It’s not enough to stand in their shoes


Are you seeing the problem as the client sees it, or as you would see it if you were them?

In The Numbers Game, Sally and Anderson put together a pretty convincing case that football teams are only as good as their worst player. Lionel Messi is in your team, but he never receives the ball. Your midfielders can’t get past the opposition, so Messi is ineffective.

If Messi frequently receives the ball, he’ll subsequently score. But, your full backs are error prone, and these errors often lead to ‘soft goals’. All the work put in to score a goal is undone in a split second by one mistake at the back.

In an interview with the authors, they were asked if they had approached any English Premier League (EPL) clubs with their findings, or if they had been approached. The answer was that very few EPL clubs were interested in talking. Of the few that they’d spoken with, no action was taken by club to implement the findings in their transfer policy.

It turns out that club owners had no interest in creating a winning team.

You didn’t understand what they want

In team sports, there are two ends of the spectrum with regards the impact that one individual has on the team. Football is on one end where the team is as good as its weakest player, whilst basketball is at the other end where the team is as good as its strongest player.

With a team of average NBA players, throw LeBron into the mix and it’s likely you have a team that can compete in the Playoffs because basketball is a highly individual team sport. There are fewer players, and it’s far easier to get a key player into the game within one or two passes. In seconds, you can go from one end of the court to the other and score.

In football, the pitch is bigger and there are more players and opportunities for play to breakdown. A lot can happen before the ball gets to a high quality player in a position where he or she can score or create a goal.

Why don’t EPL clubs implement the findings in their transfer strategy? Is it because they don’t believe in data analytics? That may be true for some football managers and coaches with a more traditional approach to the game, but what about club directors and owners? Other than the odd Oligarch, these people are usually successful businessmen and women that tend to act on good data.

The problem doesn’t lie in the data, it’s that EPL clubs and directors aren’t in the business of winning football matches, they’re in the business of building brands and making money.

Most EPL clubs focus their transfer activity on buying star players, usually attacking players that score or create goals. With their findings, Sally and Anderson presumed that some clubs would change their policy upon receiving the findings. Identify the weakest player on the team, replace that player, then do the same with the next transfer.

This would assume that clubs work towards the goal of improving their football team on the pitch, but that’s not the case, certainly not in the EPL. They want to build their fanbase and social following. They want to sell more shirts and sponsorships.

Manchester United need new defenders to improve their team. They need to improve the fluidity and balance of their midfield. But, they don’t address these issues in the latest transfer market. Instead, they buy a striker for £80,000,000 or find a new winger that they don’t need and pay him £400,000 per week. By their high standards, the team stagnates, but the revenue and profit of Manchester United has never been healthier.

Manchester United have a lower chance of winning the Premier League or Champions League than they would with a new centre back, but, the directors are fine with that. They can’t tolerate a dramatic drop in the teams performance, for example if they were to drop out of the Champions League season after season or worse get relegated from the EPL, but they don’t need to win it. What they need is more superstar players with millions of followers across the globe that help build the Manchester United brand. Because a bigger brand means bigger revenues, and bigger revenues means the share price goes up.

Seeing things as they see it

We make this type of wrong assumption all of the time with our own clients. We think that our clients will love what we have to sell them, and for some reason they don’t buy. Often, they won’t tell you the real reason that they won’t buy. They may not know the real reason.

The truth is, you’re not selling them a solution to a problem that they believe they have. You didn’t truly understand what their problem was. You thought that they had a problem on the pitch, that they could improve their team by changing their transfer policy. But that’s not their problem as they see it. It’s their problem as you see it.

You were thinking about how you would feel if you were in their position rather than how they feel in their position. If you were in their position, you’d interpret your problem as the team’s performance on the pitch, and solution to winning more games is attractive. But their problem as they see it is they aren’t maximising the revenue of their asset. Whilst their open to improving performance on the pitch, they’re not interested in a solution which conflicts with their overarching goal of increasing the share price.

Marketing is about creating solutions to solve a problem for a specific group of people. If you can first identify their key objectives and subsequently what they view as their biggest problems, you can start down the path of creating solutions that are easier to sell.

Are you seeing the problem as the client sees it, or as you would see it if you were them?

Avatar By Liam Curley

Are you looking for ways to find more sales leads? This site is for you!

Liam CurleyHi I’m Liam. I created this site to help businesses in B2B make the initial breakthrough with prospective customers that are otherwise unaware of what you can do for them –  You can read more about my background here.

Join the Newsletter

Get tips on how to improve your marketing results based on proven consumer psychology and behavioural economics.

Recent Blog Posts