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Attention CEO’s! Five Customer Experience and Retention Lessons from Spartan Racing You Need To Know

Not heard of Spartan? Well, it’s the world’s premiere obstacle racing (OCR) brand. Obstacle course racing is where you run a race in which there are various obstacles that must be jumped over, climbed, crawled under or in some way be overcome.

I first heard of Spartan in late 2017 some time and participated in my first race in January 2018. I preformed terribly but really enjoyed the concept of obstacle course racing. I had been working out on a regular basis but had never included running in my training regimen. My first Spartan race showed me how terribly out of shape I was, and how much I needed to improve my overall strength and conditioning.

Since then I’ve competed in three more Spartan races, most recently in Berlin. So why is this relevant to the business executive? Well my friend, there are some interesting Spartan business practices than one can learn from:

1) Low entry barrier:

It’s true that Spartan caters to a subculture of runners, but this subculture is growing and according to the Spartan website, since Spartan’s founding in 2010 “over 8 million people have crossed a Spartan finish line and each year that number grows.” They make it easy to participate by having an entry level race that is "only" 5 to 7 km long. Not just that, but you don’t have to be a serious runner to participate. It’s not uncommon to see people walking most of the racecourse. Spartan have Open, Age Group and Elite categories. My first run was a Spartan Sprint in the open category. Since then I’ve run longer races and eventually plan to compete in my age group.

2) Just the right mix of suffering and fun:

Make no mistake, Spartan races are not easy, but they’re not impossible. Spartan seems to have gotten the right mix of making the races challenging but not too challenging. I have to admit I don’t really enjoy the race itself but love how I feel after the race. There is such an immense feeling of accomplishment.

3) It’s a tribe:

Spartan Inc. calls it’s participants “Spartans”. The brand has a cult following which reminds me of the cult following of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which has the Harley Owners Group (HOG). Most HOG members have customised Harleys, wear Harley-Davidson clothes, and even sport Harley-Davidson tattoos.

I’d say that Spartans are no less crazed then their HOG brethren. I’ve seen a many Spartan Tattoo on social media. Spartan race events are fun and have a festival feel to them. They have their own branded clothing and even have their own battle cry “Aroo!” (Taken right out of the 2006 movie 300).

4) Ascension:

Once you complete your first Spartan Sprint, you have the need to go up the ladder and complete more. As mentioned, the first level is the Spartan Sprint (5 to 7 km), then the Super (13 km) and finally the Beast (21 km). It’s like going from the green Amex card to the Gold and then the Platinum. One is keen to go up the ranks.

5) Finisher medals:

It might seem silly, but one of the main motivators for me to compete in a Spartan race is the finisher medal. It’s shiny and beautiful! Once you have one of them you really want more. Not only do you get a finisher medal, each race category finisher medal (Sprint, Super and Beast) comes with an additional third of a medal attached to it. If you complete the three main races you become part of the “Trifecta Tribe”, which is sort of an insider club. The three separate pieces fit together to make up a different medal, called a Trifecta medal. Every Spartan wants to get as many Trifecta medals as possible. There are even special medals for completing 2, 5 or 10 or more Trifecta’s in one year. They make you want to do more races, and you are keen to do them to get the medals!

My precious Trifecta medal after completing a Sprint, Super and Beast race in one calendar year

How to ‘Spartanify’ your business and improve your customer experience and retention:

The first step would be to map your customer experience. Here you can create a flow chart of your customer experience from start to finish. Now look at the chart and see where you can make the experience more fun, exciting, safer, faster, quieter, more relaxed, hassle-free etc, depending on your business.

Next, look at the flow chart again and see where and how you can increase the customers’ usage of your product or service, and how you can reward them for it. In other words, what is the equivalent of finisher and trifecta medals, ascension and “tribe” that you can introduce to your business?

The above is not a one-time process but will require many iterations and on-going effort.

However, not only will making customer experience and retention a strategic priority be profitable in the long run, you might even have a customer tattoo your logo on their body one day!

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