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Fall in Love with the Problem in Sponsorship 

by | April 26, 2023

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Sponsorship seekers tend to think of sponsors as these mighty companies with all their ducks in a row. To a first-time sponsorship seeker especially, they imagine these companies conduct business each day with nary a problem.

I can understand where that perception comes from, especially if a company has a mile-long record of successful sponsorships. Yet sponsor companies always have a problem, and it’s your job to solve it with your sponsorship opportunities.

In today’s post, I’ll tell you how to identify these sponsor problems and why solving them successfully can be your key to sponsorship success.

Why You Must Fall in Love with the Problem–Not the Solution–in Sponsorship

There’s a quote I like that goes a little something like this: “Fall in love with the problem you solve – not your solution.” 

The quote reminds me of a line from Keith Cunningham’s book, The Road Less Stupid: Advice from the Chairman of the Board, which is certainly worth taking the time to read if you have some time. 

Cunningham’s quote is: “Shoes that don’t fit are not a bargain at any price.”

Think about that for a moment, because it’s definitely applicable to sponsorship. 

You can become so attached to an asset or an opportunity in your sponsorship program that you push it on your target sponsors not because it solves their problem, but because you like it.

That’s just as bad as coming up with activation ideas that are cool, costly, and flashy but don’t achieve a sponsor’s goals. 

In other words, the shoes don’t fit. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling your assets and activations at full price or for a fraction of what they’re worth. It’s not a good deal. 

So what happens? The target sponsor sees what you’re putting on the table. They look through everything, they do a bit of thinking, and they realize that your solutions don’t solve their problems at all.

This can be frustrating for the sponsor. By the time you two sit down and discuss sponsorship packages and activation opportunities, you should have already had the discovery session. This meeting is integral in better understanding a sponsor’s problems.

The sponsor thought they communicated what they need clearly and concisely, but perhaps not, because your solutions are an imperfect match.

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The best way I can equate it to you is this. Imagine you go to your favorite cheeseburger joint. You tell the cashier that you want a double bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. 

When you get served, it’s a single-patty hamburger with onions. There’s no second patty, no lettuce, no tomato, and no bacon. The server thought you’d like the hamburger better even though you told them what you wanted.

That’s annoying, right? Now you know how your sponsor feels. 

Are You More Focused on Sponsorship Solutions Than Problems? Here’s How to Tell 

Listen, I get it. When you’re a first-time or second-time sponsorship seeker and you come upon an activation or an asset that you’re excited about, of course you want to share it with the sponsor. You think they’ll be excited too.

Yet focusing only on the excitement factor for your sponsorship opportunities will lead to few if any deals. The sponsorship deals you do have will not be fruitful since you don’t understand the sponsor’s problems. 

Here are some signs that you’re not paying attention to what a sponsor really needs.

You Sell the Same Sponsorship Package to Everybody

When you first started your sponsorship journey, you sat down and created a sponsorship menu. Ever since then, that sponsorship package goes into every proposal you write and send out to sponsors. You might even e-blast it or put the package on your website.

The sponsorship package is full of your best ideas, at least in your humble opinion. You’re of the mindset that if it isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it. Thus, you recycle the same assets with every sponsor without even thinking whether those assets are applicable to that sponsor’s needs.

You Use Gold, Silver, and Bronze Tiers

You also organized those oh-so-valuable assets into gold, silver, and bronze tiers. Why? Because it’s easy, for one.

Also, you know that by putting your high-value assets and sponsorship opportunities in the gold package that the sponsor’s interest will most be piqued. They’ll have no choice but to go for the gold, so to speak, which means you’ll receive the most money for your event.

Does that sound as low-down and dirty to you as it does to me? Strong-arming your sponsor to do anything never ends well, and that includes shelling out the max amount of money for a gold-tiered sponsorship package.

I detest sponsorship package tiers and always have. Sponsors might hate them just as much as me if not more so. They’re a clear-cut sign that you’re too focused on solutions and not problem-solving.

You Fill Out Online Forms for Sponsorship

For you, the criterion for choosing a target sponsor isn’t whether your audience meshes with their target segments. No, no, you’d rather pick a sponsor based on name recognition. When you find a sponsorship form on the company’s website, you happily fill it out.

It doesn’t matter so much if you two are a match. It doesn’t matter either as much if you can solve their problems. It’s all about attracting the big names to your event.

What Sponsorship Problems Are You Supposed to Solve?

So what is the problem that you want to solve as a sponsorship professional? I’m glad you asked!

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Problem #1: Your Audience’s Needs

If you don’t already know who your audience is and what segments comprise them, then please, before you proceed any further in your sponsorship program, you need to send an audience survey.

The survey will garner you the metrics you need to get a feel for who your audience is and niche them down as much as you can.

Once you understand who your audience is, you can move on to the second key question. What do they need?

You might think that assessing the needs of your audience has nothing to do with your sponsor, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

The ultimate goal of sponsorship from a sponsor’s perspective is to convert your audience to theirs. Without knowing what your audience needs, it’s hard to come up with solutions to fulfill those needs. The sponsor won’t be able to convert your audience well if at all. 

Problem #2: Your Prospects

In the last section, I mentioned selecting sponsorship prospects not because you share similar values or audiences, but due to name recognition. 

When you choose your prospects on such specific and meaningless criteria, you’re usually targeting prospects that are Fortune 500 companies. This might sound like a good approach, but it isn’t.

As I always say, the bigger the company, the more inundated they are with sponsorship requests. If you found their sponsorship form on their website, how many other sponsorship seekers have done the same? The answer isn’t hundreds, more like thousands, maybe more. 

I wrote a great post recently about sponsorship prospecting that I highly recommend you check out. It will help you select warmer prospects that are related to your audience segments. These prospects are viable picks compared to some random company you choose just because they’re on the Fortune 500 list.

It’s about the Journey, Not the Destination – How to Focus More on a Sponsor’s Problems Than Your Solutions

How do you get out of the solution-focused mindset and fall in love with the problem in sponsorship? Here are my best tips.

Do Your Audience Research

I really cannot stress the importance of audience data enough. If you haven’t issued an audience survey ever, now is not too late to start. If you incentivize your audience with discounts or freebies, trust me, they will respond.

Even if you’ve gathered audience data in the past, if that was more than six months ago, your data is not current enough. Send out another survey and compare it to past results to see how your audience has changed. Create new niches from this current data.

Use the Discovery Session for Its Intended Purpose

The discovery session is not a chance to sell your sponsorship package. 

By the time you get to this meeting, you should have already researched your sponsorship prospects. You know some of the sponsor’s goals, but not all. You also want to be clearer on their needs.

During the discovery session, you can ask questions point-blank of the sponsor to better understand what their current problems are. You might quiz them on what solutions they’ve tried (if any) and what they think ideally could solve their current issues. 

It’s these ideas that should then become the basis of your sponsorship package and your activations. You need activation opportunities that fulfill the needs of your sponsor while simultaneously fulfilling the needs of your audience, and you can’t get those without the discovery session. 

Work with the Sponsor on Activations, Assets, etc.

Here’s the thing about your sponsor – they want to be part of things. Maybe they don’t want to overstep their bounds sometimes, so they let you brainstorm with your own team to come up with activation ideas. After all, it’s your event.

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I say you should get the sponsor involved in your sponsorship program as much as you can. Customize your sponsorship package. Discuss activations with them. They know what their problem is best because they’re experiencing it firsthand. 

The sponsor is also keenly aware of what’s not worked so far, so they can point you in certain directions while steering you away from others. 


If you’re a size seven shoe, you wouldn’t try to jam your foot into a size five, right? Yet as sponsorship seekers, sometimes it’s too easy to try to force your solutions on the sponsor without listening to their problems.

Instead, you must take the time to learn the needs of your audience as well as those of your sponsor. Then your solutions should be tailored to solving those needs. 

If you’re struggling with the sponsorship concepts I discussed today, I think you could benefit from my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. You’ll learn to identify which areas of your sponsorship program have gone stagnant (and how to revitalize them) and the decision-making process that sponsors follow.