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*A Book Review*

Ice To The Eskimos

By Jon Spoelstra

by Michael C. Gray

October 27, 1999

How do you take a team with one of the worst records of losing games, with the lowest sales in the NBA, located close to one of the most successful teams, and make it one of the most profitable teams in the association? This is the problem Jon Spoolstra faced when he was hired by the New Jersey Nets.

Through the application of creativity, a "subversive change" approach and sound business and marketing principles, Jon accomplished the amazing turnaround of the team. Sales trippled in just three years. The season-ticket holders base increased 250%. He tells the story of how he did it in Ice To The Eskimos. Jon's purpose was not to teach us how to do sports marketing, but how these concepts apply to any business.

In many cases, we may not have the "best" product or be the "biggest" company, but we can still be successful. In fact, being the "best" doesn't guarantee profitability. Jon gives the example of the Edmonton Oilers. Each year that they won a Stanley Cup, their season ticket numbers decreased. They thought winning would solve their problems. A few years after their last championship, they were in deep financial trouble. You must run the operation using sound marketing and business practices or face oblivion.

Jon calls his marketing approach Jump-Start marketing. Here are a few highlights of Jon's ideas.

  1. When you don't have a winning team or product, you have to be creative to find something to promote that will attract your customer. In the case of the Nets, Spoolstra promoted the stars of the opponent's teams. ("Come to our game with the Chicago Bulls and see Michael Jordan in action!")
  2. Database marketing can be the "silver bullet" to the quickest and least expensive marketing results. The most important database consists of your present and past customers. These people have expressed an interest in your product or industry offering by already voting with their dollars. It's critically important not to "purge" old customers from your database, but to focus your efforts on trying to recover their business. Your lost customers are probably your best prospects!
  3. It's critically important to measure the ratio of sales resulting from promotion dollars spent. Direct-response advertising is designed to determine this ratio.
  4. Every business should identify their biggest customers and cater to them. If you lose these customers, it can have a major impact on your business. Bend the rules for them. By making a small concession, you can get a big payback.
  5. Customer service boils down to empowering people to "Find out what the problem is and help fix it." Instead of being consumed with the idea that every customer is a scam artist, your company should become a "naïve mark" and track the results for the customer. In most cases, you will find you get a big payback in customer loyalty at a minimal cost.
  6. In many cases, the "knee-jerk" response of cost cutting to increase profits or reduce losses is actually cutting your own throat. For example, decreasing the number of your sales representatives may reduce your costs, but sales will also drop because customers aren't served. It may be you need to invest in hiring more help to be sure your customers receive the service they need.
  7. Instead of upsetting people in the organization by telling them about all of the changes you are going to implement, tell them you are "trying little experiments." This is much less threatening. Experiments aren't permanent – unless they succeed.

Ice To The Eskimos is easy reading, with lots of stories and examples of how Jon applied these principles. Jon also has self-examination sections of questions for the reader to consider how to apply the ideas in his or her own organization. You will surely profit from owning and studying this book.

Buy it on Amazon: Ice to the Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants.

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