Part 2/2-Through my experience, feedback and hard knocks, I’ve learned a few things about Sponsorship Sales and know first-hand the ups –and downs of selling. This is the second of two posts (click here for part 1/2) dedicated to those on the business development side of the sponsorship marketing landscape. For the experienced pros, you can probably relate. For those who are new or thinking of joining the ranks, this should give you a good head-start:
Master your Time
- One of the hardest things to master in sponsorship sales is your time. You can literally chase your tail all day and drive yourself mad if you don’t get this under control. It’s time consuming and requires a lot of energy to fill the pipeline and maneuver your way through a long, hard-winding sales cycle, with the goal of finding a handful of new partners each year. Although sponsorship isn’t your typical sales job, it’s still selling, and a strategic numbers game. Unless you work for a select group of properties, you’re probably in the “outbound” game i.e. you’re not waiting for the phone to ring. You can only make so many calls, attend so many meetings, invest countless hours in proposals, while staying on top of prospects.
- How do you decide where to invest your time and when to let that prospect go? Take a course in time management and apply the Pareto Principle – the 80/20 rule. 80% of your opportunity is going to come from the top 20% of your prospects. Determining where and when to invest your time will enhance your ability to close business. I’ll provide more context in another post, but the ability to identify the top 20% comes with experience, intuition and feedback e.g. how do you feel coming out of the meeting? Did they ask questions? Did you ask questions? Is there definitive next steps? Too many qualifiers to discuss here, but I hope you get my point. Stop trying to resuscitate prospects who are no longer responsive, and focus on the ones who are still very much alive i.e. the Top 20%.
Ignore the Critics
- “I don’t believe in your property”. “I’m not a fan”. Let’s face it, some people just don’t like your property and can’t see the value…and that’s ok. Maybe they’re right; it’s not the right “fit” or the right “timing” (two fundamental building blocks for any successful partnership). As long as you’ve asked the right questions and done your due diligence, it’s time to move on. Don’t take it personally; there are thousands of companies out there and you only need a few to win in sponsorship. Look for the people who believe in you and your property; people who love and get sponsorship (and all its benefits). Trust me, I’ve worked on some properties that didn’t have the cache of an NHL or the viewership of the CFL, and found great partners that fit and win awards. There will always be critics and naysayers in life and that includes your property. Thanks for coming out and have a great day – moving on. Even Academy Award winning actors or League MVPs have their critics. My point here is stop investing time in people you can’t, or probably will never convince, and focus on the ones that matter. You’ll be much happier and spend less time over-analyzing the “no’s”.
Use your Imagination
- How about a new category you haven’t explored? What about collaborating with another property to create more value or opportunity for an existing partner or new prospect? When I worked in Fashion (Mastercard World Fashion Week in Toronto), we looked at the entire fashion landscape when we developed creative partnership and activation programs. It wasn’t just about the Event we represented at IMG, it was about the entire experience and touch-points. We looked at how we could incorporate designers, media partners and other sponsors into the proposal. Sometimes it pays to create scale and brand extensions by including assets that you don’t own. Together you could be better, and everyone wins.
- Leverage your best assets like your partners. Ask them for referrals and tap into their network. Your partners are your champions – they’ve bought into your property and understand the true value of the partnership. Get people talking about your property. Think about using testimonials, case-studies and third-party endorsements to articulate the value proposition. People want to be part of something that works. Push your partners to measure results. Sometimes we can shy away from measurement not knowing what the outcome could be, but if you don’t find a way to measure something, the “it feels right” feeling will be fleeting – especially in today’s sponsorship marketplace. Once it works, and you have a partner who is fully engaged – submit your success and enter the Sponsorship Marketing Awards and get recognized. Nothing says “stamp of approval” when you can promote your partners success in a new conversation with new prospects.
Get me some of that Research
- I’m fortunate to emcee the Sponsorship Marketing Council of Canada’s monthly breakfast forums at Real Sports in Toronto, which includes my roundup of sponsorship industry highlights from around the world – Sponsorship Soup. Some of the recent forums have included a number of tier-1 topics, speakers and brands (i.e. Olympics, NHL, Diageo, Coke, TSN, CBC, Visa just to name a few). The one common element shared at these forums is the importance of research. Have a look at your sales presentations and ask yourself if you’re pushing the limits. I’m not talking about basic data or a recent “Survey Monkey”; I’m referring to insights into who your fans are and what motivates them. What are the key categories that align with your property and why? You’re not going to win in every category, but if you focus on the categories that do align well, and focus your energy on helping to articulate the why, then you’ll have a good starting point for a real conversation that extends well behind I’m a fan or not a fan. Remember, if you focus on what’s best about you, you can’t lose. If you’re not familiar with IMI International, they add the insight and context that helps turn data into conversation and action.
Hire a Pro
- Unless you’re in it, you can’t fully appreciate what it takes to attract, retain and grow corporate partnerships. Sponsorship is intangible by nature and constantly being challenged. There are new marketing options always waiting in the wings for brands, looking to take a bite of your hard-earned sponsorship pie. With that being said, it’s paramount to have the right people in place representing your property’s interests.
- Hire a Sponsorship Pro (or agency) who fully understands the sponsorship landscape (note: they are hard to find). There’s also a reason why for every sponsorship service/activation job, there are 20+ qualified candidates, whereas for sponsorship sales gigs there are usually only 1-2 qualified candidates. The ROI is there, so choose wisely and find the right people to represent your property. If you can’t hire internally, look for a consultant or an agency with the expertise to help achieve your desired outcome. If you have time, here’s what the top 20% do differently.
- Attention grads, interns and other sports marketing hopefuls, we need great sponsorship development people in our industry.
Find a Mentor
- Don’t kill yourself trying to be the wizard of wow and perpetual genius. Success leaves tracks. Look at the people in the industry who are successful and ask them how they got there.
- Stop and think about it. You work in a pretty cool industry, whether that’s sports, entertainment, cause, etc.. I’m guessing when you tell people what you do, they want to talk about it? I’m not saying they fully understand when you try to explain that you’re a sponsorship professional (see my post: You Know you Work in Sponsorship When…), but that’s not my point. Sure, your day may be filled with “no’s” or hours upon hours of creative proposal development; and the perpetual search for that “White Whale” –you know that one big sponsor that will transform everything. My days still swing up and down the emotional continuum, but when they swing down, I remind myself that I could be doing something else, and then I smile and think “no, this industry is awesome”. Positive attitude and expectations will change everything. Plan to win and have fun in the process.