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Never Punt – Winning by Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Unless you are a hardcore (American) football fan, or happened to just catch the latest episode of HBO Real Sports,  you may have never heard of Coach Kevin Kelley of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock Arkansas.  But if you are a football fan, I’d imagine you may hear about him soon even if you forget about this blog.  You see, Kelley’s teams haven’t punted since 2006.  And in that time he has taken his small 350 kid school into the national top 100 rankings and to 3 state championships while winning well over 90% of his games…

You can Google him and easily learn more…here’s a couple of quotes from a Sept 09 Sports Illustrated Article on Kelley:
“The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn’t make sense to give up the ball,” Kelley says. “Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don’t believe in punting and really can’t ever see doing it again.

and

He means ever. Consider the most extreme scenario, say, fourth-and-long near your own end zone. According to Kelley’s data (much of which came from a documentary he saw), when a team punts from that deep, the opponents will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77% of the time. If they recover on downs inside the 10, they’ll score a touchdown 92% of the time. “So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field. And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It’s like someone said, ‘[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,’ and everyone did it without asking why.”

So what’s going on here and what’s it got to do with this blog, SaaS and Product Marketing?  I think quite a bit.  Here’s why…

Despite the overwhelming evidence and success of his strategy (he also onside kicks on every kickoff and lets opposing punts roll un-fielded) and his growing popularity at coaches clinics and the like, it is not apparent that Kelley has attracted many disciples.  He’s probably OK with that as he is amassing huge competitive advantage over his opponents.  As the SI article continues:

Which is to say that most football coaches aren’t simply averse to risk—no shock, there—but that they make choices at odds with statistical probability, akin to blackjack players standing on 11. The explanation: Subject as they are to scrutiny, coaches have incentive to err on the side of conservatism.

This brings me full circle to one of my favorite topics and soapboxes, Experience Marketing.   While conventional B2B marketing wisdom is that only very well qualified and vetted buyers should see demos or receive trials, without fail, in every scenario I have seen, the number one predictor of sales cycle success is the presence of a trial/POC or other real hands on experience.

Yet I see time and time again, sales and marketing teams in SaaS organizations, that could easily move the trial or experience to the front of the marketing and sales cycle, hang on to conventional wisdom, hiding or gating the actual product experience.  Whether this is because of fear of failure or simple rejection of the new, or concern over investor or CEO second guessing, those in the old product mindset  are punting away opportunity every day.

I have one thing to say to them:  “DON’T PUNT – JUST GO FOR IT “.  Whether that means a try and buy, freemium model or live demo instances, put EXPERIENCE front and center in your go to market strategy and tactics.  IT WILL give you the Kelley No Punt advantage.

It’s no surprise that Kelley is out on the corporate speaking circuit talking about thinking outside of the box.  It’s a simple recipe for winning.  Look at the data. See it in a new way. Change your mindset. Have the courage to ask.  Where else can cloud providers get a Kelley advantage…if you know, act now and win!

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