What can we learn from March Madness? How to win the big pitch.
Joe King, Group Account Director, mono
My coworkers know that I’m an avid fan of March Madness. In fact, they’re tired of hearing about it.
Like most, I tune in for the chaos, the upsets and the fact that I can cheer for teams like the Osprey and Anteaters. But I realized something more this year. March Madness is the ultimate study of winning. And like a pitch, it’s one and done, for all the marbles.
So what could we learn from this? Yes, it takes talent. Kentucky has cornered the market on that. But why is it that some teams make it back to the Final Four consistently? I see four themes of winning from the tournament.
I recently heard Michigan State coach Tom Izzo interviewed on why he has been so successful. Izzo has gone to eighteen straight tournaments, including seven Final Fours. This year, despite a less than typical Izzo cast, he got his seventh seeded Spartans to the Final Four again.
When interviewed, Izzo said to win the NCAA tournament a team needs to win six consecutive games, and that’s very daunting. So he breaks it down for his team. The tournament is three weekends long, and each weekend sees the team traveling to a different city to play two games. To gain focus, Izzo treats it like three mini-tournaments. He focuses his team on that weekend only, building it up as an individual tournament to win.
At mono, we approach a pitch the same way, by keeping immediate goals in sharp focus. We talk about winning every meeting along the way. We break big projects down and conquer them phase by phase.
By focusing in increments, we can win the moment and secure a critical building block to overall success.
Izzo goes on to talk about how he gets ready for his mini tournaments. He typically has only three days to prepare. On Monday, Izzo and his coaches split up the three teams they may play. They focus on the most relevant film for the weekend and then commit to a game plan for the initial match up. Tuesday and Wednesday are spent with the players rehearsing their game plan and preparing for every move they need to make. By Thursday, the Spartans know they are the most prepared team on the floor.
A common mistake in business is to forget that we also need to practice. Just like those intense Izzo run-throughs, before a pitch at mono, we rehearse every move we want to make.
From the open to the hand-offs to the power close, every detail matters. In the days before a big meeting, we sit together in a room and go through each of our parts. We are open to coaching and we help each other out. The day before our last big pitch I remember a colleague reminding me that I need to present “bigger.” He told me to be more animated, to use my hands when I talk. Twenty-four hours later, I felt myself speaking with presence like never before. It was because I took the coaching to heart and then put in the work to rehearse.
Occasionally, my wife wanders into the basement in March. During the Elite 8, she walked by looking at the TV and said “Is that guy crying?” I couldn’t answer right away, as I was a little choked up myself. But that’s what makes March Madness great. People care so much. And while we may not have that much inherent passion for each project at work, we need to make it feel that way. It’s a big part of what can set a business apart.
Last year we pitched an electrolyte water. Amidst the reams of papers our team read, someone discovered that the elements of the water could actually create an electrical current. That insight had a fun connection to the campaign we were showing and our team ended up doing a little science experiment to power a light bulb in our pitch meeting. Now, that didn’t win the pitch on it’s own, but it sure showed the client that we had done our homework and that we cared a hell of a lot about their business.
The Wisconsin Badgers have made it to consecutive Final Fours and are a ridiculous 116-3 over the last five years when leading a game with five minutes to play. That’s pretty damn good in crunch time. The main reason? They believe they will win.
We’ve found the same in business. If we go into a pitch or meeting completely believing in our story, we typically win. Remember that whatever you are selling, people need to believe in. And that starts with your conviction.
Just like the hoops programs I admire the most, I now know if my team walks into a pitch with focus, preparation, passion and conviction, we’ll be cutting down the nets at the end.