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Networking Strategies that Drive Sponsorship Success

by | June 4, 2024

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

I am asked constantly how to find sponsorship prospects, how to find the right people and how to get prospects to take a call or meeting. My answer is to go back to the principles of sales. People buy from people! Cold calls have a terrible success rate and leading with the sponsorship package is a one way ticket to the recycle bin.

I have invited networking guru and business coach, Michael Hughes, to share some of his most tested and successful sales techniques. Whether you are in sponsorship sales, cause marketing or any other sales environment the tips will increase your revenue.

Now over to Michael:

The world of sponsorship and cause marketing is more crowded and more competitive than ever. When you factor in the economy and the seemingly endless list of requests that pop up everywhere, it’s no wonder sponsors are harder to find and connect with.

Networking, and relationship building, is still the most effective sponsorship strategy today. In today’s technology-driven marketplace, face-to-face contact is a difference maker, especially when dealing with intangible services like sponsorship.

Here are practical, proven networking success strategies to take your sponsorship sales to the next level and differentiate you from others:

Know Your Goals

Networking is more about quality than quantity. You can have a contact list of 5,000 people, but if they’re only jacks of all trades and masters of none, is that really helpful?

Instead, you have to know two things: your audience and your goals. I’ll start by discussing your goals.

Let’s say this is the year you want to expand your annual gala, but that requires an additional $25,000 in funding. What kinds of contacts can help you achieve that goal by connecting you with prospective sponsors?

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Once you have the answer, you can begin targeting the kinds of events and social media pages that get you one step closer to your goal and network with them.

Strategically building your network like this ensures you have only helpful contacts, not a bloated list where you can’t rely on half your contacts to push your sponsorship goals forward.

Know Your Audience

Besides understanding your goals, you also need to know your audience, as they’re your networking trump card.

How so? You can use audience data to build your entire list of sponsorship prospects. That’s right, I said your entire list.

You need good audience data, though, none of the general stuff. You need to ask the kinds of questions that peel back the layers of your audience like an onion, getting to the good stuff in the middle.

That’s the only way to create a full profile of their psychographics, geographics, and demographics.

Then it’s time to get to the good stuff. Now you can use the brands your audience mentions in the survey to start your prospecting list, then identify competitors and brands that advertise to those audiences.

This prospecting list gives you a strong idea of the kinds of brands you should connect with to make your sponsorship goals achievable, especially when prioritizing audience satisfaction and outcomes (which you should always do anyway).

For example, if your audience likes Panera Bread, you can target other healthy restaurants and food brands, striving to add them to your network.

Clarity is Your Point of Differentiation

One of the most powerful sponsorship resources you have at your disposal is the property you’re promoting. Whether it’s an event, activity or project, it encompasses a number of unique components. Invest time to clearly identify and expand on these key differentiators. They are the basis for your value in the marketplace.

Start With Your Current Network

A logical starting point is your existing network: your database of existing/past sponsors (clients), suppliers, stakeholders, donors and friends. These relationships hold within them a hidden opportunity. Rather than canvassing these people again, seek instead to identify, link into and leverage the networks they are part of. They’ll be happy to introduce you and you’ll often meet people just like them.

Network Strategically

Leveraging an existing network is a critical success factor for fundraising success but it’s not enough. Before running out to every event, invest time to clarify the high-value companies or corporate professionals and research what networks they belong to. This allows you connect with them by design as opposed to by default.

When Looking for Sponsorship Prospects…Don’t Prospect!

Professionals don’t attend events to be sold. They attend to meet other professionals and build relationships. The purpose of networking is to bring two individuals together and act as the catalyst for building relationships. Having a peer-to-peer perspective allows you to connect with potential sponsors as equals. If you’re in the right network, you know you’re meeting with people who can help you achieve your sponsorship objectives.

Every Prospect has Value in the Sponsorship Game

Every person has the potential to help you. This truism’s worth increases exponentially when you are meeting the right people. Your job as a sponsorship and cause marketing professional is to discover how your program or your project can contribute to your prospect’s success. That’s why your most important task while networking is to consciously and continuously position yourself as a researcher who has a sincere interest in the needs, issues and passion of your conversation partner. By focusing on value, you demonstrate your professionalism, competency and integrity.

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Follow Up is the Key to Success

Successful partnerships with quality sponsors aren’t made at networking events, they develop over time as you build trust, establish a reciprocal value base and confirm the contribution to both parties’ success. The path to this outcome lies in leveraging a networking conversation into a next contact. Your primary objective while networking with high-value contacts is to create a reason to want to meet again. That’s when the selling really starts.

Don’t Discount In-Person Events (and the Power of a Good Business Card)

We live in a digital age today, which is great. You don’t have to leave your house (or your couch or office chair) to order lunch, buy groceries, or shop for just about anything.

And while much of today’s networking has been relegated to the digital realm, and rightfully so, that just makes getting out there in person even more paramount.

Research industry events happening near you. Tap into your existing network and ask if there are any must-attend events you should have on your radar.

You don’t constantly have to be out and about, but try to attend maybe one event a month, or at least every couple of months.

Attending a networking event is only worth your while if you’re ready to close the deal, so to speak. You need business cards that convey what you do.

Today’s business cards are more interesting and compelling than ever. They don’t need to be rectangular; any shape will do. Heck, they don’t even have to be printed on stock paper. Business cards are sometimes made of translucent plastic, metal, or wood.

May I recommend adding your social media handles to your business cards, giving recipients more ways to connect with you?

Of course, you can hand out every business card you have in the stack and not necessarily make any long-term connections. It happens. Gradually narrow down which types of events have the most viable sponsorship prospects, then double down on your marketing efforts there.

Use Social Media to Your Advantage 

Another great way to connect with prospective sponsors is right under your nose. I’m talking about social media, of course. You can build a professional presence on platforms like Facebook and Instagram with business accounts.

Once you’re online, focus on building up followers. Start with your existing network, then branch out.

Many social media platforms recommend other people to follow or connect with based on your audience, which can be an excellent way to find prospective sponsors that you otherwise might have missed.

Attend Workshops and Webinars

Here’s yet another excellent method for connecting with prospective clients: attending a webinar or workshop! These are offered offline and online, so whichever is more convenient for your schedule is what you should do.

Other like-minded individuals who want to learn more about your industry topics or concepts will also be in attendance. Besides the opportunity to link up, you can also learn skills that improve your industry abilities.

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What Are Three Keys to Good Networking?

Networking boils down to three principles or keys. They are process, people, and purpose.

You need a purpose when beginning your networking journey, such as to make good connections that could become sponsorship prospects. Next, you need to be selective about the people you let into your network, and finally, define reusable, reliable processes.

What Are the Four Cs of Networking?

Networking has four Cs for building quality relationships, and they are connectivity, clarity, credibility, and competence. Be clear in your message, bring your biggest credentials to the table, and be competent to build your network.

Wrapping Up 

Success in business and life is about creating and developing relationships. Relationships take time, need to be nurtured and require investment. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of fundraising. Networking is relationships on steroids. When utilized effectively, it can drive the relationship process forward, but will never supplant it. Accept the sales process as a series of interactions that build on one another to create and confirm a relationship that meets the needs of everyone involved.

Michael Hughes is known as Canada’s Networking Guru. Find out more about him at Networking for Results and download a complimentary copy of his 12-page ebook Managing the Networking Experience.