What CMOs Can Learn From Sport Psychology


As a marketer, I’m fascinated by what makes consumers tick. Whether it’s the psychology of storytelling or the secret association of colors, the study of the mind is a powerful tool. But marketers and executives, who love to look outward, don’t always look inward when it comes to creating a better office environment.

Enter sport psychology.

More and more professional teams are turning to sport psychologists to make sure their mental abilities are on par with their physical abilities. I reached out to, Dr. Jonathan Fader, who works on the “mental agility” of Major League Baseball players. Some of Fader’s tips can be easily be applied to the day to day functions of a marketing department.

RL: What’s the biggest mistake leaders make in motivating their team?

JF: Believe it or not, over-emphasizing the end product can sometimes be detrimental. One of the huge insights of sport psychology is the importance of process-oriented goals over outcome-oriented goals.

It’s easy to get caught up with the bottom line, it’s what makes executives sink or swim in this highly competitive environment. But you can’t just go to a sales person and say “Hey, sell more!”

It’s like telling a pitcher to throw a perfect game. It’s a nice idea in theory, but doesn’t do a whole lot make them pitch a better game.

Instead, pitchers turn to process-oriented goals: Did they strength-train as much as they needed to? Were they “locked-in” mentally or distracted during each inning? Was their form on point? These are all related to process, and they get pitchers to where they need to be.

Executives should ask “what are the process-oriented goals that will get my team will where they need to be?”

RL: You talk about the importance of confidence in sports. Does that translate to business?

JF: Absolutely. Losing confidence can ruin any kind of performance. We’ve all seen people ‘choke,’ and it’s usually the result of feeling overwhelmed, of losing confidence.

But confidence isn’t something that you either have or not, it’s a skill that’s practiced. Many elite athletes have highly-practiced mental routines that help them maintain confidence, and allow them to bounce back when dealing with failure. We’ve all seen players who just can’t seem to bounce back from mistakes. It’s no different in the board room or in the cubicle.

RL: So how do people deal with that?

JF: What every business person has within their control, at all times, is their self confidence, their demeanor, and their communications. Managing those 3 things is key to enduring through stressful situations and bouncing back from failure.

I also think having a mental “success reel” is really important. Disappointment from unwanted results, especially with a client, can do tons of damage to self-esteem and confidence. If you’re a basketball player who has been missing shots all game, it’s immensely helpful to think about the amazing shots you made in the last week, month or year – rather than to get hung up on your recent failure. Literally replaying your successes programs your mind to bring your best to the next meeting, regardless of the previous rejection of failures.

RL: What’s an easy mental skill teams and leaders can start practicing today?

JF: Visualize success – there’s a strong body of research boasting the benefits people who utilize visualization.

Batters, for instance, will imagine themselves, in great detail, swinging the bat and hitting a home run. As the level of vividness increases, so does its benefit. So I’m not just going to imagine swinging the bat, I’m going to imagine how the sun feels, the sound of the fans, that guy to my left heckling me, how strongly the wind is blowing, etc. Some of the executives I’ve worked with have found it just as helpful: they visualize themselves giving their big presentation, or even just their pitch to a potential business partner.