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NBA, MLB, B2B: the Numbers Matter

I’ll admit it. A few weeks ago, I was avidly reading every article I could get my hands on about the NBA’s Boston Celtics hiring Butler University head basketball coach Brad Stevens. At the tender age of 36, Stevens is the youngest current NBA head coach. In fact, he may coach against players his own age, including former Celtics great Kevin Garnett and San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan. But what’s so impressive about Stevens – who had no NBA playing or coaching experience himself – that attracted one of the greatest NBA franchises?

In five years as head coach at Butler, Stevens amassed a record of 139-40, an impressive 78 percent winning percentage. He led his team not once but TWICE to the Men’s Division I NCAA Championship game. Before he became the head coach, the Butler Bulldogs rarely made the tournament. And when they did make it to the big dance, they usually lost in the first round.

Yet somehow, Stevens was able to take a group of student athletes who barely made the national scouting reports to the pinnacle of the college basketball world. How did he do it? I’m sure hard work and dedication played a role. But there’s a bigger idea here. Something that the business world can add to its own playbook (pun intended): analytics.

Did you watch Moneyball? Stevens used the same principles that Moneyball depicted. He brought in a brilliant MBA student, Drew Cannon, as the first “pure statistics-based hire for a college basketball staff.” Cannon hadn’t played basketball since his intramural years, but he didn’t need to understand Xs and Os to understand how metrics, and more importantly the analysis of those metrics, can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

The duo has notoriously been quiet about what goes into the analysis, but we do know some of their key stats include offensive and defensive efficiency based on player matchup (big lineups, small lineups, etc.). This helps Stevens determine which lineups and substitution patterns are the most effective for Butler’s talent.

This is what B2B can learn from. All businesses (and basketball teams) have limitations: limitations on budget, limitations on time, limitations on resources. In today’s world of lean operations, companies have to find the most efficient way to make decisions and act upon those decisions. There isn’t time (and frankly budget) to run elaborate market research programs.

Whether you’re running a multi-million dollar company or a collegiate basketball team, website metrics are a great example of data that is fairly easy to obtain and straightforward to analyze and act upon. The world of online metrics and analysis helps you understand what’s bringing your customers to your site, what they’re doing on your site, what pages they visit and where/why they’re exiting your site. You can segment your target to better understand how one group interacts online vs. another. You can see which pages deliver the highest conversion rate for your top KPIs, such as sample requests, “Contact Us” form submissions, etc.

But it’s important to remember that metrics alone don’t make the difference. It’s the analysis of those numbers and the decisions you make based on that analysis that matters. It’s not enough to just know that your site had 2,000 new visitors. You need to understand how that compares to previous months, what caused the incline or decline, and what you should do about it. And this is just an example; your website and campaigns (email, paid online advertising, etc.) can generate a lot of data that can provide you a clearer picture of what your customers are doing ? all in real time.

The bottom line (again, pun intended) is to learn to love the numbers. Dive into them. Understand them. Build a corporate culture where analytics drives decisions. Because in five years, who knows how far analytics can take you, your team and your career?

Editor’s Note: Jenna Fletcher did not attend Butler University nor does she have any connection to the school. She’s just a fan of the underdog.