What Age of Empires teaches us about Sales & Marketing?

I spent a lot of my college days playing this incredibly brilliant and additive game during my days – Age of Empires. Countless hours that were supposed to be spent in marketing class went in the gameplay in a smoke filled room with a bunch of really smart fellow classmates or gamers whatever way we can look at it. We networked the rooms, shut down the girlfriends and immersed into battle – a fair one, one of conquest, to be the last man standing in battle!

I’ve grown older since those days; the gamers have become corporate honchos and my countless hours are spent looking at numbers. What once used to be the strategies and tactics of Age of Empires has become that of Sales and Marketing. Today, as I was recounting those days of immense fun, a question struck me – Did I really miss those marketing classes, or did I learn a lot more playing AOE that I use today? The more I think, the more my answer is clearer and the more I feel the similarities between playing a game and real life are never more intimate. I’ve tried to put these in a few words today and for those who never played AOE – I think you guys have missed something in life and you should do that immediately! At least, after reading this blog, I hope I inspire you to get the gamer in you rise!

The Basics: Hunting & Farming

To win a game in AOE or in the marketplace, there can’t be two simpler aspects – You “Hunt” and you “Farm”. When the game starts, you have few resources to grow and collecting resources fast is the most critical element. You can’t keep hunting because there are few animals out in the wild and you run the risk of making a few species out there extinct. J

In sales & marketing, this is simply hunting (acquiring) new customers and farming (growing) older ones. While new customers are very important for survival, it’s the older ones who keep an organization growing. A word of caution, be careful of the elephants & tigers; you go to hunt, they can attack you, but when approached with enough resources, can give you a lot of dough to feed on 😉

Sales & Marketing lessons from Age of Empires - Diagram 1

Segmentation: Wood, Stone & Gold

Just like different type of resources, there are different types of customers. Some are certainly more valuable than others – like gold is more valuable than wood. However, the availability is inversely proportional to the value. In marketing, this is typically called the customer value chain. The most important aspect to note is that all such segments or resources are important, but in different measures. You need wood to build buildings without which stone and gold can’t be collected; likewise, if we don’t have a volume of customers, it is difficult to build awareness. Steady customers are like stone, they are needed to fortify your position and generate predictable revenue. Of course, every company will get its winning strategy through gold customer, the few loyalists who make or break the game. Like in Age of Empires, in marketing / sales too, it is important to plan strategies for each customer base carefully – you can’t have too many (sales people) villagers collecting wood or stone or gold, just the optimal amount for each resource to get maximum return!

Sales & Marketing lessons from Age of Empires - Diagram 2

Acquisition & Retention: The battle for the gold mines

In all most every AOE game played, there are key resources that decide the winner. Consider a map where there are just 2 players and 7 gold mines, the winner is often the player who gets 4 gold mines instead of 3. It is not only important to get or acquire that gold mine, it is also important to retain that gold mine. Very often, the battles are fought solely to retain that extra gold mine. In sales & marketing too, the process is similar – acquire valuable customers (or gold mines) and make sure you retain them. That really means, identify that gold customers you are going to target early in the game, put your best army (sales force) where there is a risk of losing that gold customer and make sure you are constantly mining that customer! Very often than not, competition targets your gold mines under stealth mode. They send villager by villager (sales); they fortify it and send an army to protect it. Make sure you notice that gold mine early and make it yours before competition gains strength!

Sales & Marketing Lessons from Age of Empires - Diagram 3

Channel Partners: Alliances & Diplomacy

In a long game with multiple players, the player who thinks can do it alone usually gets killed the first. Unknown to him is competition forming alliances and is akin to partners in an organization. It is impossible to win a game with 7 people standing alone against two teams of 3 and therefore it is wiser to choose a partner(s) early in the game. In real life, you need sales support (an army support to fight key battles in AOE), technology sharing (like resource sharing) and much more. To do this, the art of diplomacy and tribute payments are critical! No one wins when only one tries to win – good partners are one where there is a constant and mutual trust of exchange. Like in Age of empires, it’s better to be an ally (partner) or at least neutral than an enemy (direct competitor)

Sales & Marketing lessons from Age of Empires - Diagram 4

Conclusion – Winning the war: Earn More, Spend Less and have the right Army

Nothing can define the winner than someone who follows these 3 simple but most effective strategies, in Age of Empires or in the marketplace. Earning more revenue by expansion is critical, but more important is how to get this done by lower cost – effectively increasing what is often called the “Sales and Marketing Return on Investment (ROI)”. Both these can be achieved by having the right army of sales and marketing resources and tactically placed. Volume of these resources is not the only success route, which will help you earn more in the short run, but won’t help you spend less. The right tactics is critical; you need a horse-man against a swords-man, a pike-man against a horse-man and trebuchets against fortified walls! Never forget the human resource professional, the healer priest who does not win the wars directly but makes sure your army stays fit and fine!

Sales & Marketing lessons from Age of Empires - Diagram 5

Hope you enjoy the blog and take away some interesting insights! I would love to know your thoughts…please leave comments.

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