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Romek Jansen, 01 Nov '15

What Marketers Should Learn From Triathletes

Like a Triathlon, Marketing is a multisport. Here are three valuable lessons you can learn to reach an extreme goal, lying far beyond the horizon.

A couple of years ago I developed a fascination for a book called The Triathlete’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel. The book explains what is required to reach an extreme goal, lying far beyond the horizon.

Joe’s clear suggestions on how to do a triathlon turned out to be invaluable for business too. The book helped me structure my thoughts and set business priorities exactly right. Let me share with you how…

Marketing is a multisport. Like a Triathlon. A good marketer is a multi-skilled individual. Not a jack-of-all-trades, but a Renaissance Man, a polymath, a Homo Marketerus Universalis. A true triathlete of business. 

Just like I would not call everybody who can swim/bike/run a Triathlete (because most 6-year olds can), I would not call everybody who can do simple marketing tasks automatically a Marketer.

Anybody can swim, ride a bike and run, but if you want to become really good at it, it starts to get really complex, really fast. In the months leading up to a triathlon, you need to train, work and sleep, (not necessarily in that order), and eat in between. It requires a big dream, a concrete plan and a lot of focus to succeed. Successful triathletes are obviously great athletes, but they also master the skills of planning and goal management. Joe Friel calls his Triathletes Bible first and foremost a book on planning.

There are many planning lessons I could elaborate on, but just to stay within the Triathlon theme of this blog post, I picked three.

#1.... Have a clear goal

Joe Friel: Most athletes think they have goals. Few really do. What most call goals are actually wishes.

Start asking yourself these simple questions and make your goals concrete; How much? When? Where? And ask them again and again. Without the answers your marketing goal will remain little more than a marketing wish. A simple way to help make goals as concrete as possible is to make them SMART:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
  • Assignable – specify who will do it
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved[spacer height="20px"]

Just using this SMART checklist will keep you away from wishing upon a star.

Now you have a clearly defined goal…

#2. … Only do what is required to achieve your goal

Joe Friel: It took me many years to figure out what I should be doing – only the training that was necessary to achieve my goals. Once I cut off the excessive stuff I got better as an athlete.

If marketing goals are not well formulated, different marketers will understand different things and basically do -with the best intentions- whatever they believe is appropriate.

Poor goal definition unavoidably leads to waste of operational resources. In many customer projects we discovered that about 20% to 40% of all operational tasks could not be linked to a tactical or strategic goal. These marketers spent time on creating generic newsletters or preparing events for poorly defined audiences, while their competitors were taking over the market with highly focused activities.

If resources are wasted on activities that do not serve a higher purpose, they cost money, but don’t create value. Misalignment between strategy and operations destroys company value. And the damage will worsen exponentially over time.

Just stop investing in the 20% or 40% of operational tasks that are not linked to the higher goal, and…

#3 . … Take adequate rest, or you will not improve.

This one might surprise you, but take adequate rest, also as a marketer. The importance of having a clear mind is probably greater in marketing than in most other business disciplines. A clouded mind is no place for creative thinking.

Every once in a while, step back from the operational hustle and bustle, the firefighting and the never-ending stream of new requests. Take some time off to put things into perspective. Are you still following the bigger plan? Is your plan unfolding as expected? Moreover, ask yourself the same questions about the competition; what are their long-term goals? Which concepts are they working on, and is their plan unfolding as expected.

Do not get tangled up in operations time and time again.

With these simple but important rules in mind, many triathletes eventually fulfill their dream of finishing a triathlon. A coach can help develop and manage training schedules and prioritize time investments. Most triathletes do not need a coach to tell them what to do; they need a coach to tell them what NOT to do. It’s an interesting thought in a time when the options in marketing seem to be limitless.

So, before you ask... I never did a triathlon. I bought the book to reach a goal lying far beyond the horizon. I have yet to attempt an actual triathlon because my swimming skills aren’t up to par, along with some other reasons. Apparently, at this point in life, I have different priorities.

For now, it remains a wish and a good reason to occasionally read The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Just to get inspired. About sport. And business.