives. B2B marketing success today is heavily reliant on the team showing these skills, as they must be agile, able to pivot based on market feedback and respond to competitive moves or changes in customer behavior.
  • Fostering a Winning Culture. The best sports teams are those with a strong sense of identity and unity, driven by a culture that celebrates collaboration, perseverance, and shared success. Do you have those values and behaviors in your own team culture? Doing so enhances creativity, loyalty, and a shared drive toward winning together.
  • Leadership Development. Coaches are not just strategists; they are mentors who prepare their players for leadership roles. Marketing team leaders must act as mentoring coaches, equipping team members with the skills and confidence to take on leadership positions in the future.

Questions from the Coach

As you think about making this leadership mind-shift from manager to coach, what questions can you ask yourself – and your team – to help instill this type of approach?

  • What are the individual motivations and learning styles of each member of your team? What customized program can you put in place that will drive continuous improvement, engagement, autonomy, and results?
  • Does your culture prioritize flexibility and innovation, and celebrate shared success?
  • How well does your organization uncover market and customer feedback in order to make real-time adjustments to initial plans?
  • How can you create team bonding and collaboration structures on the team to build team cohesion? How do you celebrate milestones together to build a sense of accomplishment and unity?
  • How do you use failures as learning opportunities to drive innovation in an environment that treats failures as opportunities to improve rather than debilitating setbacks?
  • Are you investing adequately in leadership skill development on your team to prepare them for future advancement? This not only aids in succession planning but also ensures that the team remains dynamic, with fresh ideas and perspectives.

The parallels between being a great coach and a great manager aren’t all that different. So much is tied to the emotional intelligence of the manager and the culture’s ability to foster and grow that approach at the expense of the hierarchical, tightly controlling organizational structure. Often, it’s the difference between continuing along with the same mid-level results and achieving truly ground-breaking wins worthy of lofting your own version of the Lombardi Super Bowl trophy.

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