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How to Find Your Sponsorship Bottleneck

by | August 9, 2021

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What’s holding you back from achieving your sponsorship sales goals?

This isn’t always the easiest question to answer, and not just due to matters of pride or ego. Sometimes, it takes a second pair of eyes for you to realize a mistake you’ve been making. 

I tend to be that second pair of eyes for many of my clients who are part of my Sponsorship Accelerator program. They get so caught up in what goes into the sales meeting that they miss other errors they’re making along the way or parts of their sponsorship program that they lack.

These bottlenecks will impede your sponsorship progress, so you must be able to identify yours and overcome them. In today’s article, I’ll show you how. 

What’s Your Sponsorship Bottleneck? Here’s How to Find It

I’m quite used to identifying sponsorship bottlenecks, as I run through an exercise with each of my new clients to do exactly that. In this exercise, I look at areas with the client such as audience data, activations, sales materials, outreach, discovery, and sales. Then I ask them questions pertinent to each category.

Here’s what I mean. 

Audience Data

Without solid audience data, your chances of making a sponsorship sale are nil. 

That’s because, as I always say, companies don’t want to sponsor you, but your audience. It’s worth taking the time to assess the state of your audience data, even if that state is currently a mess.  

The first question I would ask is how good is your audience data? In other words, have you recently surveyed your audience? Are you using secondary research and third-party research? Do you have at least 30 data points on your audience?

You see, when I ask a broad question like “how good is your audience data,” your first inclination is to say “great!” But when I ask specific questions, now you’re forced to honestly assess the state of your audience research.

I always tell my clients to rate themselves in one of three ways: strong, needs work, or problematic. So if you didn’t have 30 data points on your audience but you had 20, I’d say your audience data needs work. If you hadn’t ever surveyed your audience, you’d mark that as a problem area.


Then you’d move on to your activations or those experiential marketing opportunities that connect your audience with your target sponsor’s goals. Getting activations right is difficult for many first-time sponsorship seekers and even those pursuing sponsorship for a second or third time. 

By assessing your activations now, you can make them better for every sponsorship moving forward.  

Here are some questions you could ask. 

  • Are you doing memorable activations that unite your audience with your sponsors in meaningful ways?
  • Are you just putting logos on stuff or are you coming up with truly valuable assets?
  • Are you selling gold, silver, and bronze packages or are you customizing your sponsorship packages?


Your outreach is very important in sponsorship, so let’s assess what you’re doing (or not doing). 

Are you sending very long emails that are 2,000 words? That’s far too long. 

You need to keep your outreach easy and breezy at the beginning to encourage a response. This article on the blog has a few sponsorship letter examples for you to browse. They’re all related to sports, but with some tweaking, you can make the content more applicable.

Notice how each of those letters is short? That’s no coincidence. 

What rate of replies are you getting from your prospects when you send a cold email? If it’s five percent or 10 percent, that’s too low. You’d have to mark your outreach as “needs work.” The goal is to aim for a 15 to 20 percent response rate. 

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The discovery session is not a sales meeting, so make sure you’re not falling into that trap. Instead, this session is an opportunity to learn more about the target sponsor’s goals and shortcomings to see where–if at all–you can fit into the equation to help. 

Do you have a discovery script? If so, is the script the same for each target sponsor? It shouldn’t be. Like you can’t recycle your sponsorship proposal from sponsor to sponsor, you’d need to rewrite your discovery script each time too. 

What is your discovery process like? Do you have a list of questions you’re ready to ask or are you perfecting your elevator pitch? If it’s the latter, you need to mark discovery as a problem area. Remember, the discovery meeting is not a sales meeting! I think that bears repeating. 

Sales Material and Sales Goals

Sales don’t lie, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s good because you can look at concrete numbers to assess the state of your sponsorship sales, but it’s bad because poor numbers are a blow to the ego. 

Even still, you must take a good, hard look at your sales materials and quality. Ask yourself questions like does each target sponsor get their own custom sales package or do you recycle the same format for everyone? 

Is half of your sponsorship package audience-centric or do you talk too much about yourself? Do you use audience avatars and case studies about your past sponsorship experiences? These are much stronger sales tactics

Are you closing 30 to 50 percent of your sponsorship prospects? What about 50 to 75 percent? I’d say to start with a closing goal of 30 percent for now, but as you acquire more sponsorships, increase your target closing rate. 

If you want to make your own table so you can assess your sponsorship sales process and identify the bottlenecks, here’s a blank one you can print out and share among your team. 

How to Find Your Sponsorship Bottleneck

I’d recommend putting dots for each category rather than X’s or checkmarks. Then, when you’re finished, you can draw a line to see how your sponsorship sales are trending.

Here’s an example.

How to Find Your Sponsorship Bottleneck

The more kinks or low points in your chart, the more work you have to do on your sponsorship sales program. 

How to Fix Sponsorship Bottlenecks

Okay, so continuing with the example above, you don’t have audience data, you have okay activation ideas, your sales material is great, but your outreach, discovery, and sales need a lot of work. Which area do you start with to improve your sponsorship program

Let me guess, you’re going to say sales, right? After all, that’s your bottom line. By fixing that, the rest will follow, you’re sure. 

Well, don’t be too sure.

I like to work from left to right on sponsorship bottlenecks, which in this case means starting with your audience data. It’s like I said before, you can’t make a sponsorship sale without up-to-date, thorough, segmented audience data. 

So what does this mean for your sponsorship program? Well, if you haven’t issued an audience survey, then it’s time to do that ASAP. In this guide, I have some audience surveying best practices that I’d like to share with you now.

  • Send your survey between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. local time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Through my research and experience, these days and times tended to have a higher opening rate.
  • If emailing your audience about a survey, stick to three emails. In the first email, alert your audience that you’re sending the survey. Then, in the second email, actually send it. You can send a reminder email as well for those who haven’t yet taken the survey. 
  • Mention that your survey will be short (takes under 10 minutes to finish) and easy to do (answering multiple choices questions versus having to type in responses).
  • Incentivize your audience to complete the survey by offering discounts, exclusive sales codes, or even freebies. Contests and giveaways are another good way to get more participants. 

After a few weeks, when you’ve got all the responses you think are going to come in, it’s time to assess your data. You want to categorize your audience using demographics, geographics, and psychographics. The goal is to create at least three audience segments or niches. You can even make five such niches, but I wouldn’t recommend too many more than that.

So maybe one niche is 40-year-old women who live in New York City and make $80,000 a year. Your other niche could be 25-year-old men who work as accountants and buy your products/services about once a month. 

After you get your audience research to a point where you’d rate it as strong, you need to move on to the next weakest area going left to right. In the example I’ve used, that’d be outreach. After that, you’d work on your discovery process.

What tends to happen is when the other bottlenecks are fixed, sales will fix themselves!

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Finding your sponsorship bottlenecks is all about honesty. If you give yourself high marks on everything but sales when those other categories are lacking, then target sponsors will continue to turn you down.

It’s not easy to admit that you’re not doing something well, or that it’s not as great as it can be. Yet don’t focus so much on that side of it. Instead, look at these areas as an opportunity to grow. Once you solve your sponsorship bottlenecks, your sales will reflect the time and effort you put into it.

If you’re still having a hard time making heads or tails of your sponsorship program, I recommend you check out my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program!