How to be an Email coach
"Basketball season is upon us (and the holiday season), and as a fan of the sport, I was reading about John Wooden who is widely considered the best collegiate basketball coach in history, and one of the best coaches in any sport ever. I walked away thinking that managing and email program is a great deal like coaching a basketball team. Both require the mastery of fundamental skills, dedication, focus, and practice."
Basketball season is upon us (and the holiday season), and as a fan of the sport, I was reading about John Wooden who is widely considered the best collegiate basketball coach in history, and one of the best coaches in any sport ever. I walked away thinking that managing and email program is a great deal like coaching a basketball team. Both require the mastery of fundamental skills, dedication, focus, and practice.
Even though Wooden was focused on the task at hand, great basketball, he took real pride in the successful professionals and citizens that came out of his program, even if they didn’t go to the NBA. He required players attend classes, get good grades, and become part of the community. He was tough, consistent, fair, and open-minded. The same should apply to all the teams you manage, especially email which requires a high-level of skill mastery.
I’ve picked three ideas from Wooden that I think can improve the most common weaknesses I see in email programs:
Perfect the fundamentals to reduce unforced errors.
Wooden was known for going over very basic ideas with his players. For example, when he noticed that players were getting blisters on their toes, Wooden gave a lesson to all his players on how to properly put on shoes and socks. He believed that little things made big things happen.
Only once the fundamentals are solid can a team thrive. I’ve worked in other channels, and email simply has more moving parts and requires more attention than others. Each email that goes out without an error is an accomplishment. Every 100 in a row is the sign of a great team. Once an email program is routinely churning out high quality work, a team’s confidence, proficiency, skill, and composure will get a huge boost.
Teaching the basic things, like file and field naming conventions and foldering schemes must be practiced as much as strategy. When you look at a file name, you should be able to tell the campaign name, the date, the segment, everything. You should be able to quickly pull up metrics, image files, coding, etc. If you are spending time searching through files, or using a decoder ring to figure out what metrics or image goes with what campaign, that’s a good sign to go back to fundamentals.
Simply put, at the heart of every great email program are people that know their stuff and do it right. If you only do one thing for your program, get this right and you’ll be ahead of the curve.
Develop team strengths don’t focus on weaknesses
Wooden liked to say that we have many more weaknesses than strengths, so focus on the strengths. You simply cannot make people something they are not. We each have natural abilities that are enough to be successful. Know weaknesses but focus on using strengths to get overcome and get the job done.
Whether you are dealing with a vendor or in-house team, look at where people are strong. Especially in house where you have more influence on developing your team. Obviously, failure to master a fundamental skill needed to perform the job is a problem, but I’m talking about other areas. Email has so much to offer so many different kinds of people. It’s all at once scientific, creative, strategic, analytical and even artistic. Try to get your team focused on what accommodates their strengths to reach goals.
If you have a team member or someone on the vendor side that is strong in analytics, presentations, strategy or whatever, use that. Your shop’s product will only be better because of it and the people happier. You may even need to adjust your plans to accommodate playing to strengths. It might be better to knock plan B out of the park rather than doing a passable job on plan A.
3. Mistakes are results not blunders.
Wooden said, “The person who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success”, he went on to say that a good mistake is a result of doing the right thing, but not getting the result you want. It’s like Edison’s 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. In digital we have the added advantage of testing, so we don’t need to roll out an ambitious plan without data.
If you, a team member or vendor has a good idea, why not try out it out? At this point we trust that you have done your due diligence, know your program, team and customers. If the idea checks out, go for it. Look for new email products, talk to your vendors, test a new trigger email or creative, or play with cadence. Again, to the point above, do the things that cater to your team’s strength. Little changes add up to big results, but you have to act for anything to happen.
At the core of a great email team is strong fundamentals, people development and sensible risk taking. Remember, email can be as fun, fast, and action packed as any basketball game. As coach Wooden said "Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character." So, remember what you’ve learned and have fun out there!