Why Marketing Is No Longer Like Football

Football season has finally come to a stirring close and while many marketers are weighing in on this year’s Superbowl ads, all that football reminded me of an analogy that I believe is no longer a good one. Sports analogies have been with us since man started competing, and we’ve used those analogies to express business concepts in ways that might make them more easily understood to people who aren’t familiar with a particular business. In that light, football used to be a good analogy for how sales and marketing worked together, especially in BtoB markets.

See if this sounds familiar. Marketing is the quarterback. It calls the play (the marketing program) and passes the ball (a qualified prospect) to the wide receiver (sales) who carries the ball across the goal line (closes the deal). Roles are clear and expectations have been set.

The problem with this analogy is the prospect is a passive object that is acted upon. It implies that the sales and marketing team is actually in total control. But we know that in today’s world the opposite is true. When McKinsey released the Customer Decision Journey report in 2009, it codified what many marketers already knew: Customers don’t behave in a linear way purely in response to stimulus from marketers. Yet many marketers have not changed the way they plan to engage their potential and current customers. Content marketing, social media marketing, content syndication and user-generated ratings and reviews are increasingly critical components of the marketing mix. Yet these activities are understaffed and underfunded in many organizations.

I recently heard someone describe marketing in today’s world as a pinball game. While you can influence where the customer might go in her journey, you can’t control it or completely predict it. It seems a closer analogy than football to marketing reality, but this too has its limitations.

This post is an open call for nominations for the best sports, or non-sports, analogy that will describe sales and marketing in 2012. Feel free to add your suggestion in the comments section or contact me directly. A steak dinner awaits the best nomination!