Last week, my two teams battled it out…

I don’t watch a lot of football.

I really like watching individual games.  But I just don’t have it in me to get emotionally invested in any sports team for the season.  My emotional investment is elsewhere: my family, and my business.

That said, I have a couple favorite college football teams: the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and the Oregon Ducks.

I grew up in Nebraska and live in Lincoln, home of the Huskers — so my interest there should be obvious.

But after my wife and I got married, we moved to Oregon and she was a Duck from 2005 to 2010, while she got her Ph.D. in Psychology.  Living there, I adopted them as my second team.

And last weekend, for the second time in two years, they played against each other.

Now, ever since we moved to Oregon, I adopted a rule: I root for both, until they play each other — then, I’m a Huskers fan.

Last year, that went my way.  Last weekend, not so much.

The Ducks won 42-35.

Although, to the Huskers credit, they were on the verge of tying it up in the end, until a last-minute interception.  And the odds were on the Huskers losing by 13.5 points, so they beat the spread.

All of this is a big diversion from the main point of this essay though, which is a lesson in statistical advantage…

My hypothesis: the little thing that wins most football games…

Now, if I have any sports statisticians in my audience, I’m likely to make a fool of myself.  Or, maybe not.

But I’m going to simplify the entire game of football into one little stat.

Offensive yards per play versus defensive yards per play.

On the offensive side of the ball, that means how many yards you get, on average, for every play you run.

On defense, it’s how many yards you allow per play.

I can promise you it’s not a perfect statistic.  There will always be games where a team makes fewer yards per play than the opponent, and still wins it.

For example, in last year’s game against Oregon, Nebraska allowed 6.9 yards per play on defense.  Their offense only averaged 5.2 yards per play.  And yet, Nebraska won 35-32.

But in last weekend’s game, Oregon averaged 7.4 yards per play, against Nebraska’s 5.2.  And Oregon was clearly the more dominant team throughout the game.

Now, it’s pretty early in the season for these stats to say much, but consider a couple examples.

Michigan has allowed the fewest yards per play this season, allowing just 4.18 yards per play while on Defense.  They’ve won both their games, keeping their opponents to 17 (Florida) and 14 points (Cincinnati).

Clemson comes in second on defense, allowing 4.52 yards per play, and won 56-3 against Kent State, then 14-6 against Auburn.

Alabama is currently considered the top team in college football.  While their offense doesn’t rank particularly high for yards per play, their defense is third in yards allowed.  And they’ve won 24-7 against Florida State, and 41-10 against Fresno State.

What you might notice here is that the best defensive yards-per-play numbers add up to opponents having pretty low final scores.  It doesn’t take a whole lot to win when you’re able to hold your opponents to one or two scores in a game.

On offense, it’s almost not fair to include Air Force, who averaged 9.98 yards (almost enough for a first down) on every play against VMI Keydets in their single 62-0 win game this season.

Oklahoma only trails slightly behind the Air Force in yards per play after two games, and is probably rightfully the top offense in this regard.  They won 56-7 against UTEP, and 31-16 against the powerhouse Ohio State.

The examples go on.

The more extreme you are on either side of the ball — in yards per down — the more likely you are right now (admittedly early in the season) to have a perfect record.

So: what the heck does this all have to do with business?

In short, everything.

In a football game, you can go out there, and you can say, “I want to win.”  Just like in business, you can go out there and say, “I want to grow and profit.”

But what does that do for you?

It’s too big of a goal.  It’s too amorphous.  There are too many factors.

It’s really hard to look at either of those goals and have a clear next action.

If you want to win a football game, how does “I want to win” help you on your next play?  It doesn’t.

But let’s say you buy into my idea about this one overarching important stat.  And you’re the Huskers, going into next weekend’s game at Northern Illinois.

Now, there’s a lot of things to work on.

But let’s say you gave your offense and your defense each one number.

The Northern Illinois offense has averaged 5.37 yards per play this season.  So the Huskers defense should, on every possession, try to hold them below that.  And on every possession, their staff would be able to hold the defense accountable to that number.  There’d be a central number to rally around, and more motivation to hit it.

The Norther Illinois defense, on the other hand, has allowed 5.14 yards per play.  So the Huskers offense should make it their goal to surpass that.  Again, one number.  Tracked on every possession, throughout the game.

The defense wins by finding a way to keep the offense to less than 5.37 yards per play.  The offense wins by trying to get more than 5.14 yards per play.

Suddenly there’s a clear and measurable goal, that is a leading indicator of whether you’ll achieve the bigger outcome you want.

This has everything to do with business and marketing…

Let’s say, for example, that you’re building a funnel.

Ultimately, you want to create a profitable marketing funnel.  You want people to buy whatever product or service it is you’re offering.  And you want to be able to put $1 into advertising, and have it generate over $1 in revenue/profits.

Ultimately, that’s what matters.

But, there are a ton of little steps along the way.

For example, the click-through rate on the ad you’re running on Facebook.  Assuming the quality of traffic is equal, if you can increase click-through, you’re likely to increase profits.

Or the conversion rate of the first landing page, where you ask for the email address of your prospect.  A 100% increase in opt-ins here doubles your number of leads without any additional advertising expense.

And so on, and so on.

Too many marketers and business-people (including yours truly, at times) test a campaign or funnel as an whole, and decide its success or failure on the first test.

That’s like looking at the final score of a football game and saying, “Oh, there was nothing that could be improved.  It is what it is.”

Whereas really great marketers get in there and look at each little step in the campaign and treat it as a single play with an ideal outcome and an independent measurable that helps you understand its contribution to the final outcome.

Then, they try to improve and optimize each play — or step in the campaign or funnel — to get the best possible results from the system as a whole.

Done right, this can turn even mediocre funnels and campaigns into big winners.

And when you take this kind of granular look at an entire business?  Well, you have the potential to increase sales by 3X to 11X, by focusing on just 11 key steps of the customer journey, as I shared in The Most Valuable Customer Strategy.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr