Subscribe to these articles:

I promise to poke my eye with a fork before I ever sell or give out your email to anyone.

Business is Not a Football Game

Johnny Molson

Click above to listen

…and it’s not a war either. 

Spend 8 minutes listening to a less-than-mediocre manager, and you’ll likely hear an infernal sports analogy. “See, it’s like this: Ya got yer head coach, that’s me, then ya got a quarterback. He’s the one that makes sure the guy on third doesn’t steal home. Ya get in a huddle, see, and block the forward from making a free throw. And THAT’S how you build a team.”

The purpose of a football team is to win the game.

But you’re not playing a game, and there’s nobody to beat.

The whole thing falls apart when you remember that your job is to help a customer. Your customer needs a root canal, a new air conditioner, or a bag of groceries. Your customer wants legal advice, brakes that stop the car, or a puppy. Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?

Your company’s purpose isn’t to “beat the other team.” Even if you did, there’s nothing to “win.” No trophy to kiss. No Gatorade bath. No ring. 

You win when you view things from the customer’s perspective and make things easier for her. This is not a feel-good philosophy to fill an article. This is called Market Orientation.

A business can choose to focus on making their product better (product orientation), make their sales team more efficient (sales orientation), or choose to serve the customer’s needs (market orientation).

Your customer doesn’t care about your competitors, industry trends, or internal policies. So, why do you?

“Oh, our company is ALL ABOUT customer service.”
I’m sure that you think you are, but your behaviors suggest otherwise. A survey conducted by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland showed that 63% of executives said that understanding customers and acting on that understanding was critical (really? Only 63%?). But in practice, only 24% had a customer-led approach to running their companies. An overwhelming majority of companies like to say that “customer service is #1,” but customers don’t agree. In the 2018 Serial Switchers report, a chilling $75 billion is lost to poor customer service. That’s up $13 billion from the 2016 report.

More than 65% say they will drop you like a sack of hammers if you give them bad service. And they won’t think twice about it.

Your football team sucks.

Market Orientation, as taught from Harvard to Wharton to London School of Business, isn’t about “wow-ing” your customer. It’s about figuring out what the customer wants from you, and how to make it as easy as possible for that to happen. Amazon isn’t dangerous because it’s big or the prices are better. It’s winning because they spend a disproportionate amount of time figuring out how to make things easier for you.

You don’t like using a steak knife to open your packages? OK. Amazon researched and found tape that holds a box together for shipping, but pops open with a simple tear at your house.

You don’t want to click all those pesky links to make your purchase? OK. Amazon made a one-click link.

Wait…let’s make it even easier: How about I just say what I want in the air and it comes to me? “OK,” says Amazon. We’ll do that, too.

Company decisions must be made with the customer in mind, but too often are made with the company in mind. When companies over-weight research, sales, and product, they move further and further from the customer. It may sound somewhat backward, but the numbers are hard to ignore. “…research has shown what intuition suggests—that businesses that are more market-oriented enjoy higher profitability as well as superior sales growth, customer retention, and new product success,” according to Professor John C. Narver, University of Washington and Professor Stanley Slater, University of Colorado.

It’s easy (almost habitual) to say “we need a better product…our salespeople need more training…the marketing department needs more budget…we need more research…” But the hard work is figuring out what the customer needs from you. Then doing that.

You never see that at a football game. Because business isn’t a football game. Your customer doesn’t care if you beat the other guy. Your customer doesn’t care if your team has won the local “Best of Duluth” newspaper award. Your customer…that selfish little snot…only cares about – – – –


If you want to play sports, here’s a link to the CBS Sports Fantasy Football League.

(This also isn’t a “war.” In war, people lose their limbs, mental well-being, and sometimes their lives. Things that never happen at an accounting firm. If you feel you need to go to war, here’s a link to find a recruiter in the U.S. Army. Otherwise, just stop).

In the fog of business, it’s easy to obsess about the product and sales. Naturally, that’s important, and it sure seems like those things are all about helping the customer…but in practice, that’s just not the case.

In their 2017 book “Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It,” Jeffrey and Brian Eisenberg delve deep into just how customer-obsessed a guy like Jeff Bezos really is. And yes, a lemonade stand can do it. Indeed, a little HVAC company in Charlotte, NC went from making under $5 million a year to clocking in at over $100 million.

In Charlotte. North Carolina.

That customer-obsessed story is told here in “Mr. Jenkins Told Me… Forgotten Principles That Will Grow Any Business.”

I’m not here schlepping books for you to read (but those are good ones), but to remind you that constantly operating from the customer-inward, instead of the business-outward, is what’s missing. You don’t need more Xs, Os, and squiggly lines on a whiteboard.

It’s not easy. It takes a long time. Most don’t have the stomach for it. But when it’s done, it works so much better. Every time it’s tried. Every single employee, from the CEO to the receptionist, has to answer these questions:

  • Am I making life better for our customer?
  • Am I making this easier for our customer?
  • When was the last time I talked to my customer about what they need from us?
  • Do I even know what that is? Really?
  • If I don’t know, how can I find out?

Don’t bonus your employees for making more sales. Bonus your employees for doing what’s right.

Can you imagine giving a bonus to a salesperson who says “ya know…what we have isn’t right for you…but here’s the name of a company that can help.”

That salesperson never gets the bonus…but damnit, she should. 

She just scored a touchdown.

Johnny Molson

For a deeper dive on this topic, watch the TV thingy below

Share this article with friends (or enemies, whatev...I don't get involved:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

More articles you'll find helpful...