Thursday, May 01, 2008

Who are your Champions League Final fans?

Pic credit: Flickr CC - edwin.11

(This post is about sport; football in particular. I try not to do that so often because sport is a pretty divisive topic. I promise this one has relevance to your business though, so I hope it’s not a turn-off for too many people. As a bit of background for the non-football fans out there, the Champions League competition that I talk about below is the premier European club football competition. It sees the best teams in Europe compete to reach the final, which this year is held in May, in Moscow. For the first time ever, two English teams have reached the final – Chelsea and Manchester United. For anyone who is completely sport-phobic, football is a game where two teams of eleven men chase a spherical ball around a grass covered pitch. It’s only marginally less ridiculous than it sounds.)

The end of the football season is upon us, with all the inherent agony and ecstasy that brings. For me, as a Liverpool fan, the knowledge that my team won't be lining up in Moscow to compete for the biggest trophy in the club game is quite frankly gutting (Liverpool were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Chelsea). Whether you’re a fellow fan, or just one of those lucky folks who don't care a jot about football though, there are lessons to be learned from the coming final in May.

The word on the street (and the 6 o'clock news) is that supporters of Manchester Utd and Chelsea will need to divvy up in excess of £2000 to go and watch their team in the final game of the season. Additionally, a combination of factors (visa issues, shortage of flights and hotels in Moscow etc) mean that it’s also going to be exceptionally difficult to get there. Yet still somewhere in the region of 40-50,000 English fans are expected to make the journey to support their team in person.

So here's the question for you with that exceptional situation in mind: would any of your fans (i.e. customers and clients) do anything even similar for you?

  • Let's say you’re a regular speaker at a variety of events and corporate functions but you’re going to take a break for at least a year. Would people pay far more than the going rate just to be at that big event?
  • Or if you were ending a product line, would people do whatever they could (and pay whatever they could) to get hold of the last few items you had for sale?
  • What about something smaller: if technical problems with your website meant that to make a purchase customers had to log in several times to complete the transaction, would they persevere or give up?

Clearly it's unlikely that you'll engender the kind of passion that a football team does no matter what line of business you're in, so don't worry if the answer to all of those questions was no. I’m definitely not suggesting that it’s necessary to have your customers worship you like the average football fan worships their team. However, I think there are two important takeaway lessons from the example of the Champions League final.

Number one: if you have a chance of your customers having for you even 10% of the passion that a football fan has for their club, do everything you can to nurture it. A ‘fan’ of your product or service will not only pay your efforts back directly but will act as your best ambassador and salesperson. True fans, loyal customers who believe in what you do, are worth it.

Number two: if your customers aren’t going to be as loyal and fervent as the average football fan, then you must commit to making things as easy and satisfying as possible for them. Die-hard Man Utd and Chelsea fans may be happy to spend their savings, travel thousands of miles and sleep on a railway platform in Russia to ‘make a purchase’; your customers won’t put up with a bad website, over-inflated prices, poor customer service or anything else negative to make a purchase from you.

[Bonus lesson: most people don’t really choose their football team, it chooses them. How about your business? I’d bet most people have a choice about ‘supporting’ you or not…]

Whatever you do, be it football, plumbing, consultancy or recruitment, your fans/customers are your biggest asset. Without them you’re in trouble, so do what you can to nurture them and help them support you. To use one last football metaphor, in business it really does matter to your fans how your team performs on the pitch.

No comments: