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Corporate Sponsorship Done Right: The Art of Doing Nothing

In today’s post, I am going to share a case study with you about one of the biggest corporate sponsorship deals I’ve worked on. This is an example of how I closed a major, multi-year corporate sponsor in a way that will surprise you. It didn’t include any fancy sponsorship proposals or a complicated activation strategy but it did require a certain level of comfort with the best sales tool in your arsenal “awkward silence.”

Corporate Sponsorship Packages

Necessary Evil or Part of the Problem?

Let me start at the end of this story. We were sitting with our newest sponsor, a seven-figure partner with a massive brand and the ability to take us to the next level of our corporate sponsorship program. I asked the question that any good sponsorship seeker asks of new sponsors: how did you come to choose us? Surely it was my weekly sponsorship proposal submission…right?

They laughed.

“Chris,” said my newest corporate sponsor, “we get 10,000 sponsorship packages every single month. Nobody on my team has read a sponsorship proposal in years.”


Bubble busted, dreams dashed!

I thought I had the world’s best sponsorship proposal template. Heck, maybe I did! But it didn’t matter because none of my prospects were actually reading my proposals.

“You were invited to the table for two reasons: first, you have an audience that our ideal customer cares about and second, your president golfs with our CEO.”

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Good Corporate Sponsorship Comes from Real Relationships

I know what you’re thinking! Of course we got the sponsor, our president is best buddies with their CEO!

If you are thinking this, you would be incorrect.

What you should actually be thinking is “how did you get to this stage in the sponsorship process without me asking this question already!”

If I had used my five questions for every sponsorship prospect, I would have found out earlier…but I digress.

You see, we were one of four charities invited to the table, all with the same audience and all of whom had presidents who golfed with the CEO of this company. We still had to pitch and compete but we were competing against four others instead of 10,000 others who were going in with the sponsorship package as their first point of contact.

This is why it is so incredibly important to use your board, your committees, your current sponsors, the business breakfast, Friday five and your super powers of networking to warm up your prospects and build real relationships, on purpose.

Corporate Sponsorship Made Easy: Just Do…Nothing?

Just like bringing nothing to a prospecting meeting is your most powerful tool, the same is true for making the sale! Nothing, nothing at all, is your most important tool. Relationships matter and as soon you start to try and sell something, you lose your prospect’s trust.

Here we were, up against four much bigger, much better-known brands. They brought charts, pictures, stories…some even brought program users to help plead their case. We sat in the waiting room for our 15-minute pitch to come watching this parade of fundraisers, along with their gadgets and tear-jerking stories…and us with nothing in hand.

Our turn to pitch came and in we went. There was a full boardroom table, each individual armed with a question that we answered using nothing more than our personalities – connecting with every person in the room. Not trying to sell them anything, or guilt them, or convince them that our cause was better than the others (after all, all five charities did something similar and likely appealed to the same demographic).

The final question came: “Let’s say we mail you a cheque for $1 million. What do you do next?”

Our answer?

Nothing. (This was a truly Seinfeld-esque moment for me…and it turned out way better for us than it did George Costanza).

Then silence. Awkward silence.

In fact, we stood there, awkwardly staring at the people in the room waiting for them to say something. They finally did, asking us to give some more detail.

Then we spoke: “We would lock it in the safe, call you immediately and book a meeting. You see, until we know what you want to accomplish through our partnership together, or what your customers value, or what your brand stands for, we don’t have the right to spend a penny. If we can’t do what you need us to do, we’ll give the cheque back.”

Back to our brand new Corporate Sponsorship Deal

My new corporate sponsor went on, “Chris it wasn’t the sponsorship package that sold us, it wasn’t the cause that sold us, there are so many good causes out there, it was you and your team. We are looking for a partnership and your answer is why we are here today.”

There you have it! The next time someone tells that “all you need is a sponsorship package” send them this story. Had I gone in with a pitch, I would have walked out with nothing in my hands. Instead, I went in to listen, to connect, and to build a real partnership, and I walked out with my first million-dollar sponsorship (and my second and third million for good measure).

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Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn