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Sunday, May 31, 2009

SALES AND MARKETING: Playing To Win -- Baseball CEO Shares Secrets of Success

Sales and Marketing with Bill Doerr

Bill's section is brought to you by qAlias

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being present when Bill Dowling, President and CEO of The New Britain Rock Cats, the Double A affiliate of The Minnesota Twins shared his perspective on what's made his operation the most successful franchise in the Eastern League.

Bill Dowling, is no stranger to baseball. Prior to becoming the head of The New Britain Rock Cats, he was the Executive Vice President of The New York Yankees and reported directly to George Steinbrenner, III. Bill's career is extensive and as varied as it gets. A graduate of Columbia University and Boston College Law School, he was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan and later served as Chief of The New York State Attorney General's Criminal Division for several years. Then he joined the Yankees organization and still practices law in New York City.

Bill spoke to a small group of business people who are members of Our Breakfast Club, a business organization I belong to, as well.

Because Peaches Quinn, Co-Founder of Our Breakfast Club is an old friend of Bill Dowling's, he agreed to share his perspective on what it takes to 'do well in not-so-good times'.

Here's what I took away from the pearls of wisdom that Bill shared with us . . .

"We're not in the baseball business"
The previous owner of the franchise was in the baseball business. He ran a baseball team that fed the major league teams with up-and-coming talent. That model worked once. But it wasn't working in a small town (New Britain, CT) that's seen the economic boom of the 90's go bust and the previous franchise owner was floundering.

But Dowling understood that every business needs to be what it's customer wants. So if it wasn't baseball . . . what was it?

What you think you're selling isn't necessarily what your customer wants to buy!

"We Have To Know Who Our Customer (Really) Is"
"We had an epiphany . . . we had to be in the family entertainment business . . . or we'd be following the path the old owner had already taken!".

Dowling knew that if he could create a business 'experience' that appealed to women and kids, then good old dad would drive them all to the ballpark -- literally! It was that insight that helped Bill and his team of people make decisions and take actions appropriate to that understanding. And boy, was that a good thing for the Rock Cats!

The strategy's worked. After buying the franchise in early 2000, Eastern League President Bill Troubh chose Bill Dowling as the 2000 Eastern League Executive of The Year. Dowling's continued to drive attendance, revenues and profits to new levels . . . year after year after year.
Bill and his investor group estimate that, if they were to sell their franchise today, they'd be able to sell it for about 10 times what they paid for it in 2000. And they've money each year, too. Not bad!

Knowing who you want to appeal to makes your decisions easier and your results better!

"You Can't Manage From The Back Office"
Bill Dowling attends to many aspects of The Rock Cats -- along with a group of young, talented and highly committed staff whose compensation reflects more bonus and less base -- a practice the early years demanded due to the need to build revenues not expenses and Dowling's philosophy supported . . . "You make things happen, you'll be paid well". It's worked for him.
"Performance matters . . . and if you perform well, you get paid accordingly".

Dowling is also highly visible. He attends every home game and not from a skybox. He's easily found standing around in Section 108 behind the home plate. He talks with the customers, greets the regulars (and there are growing ranks of those!) and generally makes people feel like they're welcome guests. ". . . because they are!".

Bill told us about how some people began to complain about the parking adjacent to the stadium. It's not operated by the Rock Cats. It's a separate vendor. But Bill carries a wad of $1 bills on him. "If I hear someone complain about the parking, I give them $3 and say, "I'm sorry you had a problem . . . here, let me get your parking today". Dowling knows they'll go to the concession stands and buy some popcorn, hot dogs or beer. "It's going out of one pocket and right back into another . . . but they'll go out and tell their friends about us and that goodwill is priceless".

If you're going to be successful, you have to be accessible and in touch with your customer!

"You Have To Invest In Your Customer's Experience"
After taking over the Rock Cats, Dowling and his partners made the deliberate decision to go into the 'family entertainment' business as I'd cited earlier. That strategic commitment required both aligned decisions and appropriate actions. "We had to clean up our facilities . . . you don't want Mom coming to a place that isn't appealing or you'll never see her come back". As a result, concession sales have been substantial for the Rock Cats and previous attendance records have been shattered again and again. "We know we're selling fun . . . so every game is full of fun . . . for the kids" That makes the moms happy and happy moms keep the families coming back for more. "We have "Family Nights" where a family of four can come to a game, enjoy food and beverage and get it all for around $30. We understand our market and finding ways to be affordable reflects that understanding". With 'something special (and free!) for the kids' at every game, entertainment between key innings and the ever-present 'Rocky' the Rock Cat's mascot working the crowd until the last pitch is thrown, Dowling's created an irresistable experience. And the proof is in the steady growth of attendance, revenues and profits.

Give people what they want and they'll give you what you want, too!

I left the time I had with Bill Dowling a little more humble and whole lot wiser about what it takes to be successful in business . . . regardless of the economy. Thank you, Bill Dowling!

Bill Doerr, CCO of SellMore Marketing, LLC is the creator of The Preferral Prospecting System™, The Expert Directory™ and The Ultimate Client Development System™. He is an Authorized Duct Tape Marketing Coach and a licensed facilitator of Get Clients NOW! Bill uses these resources to help service providers generate AIR -- awareness in their marketing area, interest in their services and revenues in their bank. Reach Bill at: 860-798-6964, online at: or via the TNNW Blog:

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