Michael Jordan once said, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."

Every March, college basketball programs strive for balance: closing out the regular season in style and peaking for the conference tournament while building toward the longer goal—a favorable seed and successful performance in the NCAA Tournament.

Though individual superstars account for some wins single-handedly, the teams that go deep in the tournament year after year play as a cohesive unit. The starting five can't bring home the trophy without a strong, skilled bench.

MJ's wisdom applies equally to modern marketers. Let's break it down to his three components: talent, teamwork, and intelligence.


What happens to star players who aren't surrounded by a capable squad? They become demoralized; they can't win by themselves and they can't get the support they need. Star marketers without the right team or tools get just as frustrated. Starved for resources, their marketing projects and programs fall short—or fail to get off the ground. More specifically, they lack the insights or data to know—for certain—how to move the business forward. It happens all the time.

Talent coaching tip: To go deep into March Madness, the team has to be solid. So what should modern digital marketing departments look like? Start at the top: The days of the creative whiz at the helm are over. CMOs and digital marketing directors have to become analytical, data-driven. Inundated with data from a dizzying array of sources, marketers must learn from that data or lose in the early rounds. From top to bottom, the marketing organization must blend creative with analytical talent. Encourage your executives to hire folks that balance the art (the creative) and the science (the analytical) of marketing.


To win ballgames, you have to work together. Lots of talent doesn't guarantee you'll win the highly contested games. The teams that win can sustain a high level of performance for 40 or more minutes 3-4 days in a row—without faltering. But working hard doesn't always mean working smart. Does your marketing team get trapped by disjointed efforts or wild shots? How do you improve on how you are working as a team today? It's a combination of managing time, resources, and technology efficiently. Teamwork isn't just the limited to the marketing department, either. It's about working with all relevant players the organization to get the job done.

Teamwork coaching tip: Training as a team often gains you more than mere subject-matter expertise. Team training deepens relationships, helps you understand how people work best, and encourages collaboration where it may have been missing. Team training creates a cohesiveness that encourages members to work well with other departments, which makes the job of the entire organization much easier. Do college basketball players practice individually? Sure, but where do they learn the most? I'd argue it's the work they put in on the hardwood, scrimmaging and running plays as a team.


Where does intelligence show up in collegiate athletics this time of year? I suggest you'll see the top teams using all the information around them to make smart decisions. I think about the best teams—Duke, Arizona, Michigan State, etc. They combine talent with exceptional coaching and diligent study of the tapes to win championships and perform at a high level year after year. Sometimes they even do it without players bound for the pros. Teamwork and intelligence lift everyone up a level; that's how you build a national contender in college hoops and a global contender in business.

Intelligence coaching tip: Know why you do what you do. Go into every project or situation with data—and insights honed from analyzing that data—to support your stance. Remember, data is just history. It provides background, but it doesn't tell you what to do next. With the power of analytics on my side—to forecast how a marketing project or initiative may affect the business or identify the next best move and why—I can more easily gain support for my proposal.

* * *

Many organizations are combining talent, teamwork, and intelligence through their use of analytics. I think of the Phoenix Suns, the Orlando Magic, and Major League Soccer, but also leaders in retail, banking, and healthcare. All of these organizations use the talent of their marketing teams, teamwork among themselves and across multiple departments, and analytical intelligence to make the best decisions to move the business forward every day.

Key Takeaways:

  • Like a successful basketball team a high-performance modern marketing team needs talent, teamwork, and intelligence.
  • Modern marketing organizations need analytical, data-driven talent to balance the traditional creative marketing skills. And ensure that the talent plays well with others. Work with all relevant players across the organization to get the job done.
  • Use intelligence by going into every project with data. Then apply analytics to drive profitable marketing decisions.

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image of Jonathan Moran

Jonathan Moran is a global product marketing manager at SAS, with a focus on customer experience and marketing technologies. He has 20+ years of marketing and analytics industry experience.

Twitter: @jmmoran12

LinkedIn: Jonathan Moran