According to the final standings, 2010 was a disappointing year for the Boston Red Sox.

They began the season with plenty of reason for optimism but finished a disappointing third in the American League East. But considering the injuries sustained by the players, the standings could have been much worse. Twenty-four players were injured and placed on the disabled list. Four of those players’ injuries kept them out for the season.

When a team loses that many starting players, it’s hard to stay competitive. But somehow, the Red Sox stayed in contention for nearly the entire season. What made that possible?

MINOR LEAGUE PLAYERS KEY

Some people credit manager Terry Francona for his resourcefulness, but there was another reason.

For years, the Red Sox have run an extremely effective minor league system, which has provided the team with capable replacements who have been able to contribute at the Major League level when called up from the minor leagues.

Every Major League team has 25 players on its roster for most of the season, and more than 200 in its minor league system. The objective of the minor league teams is not so much to win ballgames, as it is to develop the skills and productivity of its players, ultimately making them more valuable to the organization.

As a player’s skills develop and his output improves, he’s moved up from Class A (Lowell, Mass.) to Class AA (Portland) to Class AAA (Pawtucket, R.I.), and ultimately to the Major League level.

The Red Sox have invested a lot in their minor league system, and that’s a major reason they stayed competitive during their “health recession” of 2010.

The recession that we’ve experienced since 2008 has hurt a lot of businesses, but some have managed to fare better than others, despite the drop in revenue from many of their key clients. The strategy employed by the Red Sox – systematically developing your prospects – is also critical for the growth and sustainability of any business, particularly when faced with fluctuating market conditions.

According to the Peppers & Rogers Group, each of your clients should be classified into one of four categories, based on two factors: Their current contribution to your bottom line, and their potential for bringing additional value.

REALIZE UNTAPPED POTENTIAL

The objective is to realize this untapped potential, by engaging with each of the different groups through unique marketing, sales and service initiatives. In other words, don’t treat all four customer types the same, but approach each group with a different engagement strategy.

“Most Valuable Customers”: MVCs are the ones that have been your best clients for years, and while they may not have much room for growth, you count on them year after year to help you hit your numbers. These are your veteran players who are still in the prime of their careers. Your initiatives with this group should focus on retention. You want to keep these players.

“Most ‘Growable’ Customers”: MGCs are those who are buying more from you every year. They’re the up-and-coming players that still have their best years in front of them. You should focus on encouraging that growth, and harvesting these customers’ potential.

“Marginal Customers”: MCs are those who are loyal, but because of the size of their businesses or other factors, they offer little potential for further growth. Like the Most Valuable Customers, your objectives should focus on retention, but through a more economical investment than you allocate for the MVCs.

Finally, there are those “Below Zero Customers” – those clients who continue to buy from you, but are worth “less than zero” in value, because they cost so much to support. If you’ve ever heard of “firing the customer,” these BZCs are the ones who inspired the concept.

Companies that have been segmenting their customers into value-based groups, and managing them accordingly, have been able to creatively farm more revenue from their customer base during these lean years, and will be well-positioned for market leadership as the economy improves.

And if the health of the Red Sox improves in 2011, they too should be well-positioned for market, or Division, leadership!