Recently I spoke to a friend working in a leading sports business media group who agreed with my assertion that deep pockets are enabling a relatively small number of sports technology companies to dominate the sports business media, putting lots of great startups at a major disadvantage. This idea wasn't mine. It's based on frustrations that I have heard from several leading sports tech startups.
The reality is that it’s getting more and more difficult for the next generation of B2B sports tech companies to break through as the purse strings of sports rights owners are drawn tighter and sales cycles get even longer.
This is prompting many sports startups, without the big budgets, to spam the hell out of rights owners and other potential buyers. The sports tech marketplace feels like a scene from the movie Scarface. Metaphorically speaking, many sports tech companies are pulling out large machine guns and spraying emails and cold calls everywhere with a blatant disregard for the destruction they are leaving in their wake.
Here are five tips to help your sports tech startup to get noticed on a budget (without the machine gun). A small disclaimer...what follows assumes you have clear company and commercial / marketing objectives in place.
Build alliances within your value chain
If you are reading this as a startup and you’re searching for creative solutions to reach your potential customers, but can't spend USD10K to speak at a leading sports business event or to talk on a podcast, you need to think creatively.
As a recent Sports Tech World Series article predicted, “Winning organisations are focused on open collaboration. The truth is that we can’t create the best of everything in-house. Partnering together in an “Open Innovation” ecosystem is the winning strategy in 2021 and beyond for sports technology”.
Look at other companies in your value chain who provide complementary services to yours. Can you create value for the market by collaborating?
Integrations offer start ups a road to accelerated growth. Partners can be a source of product feedback, they can help you solve customers problems quicker or better, they can bring exposure to interesting clients and they can contribute financially to shared marketing activities.
For example, let’s say you are a streaming platform. You could build integrations with an IP-transmission partner, a cloud-based commentary solution and a watch together solution. Suddenly this gives you (and your partners) options. This can be a risky area of course and is a topic that merits a blog post of its own.
Put the focus on customer problems, not cash
If you are a startup, you will be short on time and hungry for product feedback. Don’t approach every conversation as a sales conversation unless you are in the small minority that have already nailed your product market fit. Try to understand the barriers facing your potential customer to experience your product and work out how you can make it more accessible. In many cases sports rights owners simply don't know where each of their problems sits in terms of priority, and this is often the start of their challenge to innovate.
In these cases, running a proof of concept together can be the most effective way to get the conversation started. There is nothing better than running a successful proof of concept with a potential customer and helping that customer to better understand the benefits you can bring and build a case to secure a budget. On the flip side, you might also figure out through the process that you are incompatible.
Talk like your customers
I’m in many product demo meetings these days. The fun part is that I see some great products in their nascent stages. However, I’m often lost after the first five minutes due to a focus on "cool" features and an over use of technical terms and acronyms.
If you want to succeed, spend more time talking to potential customers about their problems and, just as importantly, try to speak in a language that they understand. Consider whether you're addressing someone with a business background or technical / product background and always remain focused on the problem you want to help them solve.
Apply the basics of good content marketing
The fundamental importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) can't be overstated. Put simply, SEO is the science (and art) of ensuring your website is top of the search engine results pages for search terms that are relevant to your potential customers.
If your website is being crawled by search engines effectively, and you understand the key words that are relevant to your potential customers, then you are (more or less) ready to start producing content that effortlessly incorporates these key words.
As a contributor to sports technology company blogs, I understand how challenging it can be to write impartial and interesting content. The best content coming from sports tech companies focuses on the pain points of their customers and on sharing the learnings that have lead them to the particular solution that they are offering. If there is one thing that start-ups have in abundance, it is learnings! The worst blog content pushes the company's products and services centre stage.
The spamming or “door-stepping” culture I referred to in the opening paragraph is pervading the sports technology sector as it becomes more and more competitive and long sales cycles continue to bite. Frankly speaking, this practice is hurting good early stage companies as it is driving sports rights owners, and other potential customers, to disengage from the market.
Align yourself with good people who have trusted networks and respect these networks as one of your most valuable assets. If you are a B2B company, personal selling will be critical to your growth, but it requires a clever balance.
My advice? Break the mould. Put an end to door-stepping. I guarantee it’s not working for your competitors.
About the author
David Fowler is Co-Founder of SportsTech Match and a Marketing Consultant helping sports rights owners to make sense of technology as a means to innovate their business models and sports tech companies to get to market. He was the Director of Marketing at football streaming platform MyCujoo and a commercial executive at FIFA for over ten years.