Baseball and other team sports are more than relaxing, entertaining social experiences. In fact, they’re great metaphors for business success.
Wins mean stronger relationships with fans, whose enthusiasm generates sponsorships and sales of tickets and memorabilia, etc. The same is true in business: “CX wins” mean stronger relationships with customers — which generates more predictable, profitable sales growth — which generates stronger relationships with employees and investors.
Your growth at every level — financially, reputationally, professionally, and personally — is superior when customer, employee, and partner experience are managed as a team sport.
When you stop to think about it, there are many important parallels between any team sport and superior customer experience, employee experience, and partner experience.
In baseball, every player is essential to winning a game. Poor performance in any team role can reverse previous gains in a game. This is true in customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), and partner experience (PX). Poor performance in any role within a company can reverse previous gains in your brand’s reputation, attractiveness, retention, profitability, and growth.
Do you remember the movie, Moneyball? It’s the true story about how the Oakland A’s baseball team discovered a predictable method to win games by optimizing players. It revealed outdated, subjective thinking that was prevalent in baseball management. What we can borrow from Moneyball for customer experience ROI is not about how we acquire talent, but rather, how every player uses CX insights (and EX and PX insights) to guide their performance. It’s radical thinking that’s long overdue.
A baseball team is a metaphor for superior CX, EX, PX across 16 essential roles:
- General Manager: oversees all aspects of on-field team strategy, lineup selection, training and instruction.
This is like your C-suite (e.g. determining mission, structure, resource allocation, policies). Ideally, your C-suite bases their decisions on CX+EX+PX expectations — especially these 3 stakeholders’ intended outcomes from their relationship with your brand. In the best-performing businesses for CX+EX+PX, this defines their North Star for guiding every decision.
- Runners: when players are in offense mode they each get a turn to hit the ball and run the bases. The opposing team tries to limit runners’ progress.
This is like Sales to customers (e.g. filling the funnel (bases are loaded) and closing the deals (crossing home base)). It’s also like recruiting and onboarding employees and partners, who help you “hit the ball and run the bases”. Runners in baseball know that a home run translates to 4 points when the bases are loaded. Similarly, a lifetime value mindset among Sales, HR, Partner Management — and everyone else in your company — is key to generating highly profitable customers, employees, and partners.
- Hitting Coach: guides players in offense mode about batting mechanics, plate discipline, and preparation for opposing pitchers’ techniques.
This is like Marketing (e.g. market intelligence, segmentation, lead generation). Ideally, Marketing uses their prowess not only for external success, but also to help the whole company tune-in to evolving marketplace dynamics.
- Base Coaches: when players are in offense mode the first base coach guides runners from the time they exit the batter’s box until they commit themselves to second base. In offense mode, the third base coach guides runners after they leave first base until they leave third base to score.
This is like Supervisors delivering what’s promised to employees and it’s like Engineering and Manufacturing (e.g. product/service/solution development and deployment) developing what’s sold to customers. Ideally, customer insights are the basis for solution development and approval gates.
- Team Physician: addresses the physical and psychological needs of players.
This is like Safety and HR (e.g. talent acquisition, development and compensation). Accordingly, HR should ensure that all talent is well poised for every CX+EX+PX opportunity. This means recognition and advancement criteria, etc., stimulate cross-functional collaboration for superior end-to-end experience of customers (as the source of salaries and budgets) and employees and partners.
- Pitching Coach: makes decisions about the starting pitcher, relief pitchers, and closing pitcher, and also instructs the pitcher on mechanics, pitch selection (fast ball, curve ball, etc.), with insights into weaknesses of opposing hitters.
This is like Strategic Planning (e.g. SWOT, long-range and short-range plans, acquisitions, mergers, divestitures). What if SWOT analysis started with core-growth customers’ views, followed by your own views? This nuance in starting every strategy with customer insights is likely to have far-reaching implications toward customer-centricity and the ultimate strategy of almost-automatic experience excellence.
- Pitcher: delivers the ball to home plate, catches pop flies, sends dribbles and bunts to basemen, and backs up the catcher.
This is like Operations (e.g. coordinating and deploying resources and workflows). For optimal efficiency and effectiveness, Operations embraces CX+EX+PX insights and rallies resources accordingly.
- Catcher: catches pitches, relays pre-play signs to the pitcher, and gets the ball to or from the other players as needed.
This is like your Experience Management Team (CX, EX, PX) (e.g. radar for the company’s movements via VoX, closing gaps in a pinch via Support, inspiring experience design and engagement internally and externally).
- First Baseman: receives majority of throws in a game to squelch competitors’ first play, stays close to the base to receive throws from right/center field and send to catcher.
This is like Finance (e.g. accounts receivable and payable, audit and tax, budgeting and reporting). When you step back and think about it, Finance policies and processes should embrace CX+EX+PX insights as the ultimate risk reduction guide: minimizing waste and maximizing value.
- Second Baseman: stands between first and second base, covers second base on stealing attempts and on double plays when the ball is hit to shortstop, cuts off line drive hits toward right field or center, receives balls from outfield to send infield.
This is like Quality (e.g. process improvement, monitoring incoming and outgoing performance to specs). Ideally, Quality advocates a prevention mindset: preventing recurrence of prevalent issues affecting CX+EX+PX. Even better is preventing issues from occurring in the first place. Prevention is the path to the largest gains in CX, EX, & PX, and hence, to the highest ROI and sustained growth in both revenue and profit.
- Shortstop: stands between second and third base, covers second base when the ball is hit to the second baseman, cuts off line drive hits toward left field, receives balls from outfield to send infield.
This is like Field Management (e.g. warehousing, spares, onsite service). Policies, processes, and performance in Field Management are like a boomerang: what goes around comes around.
- Third Baseman: fields balls hit to the left infield beyond the shortstop’s range (known as “hot corner” due to high velocity balls, so great reflexes are needed), fields bunts and throws to third base on stolen base attempts and force-out opportunities (has strongest throwing arm in the infield due to need to throw across the infield).
This is like Legal (e.g. advise and ensure rights, responsibilities, and duties per regulations and laws). Risks are mitigated not only by ethical and legal behaviors, but also by walking the talk.
- Right Fielder: catches any ball hit on the right side of the outfield grass (has strongest throwing arm due to distance from third base), backs up first and second basemen on throws from pitcher or catcher.
This is like Supplier Management (e.g. purchasing, inventory and vendor development). One of the best influences Supplier Management can have on growth via CX+EX+PX is to shift from pressuring suppliers to empowering suppliers. Since you depend on suppliers’ efficiency and effectiveness, share CX+EX+PX insights with them as part of your ecosystem. Love your suppliers if you hope your customers love you.
- Center Fielder: acts as leader on the outfield to coordinate which fielder catches the ball, backs up the right fielder or left fielder as needed (most athletic fielder due to need to cover the most ground).
This is like IT (e.g. developing and maintaining information systems). In addition to smoothing silos via digitalization, it’s important to remember that perfect experience management technology doesn’t guarantee perfect experiences for customers, employees, or partners.
- Left Fielder: catches any ball hit on the left side of the outfield grass (has weakest throwing arm due to proximity to third base where many runners attempt to advance during fly balls), backs up third baseman on throws from pitcher or catcher.
This is like Alliances and Affiliates (e.g. development partners, distributors, etc.). Minimizing dysfunction for your partners is a key to improving CX and EX.
- Equipment Manager: arranges team’s equipment, uniforms and materials for practices and games.
This is like Facilities (e.g. acquiring and maintaining spaces and equipment for work and storage). This role has a greater impact than one might expect on CX and EX, brand reputation, and productivity.
A baseball team with weaknesses in any of these roles might outperform their local league, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll reach their full potential until every role is synchronized. Conversely, when all players are performing with unified vision and collaboration for CX+EX+PX, they’re far more likely to win the World Series!
Every player knows that their performance — both individually and collectively — is what wins the game. Standards for performance are not “someone else is handling that” or “that’s what we’ve always done” or “it’s what every team/business in our league/industry is doing”, nor based on a personal agenda. Stellar performance is based on (CX+EX+PX) insights.
- For employees, ease of work is a team sport because it’s dependent upon all the players in your company being attentive to employees’ intended outcomes.
- For customers, suppliers, and partners, ease of business is a team sport for the same reason.
Managing CX, EX, or PX as an individual sport allows huge waste. It creates unnecessary silos. It encourages “throwing things over the wall” and disrespecting interdependencies. It’s focused more on value-rescuing and short-term gains rather than value-creating and relationship strength that withstands tough times for lifetime value that sustains your growth.
Individual sport mentality for CX+EX+PX is evident when you manage these areas as “programs”. It exists when everyone else in your company excuses themselves from absorbing adopting, and applying CX+EX+PX insights in their strategies and daily decisions.
Following the team’s playbook is as important as competitive savvy, sharp instincts and quick reflexes. Aligned motivations, attention to fellow players’ situations, respect for role interdependencies, personal accountability, and continual readiness to collaborate are absolute musts on the baseball field AND in business.
In your role leading CX, CS, EX, PX, or Marketing, these competencies are your next horizon: to reach your company’s potential, your team needs to learn how to influence these competencies company-wide.
Superior performance means your team outperforms your competitors. This happens predictably when you’ve established almost-automatic experience excellence. This is how you win a sports championship. In business, superior performance in CX+EX+PX is how you win market share, relationship strength, share of wallet, organic engagement, and sustained profitable growth.
When your favorite baseball team is winning, the peanuts and Cracker Jacks taste even better. When your company is winning in customer experience, that makes the employee experience even better. This is how CX is a lot like baseball. It’s time to truly make customer experience a team sport.
Now it’s your turn: What’s your favorite parallel between team sports and CX, EX & PX?