September 12, 2011
If I were to ask you to tell me which area students are most interested in covering during a sport marketing class, what would your answer be? For many of you, I am guessing that you would probably be like me and list a specific component of marketing (e.g., identifying key target markets or building brand effectively). After all, the students are taking the course to learn about marketing sport organizations, right? This answer is actually completely wrong. While these areas are certainly important, most students are far more interested in learning about concepts that will allow them to market themselves effectively in the future. As an educator, I really can’t blame them for that. However, I can tell you that learning this was an eye opening experience for me.
Based on this assessment, I decided to dedicate this entry to content that will help coaches and professionals understand the importance of “Connecting with Key Stakeholders.” In essence, this is based upon the premise that you cannot effectively build your program if you are not able to market yourself efficiently to the individuals around you (e.g., student-athletes) on a day-to-day basis. In fact, it is my opinion that you cannot be a successful marketer at all if you cannot sell your vision to the important people around you. From a leadership perspective, this takes a unique ability to connect with key individuals on a regular basis.
Building on our previous entry of “Envisioning Elite Status: The Foundation for Legendary Branding,” the development of a sound value system is simply one critical step in the pursuit to build an extraordinary program. And while choosing the right values is an important initiative, it is one that will not take your program to an elite level if you are not able to encourage student-athletes to embrace the program’s vision. To do this, you must take the time to connect with your student-athletes so you can inspire them to reach their full potential in the key program areas.
In my experiences, I have come to realize that “connecting” is something that is often neglected by leaders (administrators, coaches, professors, and many others) when working with people in team environments. The problem with this is that you cannot get the most out of your “followers” if you do not take the time to connect with them on a personal level. Simply put, when you invest in your student-athletes the right way, you give yourself the chance to help your program reach an elite level. Allow me to provide you with an example from personal experience.
A Case Study in Connecting
When I was in high school, I had the chance to wrestle for a Freestyle/Greco coach named Ron Bessemer. From the very first day that I entered the mat room, there was never a moment where I did not feel like his goal was to help me become a better person and wrestler. Even to this day, he is one of the rare individuals that I have ever been around who has the unique ability to elevate the people around him. Just imagine if more coaches were able to achieve this level of leadership. The sport of wrestling would have higher quality competitors, and more importantly, higher quality people.
I can still remember the response that I would get each day when I entered the mat room. In addition to a smile, he would also ask me how everything was going in my life. It is important to note that he would not touch on anything wrestling-related until he asked about family, school, and other areas important to me. Equally important, he always listened well and showed this by remembering past conversations each time that we talked. As a result, he took the first step to connecting with me on a personal level.
After you connect with your student-athletes, the work that you have to do in the room becomes much more efficient. When you connect, you give yourself the opportunity to build trust with each of the members on your team. Once you have trust, then you can ask your student-athletes to do things and they will go “Above and Beyond” for you. With Ron (he allowed us to call him that instead of coach – which I loved), we would have done anything for him because he had showed us that he truly cared about our success. The end result (when combined with proper training) was an environment where student-athletes were allowed to “peak” in all areas of their life.
The Influence of Connecting on Marketing
Some of you might be wondering what this has to do with marketing your program. First, let me say that marketing involves putting together a product that is desirable to your consumers. So, when you get things right as a leader, you most definitely will have a more exciting team to watch during competition. However, this is only one benefit that connecting brings to your marketing efforts. Through this mentality, you are provided with a platform to encourage student-athletes to “buy-in” to the different core values that you and your staff have developed. Relating back to Ron, his vision was always my vision because of the investment that he made in me. As a result, we embraced all aspects of his program because we trusted him.
And finally, allow me to provide you with one last thought to consider. As you move forward, many of your initiatives to build your program will depend on your ability to connect with people. I mean think about it for a second. Most coaches would agree that sustainability and growth is a primary goal for nearly every program in the country. And we would also agree that this takes administrator support, right? Well, this pursuit is heavily dependent on your ability to connect and build a strong relationship with your senior administrators. With marketing being a “people-based” endeavor, you could make the same argument for most key areas involved in the marketing process.
My hope is that you have started to to realize the importance of having sound people skills. The ability to connect truly will influence the growth that you realize in all areas of your program. Once you grasp this concept, you are on your way to creating a program (and product) that will be desirable to all of your key market segments. I look forward to discussing strategies to connect in future entries so you can take your program to an elite level!
“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care about them” (Zig Ziglar)