And now a word from our sponsors…

Most salespeople are focused on what they need to sell whether it’s cars, houses or insurance.  Unfortunately, selling sponsorships is often not very different with a goal of moving inventory and hitting a revenue number.  As a result, the needs of the buyer are frequently overlooked or ignored altogether.  How we approach potential sponsors, pitch them and ultimately close deals is too often egocentric without empathy or understanding.  In an attempt to help see things from the buyer’s point of view, I interviewed dozens of decision makers from sponsors around the country.  The consistent feedback I received emphasized the importance of taking a client first and solution based approach to sponsorship sales.

Prospecting:

Almost every sponsor I spoke with said they prefer receiving a “cold” email versus a “cold” call.  They simply do not have time to call people back.  Keep in mind your email is probably one of hundreds they receive each week and may not be high on their priority list of pressing business issues they are dealing with.  So be patient and try again if you don’t hear back.

The content of the email makes a big difference as well.  Keeping it short and to the point is crucial.  No one wants to read through a longwinded letter.  You are also not going to sell someone something over an initial email.  Say who you are and why you would like to connect with them.  If possible, offer something of value to the sponsor.  A link to an article or a Scarborough report relevant to their business is eye catching.  The most effective tool is to find a referral.  The prospect is much more likely to respond if you include a mutual friend, contact or business associate as a reference.  This helps break down some of the barriers and leads to a “warm” email instead of a cold one.

The Pitch:

The most common complaint once the salesperson is engaged with the prospect is about the “here is what we have to sell you” approach.  The impression is salespeople don’t listen, don’t understand or don’t care what is important to the sponsor and are just trying to move inventory.  Often frustrated, sponsors mentioned how they try to convey what they are looking for and a proposal comes back to them which fails to address their needs.  The good salespeople take the time to learn their business and come back to them with creative ideas to address their objectives.

Proposals:

Another pet peeve repeatedly mentioned is the proposal itself.  Most sponsors receive dozens of proposals each month and are lucky if they get to review a handful of them.  If by chance your proposal is being considered, it is important to keep it brief and to the point.  A 6MB, thirty page PowerPoint deck with twenty five slides about the team is not necessary.  Most buyers said they don’t care about the team history, player information and all of the other fluff.  Try offering a separate one-sheet summary with all the facts and figures or a link to something with more detail.  The proposal should be relevant to the sponsor and address their business needs.  Try to keep it to ten slides or less and under 1MB in size so it doesn’t jam up their already full inbox.

Closing:

Every single person I spoke with said they do not like a pushy or overly aggressive salesperson.  This may seem like a contradiction because as salespeople we are told we need to be aggressive in order to be successful.  I believe this is where the true art of selling comes into play.  There is a fine line between being persistent and becoming a pest.  How often you follow up and how you respond to a “no” from a client is where your future relationship is in jeopardy.  Many sponsors said they are surprised how salespeople go on the attack or get annoyed, if they are told no or don’t hear back quickly enough.  There is the old sales cliché which says the real selling begins when the buyer says “no”.  However, this does not mean you need to turn up the heat and push even harder.  It may mean the timing is not right, budgets are tight or some other factor is preventing a deal.  Now is the time to focus on the newly established relationship and keep the lines of communication open for the future.  A “no” today could easily become a “yes” down the road, if things are handled the right way.

Jason Klein () is the founder of 88 Marketing and an adjunct professor for the University of San Francisco sport management program. Follow him on Twitter @88marketing.