Every year around this time, I find baseball analogies everywhere. Spring training is underway, and for a baseball fan like me, it’s a hopeful time when my team has the world ahead of it and anything is possible. Everything reminds me of baseball.
That said, business planning and baseball, spring training in particular, have a lot in common. So here’s my list of 9 ways running a business is like baseball.
- Choosing your team – Item one on the spring training agenda is nailing down the roster. Contracts were taken care of over the winter, so teams already know what stars will be playing where. But the utility players, the rookies, and the guys on the verge… Spring training is the time for those players to show managers and coaches what they can do. And for the coaches and managers, they’ve got to look closely at the talent in front of them so they can figure out who’s going to help the team win today and who’s going back to the minors.
Sound familiar? One of the hardest parts of running a business is hiring and managing your staff. Startups have a spring training season of their own, as they hire the first employees who are going to help them make their business a reality.
- Who goes where? – Managers don’t have to just figure out who’s on the team. They have to come up with batting orders and pitching rotations, bench players and scheduling matchups. It requires a lot of planning to assess your team and determine the best way to use it. In baseball, you bat your power hitter in the “cleanup position,” because that’s where he can drive in the most runs. In business, projects go to the best person for the job. Have a big sales pitch? Who’s your cleanup hitter?
- Getting in shape – In baseball, spring training provides a time for players to work out together, getting their bodies and minds ready for the season ahead.
A good company makes sure their employees are “in shape” by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs. Whether this means updating computers or software, offering education and training so your crew can stay abreast of changes in the field, or providing benefits that help you maintain a healthy workplace, staying on top of these issues and making sure everyone’s ‘in shape’ will pay dividends in the long run.
- Changing the plan – In both baseball and business, plans have to be flexible. If something isn’t working, you don’t stick with it just because it’s written in your business plan or on your lineup card. Players get hurt or have slumps or sometimes just don’t perform how you expected. Sales stagnate or market conditions change. Adjusting your plan to the current reality is the only way to stay on top, whether you’re trying to win baseball games or run a business.
- Giving the customers what they want – Every team plays 162 games in the Major League Baseball season, which means 81 home games worth of seats to fill. Baseball team owners are like the owners of any other business — they have to give their customers value. But since they’re not in control of the final result of the game, value means creating an experience. The food, atmosphere, accessibility… Ball park experiences are about more than the game.
How is this like your business? You can’t just think about your product as the be-all end-all. How is it delivered? How do you follow up? The experience your customer has with your company can make or break their overall view of you and your products. Filling the seats isn’t enough. You want those seats filled by people who are happy they came.
- People remember - Baseball fans keep track of things. Lots of statistic-minded fans can tell you the batting average of every player on their favorite team, going back 20 years or more. And it’s not uncommon for serious fans to hold grudges against opposing teams for losses suffered ages ago.
Your customers remember things too. One bad experience and they not only will remember, they’ll tell their friends. Don’t underestimate the power of brand loyalty and word of mouth.
- The power of the pitch – It’s a baseball cliché: Pitching wins ballgames. Not much more to say about it. But do you know how important it is to have a great pitch for your business? Every business owner should be able to describe their business quickly, succinctly, and most of all, interestingly. You never know who you might meet at a party, checkout line, or in an elevator.
- It’s not always glamorous – In fact, lots of people find baseball really boring. Compared to other sports, the pace is kind of slow. But if you really know what to look for, you can pay attention to the game within the game. The strategy, the maneuvers, the nuances… The more you watch, the more you learn and the more enjoyable it is.
Sounds a lot like planning a business, doesn’t it? Crunching numbers is pretty boring, unless they’re your numbers and you have a deep interest in what they mean. Pay attention to the details of your business, and you’ll be rewarded.
- Play a new game every day- A pitcher can give up 10 runs one day and throw a no-hitter in his next outing. Each day is a fresh start, a new opportunity to put another check mark in the WIN column. The best ball players watch video of their own performances, looking for ways to improve what they did yesterday.
The most successful entrepreneurs and business owners do the equivalent. You don’t need video to look back at what you did last year; figure out what went wrong (or right!) and put that to work for your future.
If you learn anything about business from baseball, it should be that planning and adjusting are the keys to success.
And don’t forget the hot dogs.
Palo Alto Software
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