Home Ice (Issue 538)

In which we are reminded that, to win in a competitive situation, we need to build our fan base inside our prospects’ organizations well before we make our move to sell.

The Boston Bruins (National Hockey League defending Stanley Cup champions this year) began their training camp last Friday.  The seventh (final) game of their 2011 Stanley Cup series against the Vancouver Canucks was electrifying hockey, whether one was rooting Bruins or Canucks, and Boston’s win at the end was a surprise because… .through the first six games, each team had won on its home ice,  the seventh was game was played in Vancouver, and, in the National Hockey League, home teams win 59% of the time. Home ice advantage.  Fifty-nine percent!

Shocked?  Well hang on. If you’re a National Basketball Association fan, home teams win 62.7% of the time.  Almost TWO THIRDS of the games are won by home teams.  Home court advantage. And it’s about the same in the WNBA as well. Amazing, eh?

Tobias Moskowitz from the University of Chicago, Jon Wertheim, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated (together the authors of the best selling book, Scorecasting) and Dan Cervone, their research assistant, found the home field advantage to be present “in every sport, at all times in history, and in all geographies…”

Huh! Amazing.

Why? Social conformity – referees going with the crowd. Moskowitz and Wertheim conclude that referees do a remarkable job, they’re human, and that they start to see things the home crowd’s way. Says Moskowitz (1) : “Referees seek information and approval from fans, too.”

“So,” you say, “interesting and what does this have to do with our sales this week?”

Well, if we’re selling to gain entry to an account already served by an incumbent, or we’re competing for business in an RFP that also includes the incumbent, some of the same forces are at work.

I’d be willing to bet that, unless an existing provider has severely irritated its client,  “home ice advantage” is very strong, stronger than home ice advantage in the NBA.

So, how can we change the odds?  Do you think NHL home ice advantage would change if 50% of the fans routinely were from the home team and 50% were from the visitors?  I’m guessing the answer would be, yes. So, in the sales world, we have to “balance the crowd.” In other words, we need to build our fan base and get them to the decision table so that (when it’s time to vote or select a vendor) we have as many fans in the room as the incumbent vendor home team.

We’ve all made the mistake of focusing our sales efforts on one key contact – the business owner, the controller, the EVP, the project manager – who seems to be our advocate, only to lose the vote.  Painful, VERY painful.  And,  purchasers like this approach because it gives them more control, reduces the amount of time they need to spend with us, and reduces noise in their organizations.

The bad news (on the basis of personal experience only, no scientific study) is:  This like a stadium in which there is one fan for the visitors (us) and 29,999 fans for the incumbent vendor. It’s part of the incumbent vendor’s home ice advantage.

So, if we want to displace an incumbent – another bank, for example, that has worked with one of our prospects for some time, we need to build relationships over time with as many people in that company as we can (through social events, community events, business events, sales calls, articles sent, etc.),  build our fan base and our connections well before we make our moves, so that, when the game starts, home ice advantage is reduced: The “ref” (decision maker) makes the decision swayed by greater or equal numbers of our fans relative to the fans who favor our opponent.


(1) Chicago Booth Magazine, Sprint/Summer 2011, page 35

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