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The Most Important Mile Markers on Your Sponsor Prospect’s Customer Journey

Misha Sher has negotiated sponsorship deals for brands that include Toyota, Shell, Mars, American Airlines, eBay and many others. The Global Head of Sport, Entertainment and Culture for MediaCom, an international media-buying and strategy business, led the Sponsorship Mastery Summit audience through an enlightening look at the sponsorship sales process from the buyer’s perspective.

Misha discussed the stages that begin a sponsor prospect’s customer journey – from initial contact and first conversation to the proposal and pitch meeting. Listening to the potential partner’s point of view served as a powerful reminder that sponsorship sellers must ensure they are putting themselves in the buyer’s shoes at every step of the way.

Seals of Approval
We all know brand marketers are inundated with calls, emails and other communications from properties seeking sponsorship. A sure-fire way to break through that clutter is to obtain a referral from an existing partner, or another close contact in the corporate world. In Misha’s experience, if your business partners make an introduction, it drastically increases the likelihood a prospect will take your call.

New research suggests referrals can do more than just get a salesperson in the door. According to a survey published in March of 2021 by Sales Insights Lab, 47 percent of top-performing salespeople ask for referrals consistently versus 26 percent of non-top performers.

Current and previous partners can also play a significant role later in the sales process as case studies or testimonials in your sponsorship proposals. Marketers want to know you have a track record as a productive partner. Providing evidence that your property has delivered results for other brands – especially those with go-to-market strategies and objectives that are similar to the prospect’s – goes a long way in building confidence that the sponsorship under consideration is a smart investment.

The 80/20 Rule
The first meeting with a sponsor prospect is, in many ways, the most important step in the sales process. If managed correctly, it provides the rights holder with all the information needed to build a proposal that address the potential partner’s goals and objectives.

But you won’t obtain that information if the initial meeting is used a chance to pitch the sponsorship opportunity, a mistake many properties make.

Although the temptation to highlight all the remarkable things about your event, team, organization, venue, etc. is understandable, the first meeting is not the time to do it.

Instead, follow the 80/20 rule: Spend a minimum of 80 percent of the allotted time listening to the prospect and, at most, 20 percent of the time speaking or presenting.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set the agenda and lead the meeting. On the contrary, you should take the reins and ask questions that ensure you get the information you need.

Those questions include:

  • What are the critical marketing and business challenges your company/brand is facing?
  • What audience do you need to reach?
  • How do you take your products and services to market?
  • What are your most important channels and business partnerships?
  • How will you determine if the partnership is successful?
  • How is the business structured? Who will be involved in reviewing and decision-making?
  • What has worked and what hasn’t with your current and prior sponsorships?
  • Which brands and/or partnerships would you like to emulate?

The responses you receive will be the blueprint for drafting a proposal that demonstrates how a properly activated and executed sponsorship of your property is a smart investment that can deliver clear returns.

Actions Over Assets
The concept of selling sponsorship is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a fact that we are offering the opportunity for brand partners to purchase tangible rights and benefits. But confining ourselves to selling inventory is a non-starter.

Sponsor ID, tickets, association with the property’s IP, etc. are table stakes offered by every property.

Rather than hawking wares, we need to show prospective buyers what they can do with our rights and benefits. That process starts with developing innovative activation ideas that bring the potential partnership to life, while connecting with the brand’s objectives.

Misha shared a marvelous example of how a property – the NBA accomplished that in its proposal to Indeed, the employment website. Among the creative ideas the league included in its presentation were an association with a content element dubbed “The Players Journey,” which would connect the aspirations of NBA athletes to make it to the top of the sport with the desires of fans and Indeed users to land their dream jobs.

Another idea was sponsorship of a digital/social “Perfect Matchups” feature, connecting Indeed’s role in matching job seekers to opportunities with highlights of star players facing each other in the key “matchups” of the week.

The NBA included two additional content suggestions to Indeed: “Resume-Building Moments,” consisting of social posts highlighting the biggest moments in a player’s career, and “Who Got the Job Done,” a digital series showcasing the best plays and players who are leading their teams to victory.

Properties cannot expect a brand marketer to connect the dots between “Co-branding opportunities on proprietary digital content and social media posts” and the fully formed concepts illustrated by the NBA/Indeed example. We must do the work for our prospects. Creative activation ideas, coupled with data that proves you deliver the audience the brand seeks to reach, is the key to success.