Marketing Moneyball: Let the Dallas Cowboys Help You Scout Hidden Prospects

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Dallas Cowboys logo 1960-63What do lead scoring and the NFL have in common? It might surprise you; this odd couple shares more than you might think.

In the early 60s, Tex Schramm, the president and general manager of a brand-new football team, set out to build a professional football franchise in Dallas, Texas. With the help of what amounted to a lead scoring system, he built a finely-tuned, highly successful professional football machine; one that today is worth a dazzling $3.2 billion, according to Forbes. The Cowboys did it all by creating a player scoring system that originated in the brilliant mind of A. Salam Qureishi. (And note that this happened a few decades before Billy Beane transformed the Oakland As in much the same way.)

The Cowboys and the Indian

First, a brief history of the Cowboy’s player scoring system. In the early years, teams struggled with recruiting successful players. Recruiting was basically done by yes, the dreaded cold call. Recruiters would call coaches and trainers to gather information on players. They were trying to determine who to look for, based on criteria that fit their team. They wanted to find the player who could excel, who would also be happy to be with the team. (Your business is no different. You know the market you want to reach but how do you get to them? Do they know about you? Are they interested in you? Can they perform as customers?)

Schramm recognized the need for a change in the process. A former CBS sports executive, he saw IBM using its technology in the 1962 Winter Olympics and with NASA and thought – if IBM can help us get a man to the moon, surely they can help us build a winning football team.

“We used computers to figure scores and standings when I was in charge of CBS coverage of the Winter Olympics … and I discussed using computers to evaluate football players with IBM experts then. But I didn’t get a chance to put the idea into operation until 1962, when I was with the Cowboys,” Schramm told Sports Illustrated (“Make No Mistakes About It”). “I thought we had to find a way to judge players without emotion.”

Schramm talked to Service Bureau Corporation, a subsidiary of IBM, and eventually was introduced to Abdus Salam Qureishi. Together, the Cowboys and Qureishi set out to quantify what made a good player. They came up with a list of 300 or so variables … more than computers of that time could deal with. They reduced the number, and encountered a stumbling block: “There was a problem of semantics. We had to make sure that the scouts and coaches all meant the same thing when they analyzed a player. We had to find key words that, as much as possible, said what we wanted to know and what the coaches and scouts wanted to say,” said Salam Qureishi. (Having your sales and marketing team use the same terms to mean the same things is a key requirement for sales and marketing alignment, yes? And keywords provide the backbone for messaging, SEO, and hashtags for social selling, yes?)

At the time, coaches and scouts often had biases for (or against) small schools, geographic regions, alma maters. Judgments were subjective:

COACH: He runs as fast as a cat.

SCOUT: He runs as fast as two cats.

COACH: He would hurt his mom if she was on the other side of the line.
Qureishi developed a scouting questionnaire with 16 options phrased as statements. (e.g., “His movement is awkward in wave drill.”) Scouts graded prospects from one to nine on each statement.
“We have discovered that the human mind is not capable of judging degrees on a scale with more than nine ratings,” said Qureishi, “so we designed our grading system to fit into the scale of the mind.” (Perhaps this is something to consider when we construct lead scoring schema.)
Soon, based on Qureishi’s player scoring system, the Cowboys were recruiting from areas they had never considered:

• Smaller schools
• Black schools
• Olympic athletes
• Basketball players

…and the Cowboys built a system that scored players by valid criteria, in the process identifying those that best fit their organization. (Today’s market is no different. From your pool of leads you want to know, you need to know, who is engaging with your product, and when, and in what way so you can communicate with them when they are most ready to buy your products and with the proper message.)

Lead scoring is totally analogous to the scouting system the Cowboys helped develop. It taps the knowledge of both your marketing and sales teams, getting them on the same page in process (which has benefits beyond lead scoring). It applies objective criteria, letting you scout hidden prospects and potential new customers in a very efficient, effective way. Beyond that, your marketing automation platform has a built-in response system that lets you interact with those most valuable contacts at the right time, with the right message in the buying process. Imagine scoring your leads based on the criteria you have set for success – and then instantly sending the message you so carefully prepared for them. Personalized, even, with their name and maybe even their specific interest. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Here are a few marketing statistics regarding lead scoring:

• 451% increase in qualified leads. (Annuitas Group, Nov 2012)
• 78% of highly effective marketers say lead scoring based on content and engagement is most responsible for improving revenue contribution. (Lenskold & Pedowitz Groups, Nov 2013)
• On average, organizations that use lead scoring experience a 77% lift in lead generation ROI over organizations that do not use lead scoring. (MarketingSherpa, Sep 2011)

Scoring criteria revolutionized the Dallas Cowboys by helping them recruit the best candidates for their team. The Cowboys are the only NFL team to record 20 straight winning seasons (1966–85), in which they only missed the playoffs twice (1974 and 1984), an NFL record that remains unchallenged.

And even the recent loss in the playoffs doesn’t change that.

New: An ESPN-produced documentary about Salam Qureishi and the Dallas Cowboys.

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