The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is in full swing. As the month long festival of football reaches its climax we will see the sport’s finest compete for its ultimate prize. The World Cup may not be an obvious source for lessons on customer relationships, but if you’re prepared to look at things laterally, some enlightening parallels emerge.

So, without further ado, here are five things the World Cup can teach us about customer relationships.


1. Engendering loyalty

Some of the World Cup’s most iconic images are of flag-waving fans or those who have had their face painted in their country’s colors. But as those that follow “the beautiful game” will tell you, football is a fickle business and even patriotic pride can quickly turn to apathy — if not despair — if things aren’t going well on the field. If a team gives it everything and is clearly making a big effort, the occasional defeat can be forgiven. But if they don’t seem to care, hearts and minds will wander.

Similarly, brand loyalty is seldom guaranteed in today’s mobile-first world. Consumers are increasingly discerning and are as likely to choose a business for the overall experience as they are the ultimate product or service on offer. A good experience engenders loyalty, while a bad experience will quickly have customers supporting their “second team.” According to a recent report, 27% of consumers (the highest proportion) cite the quality of the experience as the reason for loyalty toward a brand — and just as in soccer, the very least a brand can do is put in effort for the people that have paid to be there.


2. It’s about the whole squad

Winning teams at the World Cup can’t do it with just one or two stars — or even only a strong first XI. The most successful teams rely on the entire squad of 23, plus the coach, the support staff — even the team psychologist to settle those penalty shoot-out nerves.

Every business will have its most profitable customers — its marquee players — but all customers are important. Just like a star player, one or two customers might need special treatment from time to time, but if you make all your clients feel valued you’ll reap the benefits — including word-of-mouth recommendations.


3. Recognise potential

At every World Cup, there tends to be a breakthrough player — someone who emerges from relative obscurity to shine on the world’s stage. France 98, for example, made stars of England’s Michael Owen and France’s Thierry Henry, players that went on to be icons. Spot future icons – great salespeople or managers –  and provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

It’s important then to nurture your customer relationship team, spot new talent, and allow the brightest and best to rise to the top.


4. Building a winning relationship.

The World Cup can become a test of endurance. For the victor, there are three group games followed by a round-of-16 match, a quarterfinal, a semifinal, and then the final. Competition is fierce, and it’s a long time to be performing. There are advantages to a lengthy tournament, though. You have some time to hit your stride, and the team can gel as the tournament progresses.

Longer sales cycles might seem just as daunting, but they can give your teams more time to get to know potential customers and build real rapport — both on a working and personal level. The more time your teams get to spend talking to potential customers, the more they can show prospects that your business is the right choice.


5. You’re only as good as your last game.

Anyone can win on a given day — just think back to Mexico vs Germany in Match Day 1 this year, or South Korea’s giant-killing run to the semifinals in 2002. Unless they can keep renewing and growing, successful teams are in many ways just setting themselves up for the next underdog to come along and beat them.

In business as in sports, there is no room for complacency. Ultimately, you are only as successful as your last customer interaction. Only by consistently delivering positive customer experiences can you hope to build trust and long-term success. And you know what they say about trust: It takes years to build and seconds to break.


Check out Trailhead, Salesforce's free online learning platfrom to pick up tips and winning strategies for you and your team. In the meantime, enjoy the World Cup!