Want to be great at marketing and sales? Think like a college coach.

I was recently invited to speak at a Metro Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce event about storytelling. As the 3rd of 3 speakers on the same topic of storytelling, I knew I better take a unique angle on the topic in order to cover some new ground. I reframed storytelling in a different, perhaps more approachable or understandable context for business owners, small marketing teams and generalists. Here is the story I presented.


The Story on Storytelling

I have spent over 2 decades in marketing and advertising. About 10 years ago people started talking about ‘Storytelling’ like it was the hot new thing in marketing communications. But as the author of 23 years of ad campaigns and marketing programs, I’ll tell you that I don’t think about marketing in terms of storytelling. 

The term ‘storytelling’ is weird for adults. If conjures images of fairytales, campfires, ghost stories, and once-upon-a-time-ness. It can be hard to connect the dots back to business and marketing. Unless, of course, you are Mother Goose, work at Disney, or are one of the Brothers Grimm.

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This is the kind of image the word ‘storytelling’ often conjures. And it is not very businessy. Unless you are in a really weird business.

Reframing Storytelling

If you are struggling with the idea of incorporating storytelling into your work, I want you to think about storytelling another way. I want you to think of business-related storytelling as Recruiting. Because marketing, advertising and sales is really just recruiting:

  • Recruiting customers to your store, show or restaurant.
  • Recruiting shoppers to your shelf.
  • Recruiting clients to your firm or agency.
  • Recruiting voters to the polls to vote for you or your agenda.
  • Recruiting attendees to an event.
  • Recruiting employees to work for you.

Where I learned this

Let’s go back in time to where I learned about marketing as recruiting. It wasn’t at my first advertising job. Or in my college classes. I learned about selling, marketing and advertising from an unexpected teacher: my college track coach.

Mark Napier

Mark Napier, my coach at the University of Wisconsin, was a great track coach. But Mark Napier, was a world class recruiter. To be successful in college athletics you need to be able to recruit great athletic talent. And Coach Napes was masterful at it.

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My college track and field coach, Mark Napier. 

I have bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and psychology. But I earned a master’s degree in selling by studying how Professor Napier recruited. (He wasn’t really a professor. He didn’t even own any elbow patches). 

The Essential Recruiting Technique

You know how Napes recruited top track and field athletes from across the country, the Caribbean, and Europe to come to Wisconsin? Where it snows from October through May?

He told stories. Stories that sold people. The most important lesson I learned from Napes was, know your audience. What do they want? What do they need? Because if you know what they want and what they need you know what to tell them to sell them.

It’s not you. It’s them.

But remember, don’t tell the story you want to tell. It is all about the story they want to hear. When it came to recruiting high school track and field athletes there were many different wants and needs. You had to do your homework to understand their hot buttons. You have to do your own research. You have to observe the athlete. Ask questions. And listen to what they say.

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I helped Coach Napes recruit my teammate Jeremy ‘Shakes’ Fischer, from Los Angeles. Shakes was a 7’4″ high jumper in high school. He is now one of the world’s best jump coaches.

The Prospective College Athlete Hot Buttons May Include:

  • Academic quality and reputation
  • Facilities
  • Proximity to home
  • The athletic program
  • Proximity to Aunt Deanie (my Aunt Deanie lived in Madison and was a draw for me. But many other kids have their own version of Aunt Deanie).
  • The town itself
  • National reputation
  • School size
  • Proximity to stupid high school girlfriends or boyfriends.
  • A particular major or program
  • Family tradition
  • The conference you compete in.
  • Good looking girls
  • Spring training trips
  • Travel schedule
  • The coaches track record of success
  • Ass-Kicking-Ness  (You can tell this by smelling their shoes) 
  • Someone just like them in the program
  • Acceptance/Belonging
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I recruited Napes to have dinner with me in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Pushing The Hot Button

Coach Napes was masterful at discovering the hot buttons of each athlete we were recruiting, and telling them the story they wanted to hear. Or demonstrating it. Or making them experience it.

The Results

As a result were able to successfully recruit national champions from Southern California and from Florida to join our track team in Madison, Wisconsin.

In fact, my junior and senior years we were Big 10 Champions in both indoor and outdoor track. My senior year our team was 6th in the nation. I had 6 teammates who were Division 1 National Champs in their events.

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A bunch of college basketball coaches, all trying to figure out what they are going to tell some 17- year old kid to make him want to come to their school. #UmmWeHaveGreatPizza

Putting Recruiting To Work At Work

You can use the same approach to recruiting in your business. I want you to think of yourself like a Division 1 coach who is trying to attract 5 Star Recruits. For those of you who are sports illiterates, that means you are coaching at the highest level, and recruiting the very best athletes.

Departments or roles that should be recruiting for you:

  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Human Resources

We All Have Needs

It all starts with understanding your potential customer’s wants and needs. Know this and you will know what story to tell. Because in business the only thing that matters is what your audience wants or needs. And whether they think they can get it from you.

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I recruit to my team at The Weaponry by telling people they will smile a lot at work.

This is where the story starts.

Create a persona of the target audience you want to recruit. Understand them in detail.

  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Geography
  • Hot Buttons
  • Pain points
  • Needs
  • Wants

Once you know who you are trying to reach, you talk to them about the things they want to hear.

  • Price
  • Quality
  • Value
  • Style
  • Quantity
  • Fun
  • Innovation
  • Service
  • Community Member
  • Organic
  • Cool Kids
  • Smarter
  • Money Making
  • Satisfaction
  • Track record of Success
  • Happy Customers
  • Ease of Use

Strategy

Find the most compelling story you can tell to make people buy into you and your offering. That is your strategy. Then tell the stories that make you appear more attractive to those you are trying to recruit.

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I still hang with a bunch of impressive Badgers who apply what they learned about college recruiting in their professional careers.

 

Key Takeaways:

Storytelling in business is simply recruiting. It is sharing the great things about you, your organization, your products, and your services, with those you want to attract. Know your audience and what they want. And then show and tell them how you can deliver against their wants and needs. The End.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

How to attract good things by starting early.

I loved my college experience. But when I graduated, I was thrilled to be done with school. Like Alice Cooper. Yet I was far from done with my education. Since I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I have been busy acquiring self-directed micro-degrees. How? First, by making up this silly, but plausible term. Then, by reading. Not just reading for reading. I am constantly looking for new books, magazines and online articles to help me become a smarter, more effective human, a better business person and a more creative thinker.

7 Habits

One of my favorite micro-degrees came from reading  Stephen R. Covey’s classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Reading books like these is akin to taking a college course, only without the chance to meet an attractive co-ed. In fact, I have learned, retained and applied more from books like this than from many of my college courses. (Sorry dude who taught that Emotions class junior year. That was worthless.)

Not Urgent, Not Urgent, No Emergency…

In his best-selling book, Covey introduces a concept that I absolutely love. It’s the idea of spending more time doing things that are important but not urgent. This is really where the magic in your life comes from. When I learned about this concept I realized that I already did a lot of work in this quadrant.

Check out the impressive quads on the chart below.

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The important but not urgent work is the key to all of the good things that have happened in my career. But as I have created and grown The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, this type of activity has been crucial.

Important but not urgent, in action.

I identify talented people who I want to join our team, and begin planting seeds. I plant seeds all the time that I don’t expect to bear fruit, nuts or vegetables for years. In fact, there are talented people in cities across America that I have been talking to about joining The Weaponry,  not in the next weeks or months, but in the next years.  

Why? Because great things often take a long time to develop. So I want to start the process as early as possible. My goal is not only to appear on the radar of talented people, but for the course of these talented people’s careers to begin steering towards me.

I want to create a gravitational pull towards me and my organization. How?  Through early conversations these valued recruits can begin imagining us making magic together. By creating an attractive vision of the future, the people start steering their courses towards this attractive future reality.

The Power Of Advertising

This early recruiting activity works just like marketing and advertising. Because advertising, through brand awareness and brand affinity, begins to create a gravitational pull towards products and services.

I have spent my entire career planting seeds about the merits of various brands. Eventually, by sharing those merits, customers, clients and members find their way to the brands that can help solve their problems or enrich their lives. And everyone wins. This is what I am doing now, both personally and professionally. And you can too.

Key Takeaway

To attract the people you want to surround yourself with, start early. Start well before you need them. Whether you are looking for friends, co-workers or customers, begin recruiting today. Offer others a picture of what a friendship, career or success could look like when you join forces. Do the important work early, before it becomes urgent. Then watch as paths alter in your direction. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see. It’s what highly effective people do. You know, people like you.

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Amanda Peraud and I met last week about the possibility of this senior at Illinois working with The Weaponry. It was a classic important but not urgent activity. Also, Amanda’s cousin Melissa Roth, is a good friend of mine. So this was also classic networking activity.