People Need to Belong

People need to belong. This inherent need and desire doesn’t mean actually be possessed by someone, but rather be in relationship to and linked to other people. I got to thinking about this the other day when I was talking to someone about selling to different groups of people (we both work in the sport and entertainment industry). We happen to live in a very diverse area where there are many different nationalities and ethnicities of people, where every continent in the world is represented, including many different countries from all continents. Ok, maybe not Antarctica, but wouldn’t it be pretty cool to meet a native Antarctican? Haha – see what I did there…pretty COOL. And is Antarctican the right way to say this? Anyway, moving on.

The Psychological Aspect

The idea that people need to belong has apparently been studied by psychologists for over 100 years, which just goes to show how important and universal this feeling we all have is within us. Some of the research I’ve read has indicated that it all boils it down to the fact that belonging helps us survive. When you belonged to a group or tribe in the ancient times your likelihood of survival was much greater. It meant you had protection from enemies and help looking for food. Being with others meant you were more likely to survive. We still face many threats in our modern society now, however the shape of those threats has changed over time.

The sense of belonging is so strong that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs indicates a sense of belonging as the third most important aspect of human life right after basic needs such as food, water, clothing and safety. Yeah, the fact that people need to belong is a big deal.

Belonging from a Business Perspective

My thinking about this inherent desire to belong is very closely related to business. In short, the sport and entertainment industry gives people a place to belong. Whatever it is that you’re interested in, you can belong here. At our events, you can belong and be in community with other people who you know you have at least one thing in common. Whether that is a concert, a family show, a sporting event, a banquet, a movie screening, a comedy show, a convention…when you’re here, you belong.

I see this sense of belonging and see the joy it brings to people every time I work an event. When you see people “in their element,” they look different. They smile. They stroll confidently. They jump up and down. They hug and kiss. You can tell they’re having a great time.

Niche Audiences

This is especially true for events that serve a very niche type of audience. I’m thinking specifically of comic book conventions, homebrewing conventions, crossfit competitions, tattoo festivals, dance festivals, political events and other niche events that serve a very specific audience. When these people get together, regardless of the type of things or ideas that bring them together, they feel like they belong to something greater than themselves. You personally may not agree with or engage in these types of activities, but for the people that do, that’s their “it” factor. That’s their zone. That’s where they feel normal and excited to talk and express who they are inside.

It’s probably a little bit easier to see how sports can bring people together…most of the readers of this blog probably know this very well. I wrote about this when the Seahawks went to the Super Bowl a few years ago.

Circling Back

Now think about what your hobbies are or what you get excited about and how you feel when you connect with someone who enjoys or does the same things. For the people that like things that are “different” than say what YOU like or enjoy, they get just as excited about their stuff as you do about your thing. So when it comes time to sell tickets or promote or market an event that’s going down, get excited about it because you’re giving someone a place to belong!

The great part about the work that I do is that I get to be part of an organization that gives people that place to belong. That place to be themselves and with others like them.

We’re all human.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

College Sports: Will it Survive?

This conversation is happening in every collegiate athletics department around the country right now. My answer as to will college sports survive is yes, but…

The only way college sports will survive is if every department evaluates what is truly at the heart of what they do, recognizes what is most important and makes that a priority.

Every. Day. Of. The. Year.

What might you ask is at the heart of college sports? Community.
What is most important? Real connections with real people. Again, community.

Make that the focus and the priority and everything else will fall into place. College sports will survive if each department recognizes what really makes them great and what they really stand for. Every employee. Every day. All year. All conversations. With everyone you meet.

Is the competition aspect important? Yes. But it’s not everything. The community is everything.

College sports are unique and some legendary programs now span centuries of active existence and participation. And yet for some that legacy is in jeopardy. For others, they’re more confident now than they’ve ever been and they continue to reinvest in their communities.

I’ll say it again: College sports will survive if the executives in charge put community at the heart of everything they do and make their work about the community and nothing else.

Is money important. Yes, absolutely.

Are expenses real and growing every year, if not every month or day? Yes, absolutely.

So what do I mean by community?

I mean the collection of people who all believe in something greater than themselves. The community of alumni, employees, friends, fans and citizens that come together to celebrate the culture that exists around the competition.

This topic is somewhat controversial and may stir some people the wrong way, but over the next few months, I’ll be exploring why and how I think college sports can survive. The grand summary of how college sports will survive is community.

Community is service to others.
Community is acceptance.
Community is celebration.
Community is core values.
Community is academia and business coming together.
Community is people connecting at a higher level.

Community is love.

Effective Onboarding of New Employees

Employee Handbook, Effective Onboarding of New Employees
An employee handbook can be a valuable tool used to communicate company culture.

Think back to your first day at the job you currently have…and the first day of the job you had before that…what was it like when you started? Who was the first person to greet you and say hello? Were you required to spend some time with HR or did you dive right into the work? Was your desk or office ready for you? Were you given some sort of employee handbook to review, outlining various organizational operating policies? How about an office supplies catalog from which to order whatever you need?

What was the rest of your first week like? Your coworkers friendly and asking you out to lunch to get to know each other? Clients calling you to meet about what they have going on with their current/next campaign? Vendors stopping by to say hello? Other department members with whom you’ll be working stopping by to introduce themselves?

I hope you had a pleasant first day, first week, that set the tone for things getting started on the right foot. If not, hopefully you’re doing what you can to make it better for all of the other employees that start new at your same employer…trying to make things better for them and improving what wasn’t great for your first day and week.

Recently, I came across the blog of the CEO of Gibson Insurance, an insurance agency in South Bend, IN. Here is a link to that post: Strategies for Effective Onboarding. First of all, I think it’s great that someone at that level actually maintains a digital presence and secondly, actually considers the company culture, especially as it pertains to onboarding new employees. The way your company operates and treats its new employees says a great deal about how employees are valued, new as well as established and tenured.

At the very least, here are few ways to make sure your new employees have a great first day.
– Make sure their desk or office are completely setup with appropriate furniture
– Make sure their phone, voicemail and email accounts are all ready to go live, once the employees passcodes and passwords are set manually
– Assign someone (if not the hiring manager) to greet the new employee when they arrive; this person should also show them their new work space and introduce them to the other employees in the office or building(s)
– Arrange for a tour of the building or campus, if necessary
– Provide them with access to all necessary and critical software, hardware and other programs that require credentials to access (including special access badges and proximity cards)
– If your organization has an employee handbook, this should also be presented on the new employees first day (ideally this is a living document that is regularly updated, but not so exhaustive that it covers every detail, except where appropriate)

I know that the readers of Bill’s Sports Business Blog are in constant search of improvement and seek to be the change they want to see in the world, so I hope you take time to consider the image your organization is making with its new employees. You only have one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it’s a good one.

Go Forth and make a difference!

Community: My Perspective on Seattle’s “12’s”

Email From Seattle Seahawks Owner Paul Allen
Email from Paul Allen to Seahawks Fans , Thanking Them

I must say that it was pretty cool to live in near a city whose team went to the Super Bowl. Twice. Yes, I’m referring to the Seattle Seahawks who went to Super Bowl XLVIII and WON and Super Bowl XLIX and lost. I didn’t write about this last year, but never underestimate the power of your community. If you take nothing else away from this post (or really anything I write about on this blog) remember that you can never invest enough in relationships and community. Take care of people. Embrace your community. Tell people how you feel about them – especially when it’s something good! Develop rapport and a connection with your people that lasts beyond the field. (Good also for personal relationships…)

The Seattle Seahawks have had a great following on loyal fans for decades, but it was really quite something to witness what has happened over the last year and a half. Pretty much right at middle of last (2013-2014) season, once things started picking up steam in the community and it seemed more and more that the team was continuing to do well and a playoff berth was likely and then guaranteed. Of course the regular fans were already BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and couldn’t stop talking about the team, but as things started getting more exciting at the end of the season, non-fans started getting on the bus too! By the time the Seahawks beat the New Orleans Saints on January, 11th, 2014 I’d say the excitement was red-hot. Then when they beat the San Francisco 49ers, arguably their biggest rival, on January 19th, 2014 the excitement quickly shot through the roof to white-hot and the most incredible feeling anyone in this area has ever had, or at least as far as community/sports feelings go

The feeling of excitement around town and throughout the region was incredible. People were wearing their jerseys and hats non-stop, not just on “Blue Friday” or over the weekend – but literally every single day of the week. The team was selling more and more hats and scarves, stickers, car flags, large flags, and every other possible piece of merch you can think of – it was Seahawks swag everywhere! The fans of the Seattle Seahawks literally painted the state of Washington Blue. Even down into Oregon and over to Idaho you’d see the “12’s” jerseys walking around everywhere. It was really fun to see.

Then of course after the Super Bowl victory, the real party began – WE’RE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!!! The next three days were a fog for most people until the day of the celebration parade in the middle of the week following. The parade was supposed to start around 1230pm or 1pm and you’d figure there’d be quite a few people there and a little bit of media coverage, but literally the party started the night before. Police probably started shutting down streets downtown around midnight and people were literally camping on the sidewalks along the parade route. The weather that night was clear but terribly cold – one of the coldest nights/days we had all winter last year – but that didn’t stop these avid fans from claiming their real estate on Seattle’s sidewalks.

If that wasn’t enough, or maybe as a result of all the excitement, local news coverage began a constant stream around 9am and didn’t end until probably 5pm with the evening news. All of the regular scheduled programming that day was cancelled so that each station could cover the story of Seattle’s Super Bowl Parade. By the end of the parade, there are said to have been around 1 million people in the streets and stadiums of Seattle that day. Oh, and by the way, the population of Seattle is only about 700,000 people…so that just goes to show the strong following and sense of community the Seahawks have built in this region.

This past season was very much the same. The disappointment of the Seahawks loss to the New England Patriots was as painful to most fans as last year’s victory was exciting. There are only a few games I’ve ever witnessed and felt such a sinking feeling as I did on Super Bowl Sunday this year. Even still, that feeling doesn’t take away from the excitement leading up to this year’s game and the sense of pride in our community that was tangible. There were still the car flags, the stickers, the flags outside of homes, the lights in the skyscrapers in the shape of “12” – really cool by the way – and all kinds of people wearing the Blue and Green. Overall, the sense of togetherness and bonding was incredible.

But how does one accomplish such a sense of community? Well, look at what the Seahawks have done and continue to do – they gave their fans a name (the 12’s), they told them what to do (create the loudest stadium in sports, which on a few occasions registered on the Richter scale as if it were an earthquake), and they tell them how much they appreciate them being fans on a regular occasion (as evidenced by the email I got at the top). It’s really that simple. Give you fans a name, tell them what to do (How to be a Fan 101) and tell them that you appreciate them. I know it sounds simple, but that’s really all it takes. Sure, there’s alot of work built into those, but it’s still simple. It’s not complex. You can get a whole lot more complicated from there, but that’s really the basic formula. Give them what they want and encourage them along the way to get them to do what it is that you want them to do, then thank them for consuming your product and being there. Every person inside your organization ought to follow the same instructions and know what it is that your organization stands for and why. Regardless of what happens on a field, it’s personal interactions that people are going to remember no matter what your athletes do. Treat people with respect. Tell them you appreciate them.

Go Forth!

Sport CRM – Customer Relationship Management

CRM opt-in page
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Opt-In Information Form

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

True in many areas of life and especially in (sports) business. If you always take out the same ads, do the same promotions or hand out the same fliers, nothing will change and you’ll likely see the same or similar revenue numbers year in and year out. If you don’t change anything up, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

So how do you get more without jeopardizing the integrity of your organization? Three little words – customer relationship management.

The purpose of any business is to provide value in the marketplace to its consumers by offering products or services. In order to dig in to this a little more, I’ll assume you are affiliated with a team or organization already in existence and already doing business. In order to grow from wherever it is that you are now, you’ve got to learn as much about your customers as you can. You have to make it a priority to know everything you can about them. If all you know is their email and mailing addresses, then great. You know how to get a hold of them.

Quite honestly, in this day and age, that’s not enough. The digital age we live in has shaped our fans into beings that have come to expect personalized service, pricing and attention. The more you know about your fans, the better you’ll be able to serve them exactly what it is they desire from your organization. Outside of the performance of the team, you have the ability to customize absolutely every aspect of the fan experience and it all starts with CRM – customer relationship management.

Just as your team operations staff and coaches are dissecting every move of their athletes, so should you be gathering data and dissecting every move of your fans and customers. This might sound shady, but it’s not. People share all kinds of information online every single day with numerous entities that track their every move, search query, transaction and click, often without knowing. Even when they do find out that they are being tracked online, most people don’t care or perhaps do exercise some caution, but still continue to browse and click. The people who don’t use the internet at all are probably becoming fewer and fewer as we progress as a society.

If you can afford it, just go buy the data on your fans. Yes, it’s possible. There are several companies that specialize in collecting consumer information from 3rd parties and then turn around and sell that information to companies looking to build CRM systems and learn more about their customers. They collect demographic information including everything from household income, job titles, property and real estate valuations, cars driven and even some pyschographic information such as which social networks are used, what they type into search engines, what their political views are and so on.

If you can’t afford to buy your customers’ data, just ask them straight up. (Be careful though…even when people give up a lot online, most people are still a little sensitive when answering direct questions) There are plenty of free and low-cost survey tools out on the internet, so find a marketing or statistics professor or graduate student to help you pull together a list of valid and reliable questions and ask your fans through email. Start with your season ticket holders, then move on to your mini-plan buyers, your single game ticket buyers and eventually everyone that buys merchandise from you online. You can collect their information during checkout, include a link to the survey on their online invoice/receipt, track their responses by group and come up with some idea of who these people are that attend your games.

That’s the first part of customer relationship management – getting their information.

The second part of customer relationship management is the analysis of that information and interpretation of your findings into something meaningful for the organization and for your fans. This is also called data mining. Do your fans like a certain type of music? Play that during time outs. Do they purchase tickets at certain times of day – say lunch time or late at night after the kids go to bed? Hire extra staff at lunch and make sure your website works. Do they buy more colored shirts than white? Print t-shirts in every color possible. Do they watch certain TV channels that you might want to advertise on? Place your ads on those networks and perhaps their websites too – every hear of “on demand?” This is just the tip of the iceberg, so really dive in and take your time with this process.

Furthermore, don’t forget about good old fashioned phone and face-to-face conversations. You can learn a great deal about someone just by asking them questions. The more personal you get with your fans, the more personal they’ll likely get with you. Your CRM system will also track those conversations for you so you can always make sure everyone on your staff has the most up-to-date information about every one of your customers.

Your job as someone who works in sports, at least on the business side, is to make it as easy as possible for your fans to get what they want – tickets, food, swag, you name it. You want a low barrier of entry to what it is that you offer. No matter what sport and no matter what level, you are there to provide something of value that other people want. Collect customer information. Analyze your data. Provide better value and service.

Go Forth!