What companies can learn from the New York Knicks

Rob Sena
January 25, 2023

I’m a New York Knicks fan. I should say, I’m a long-suffering Knicks fan. This is a team that has a tradition that spans back nearly a century, with some of the most famous players and two championships to brag of.

Of course, those winning ways date back to my childhood. I’m 50. Over the last couple of decades, the team has attempted many times to find a way to get back to its heyday, investing in big-name players, coaching changes, and strategies. It’s produced some limited success, but they have been short-lived and within a year or two they fall right back to the bottom.

But why? And why am I talking about basketball? Well, here are the three things that too many companies have done that mirror the Knicks mistakes…

  1. Look for the quick fix

This is the same premise as the “get rich quick” theory. Investing big in what they hope will solve the problem at hand. One of the most common mistakes companies make is going big into technology and systems to help them gather data, automate, and speed up the path to success. We see that often in the commercial space where marketing and sales team have bought the Ferrari of CRM and marketing automation tools, telling management that it is the path to accelerate their path to profitable growth.

The problem? They bought a luxury sports car, but no one in the organization drives sticks. Sales teams are disinterested – even annoyed – in utilizing CRM tools that “monitor” their every move; marketing teams see automation tools as a major departure from their traditional GTM methods, and in the end, leaders get limited value from the investment. Major capital investment is wasted and underutilized.

  1. Don’t protect incremental improvement

Perhaps the quick-fix theory is a cynical look at short-term thinking. Some companies do find pockets of value from these investments. I have seen companies who have used data from CRMs that help make their sellers more productive. It’s also often a catalyst for marketing organizations to bring in specialists to help them learn how to use the tools they have at their disposal.

Those that do find those improvements showcase them to leadership as a success and move on to the next big thing. For instance, I have spoken to sales leaders who have quickly moved from CRM integration into e-commerce strategies as a path to alleviate friction in their GTM model and reduce the cost to sell. They moved their tiger teams to build the systems, organizations, and processes to deliver on it.

The problem? Those gains achieved in CRM adoption saw a precipitous decline, going back to the original benchmark set before the investment. And since they are “distracted” with this new shiny thing, using their “A-team” to deliver it, there is no way to recover those losses, let alone continue the progress made.

  1. Undervalue critical role players

Even if you aren’t a basketball fan, you probably have heard of Michael Jordan. He is widely considered the greatest player of all time and won six championships in his career. He was an immediate superstar in the league, scoring more than any player in his first few years….but his team didn’t win.

The problem?

He didn’t have the right supporting cast to win. Athletics, like business, is a team sport. They needed to bring in role players, those that were willing and able to do the critical things necessary to win in a team game. These players helped address the two above issues by supporting the big investments (Jordan himself) while enabling the team to keep the team in place because they were cost-efficient (lower-salaried) and improved the overall path to winning.

Great, so what does this mean for me you ask?

Let’s learn from this. Investments in technology are critical. But to make these investments realize their full potential it takes the right people and processes. The most progressive companies solve this with a strong leader and a mix of internal and outsourced teams that can scale as the business adopts these new tools. That same structure ensures that when the business does pivot to its next big thing, the value created from its first investment is retained and improved. And finally, the value of your role player – your outsourced group of experts (the most talented you can find) – is crucial to your long-term success.

Now, if only I could help the Knicks adopt this advice. Well, there’s always next year!