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How to Hire Sponsorship Sales Staff (or Get Hired)

by | April 24, 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 writing this post for two audiences. The first is the hiring manager looking to retain sponsorship talent. The second is to the sponsorship sales professional, looking for work in the field (whether new or experienced). There are some damaging approaches and philosophies that come up during the recruiting and onboarding phase and I think both sides of the table will benefit from this post.

What are my best practices for hiring sponsorship sales staff? 

  • Knowing the sponsorship sales process well 
  • Having realistic expectations
  • Hiring who you need
  • Avoiding hiring sales contacts

How to Generate Interest in Your Sponsorship Opportunity 

The best salespeople are those who are deeply passionate about the product or service they’re selling. 

That could be because they’ve used that product or service personally and realized how much it changed their lives. Perhaps they studied the industry the product or service belongs to, or it’s a hobby of theirs.

No matter the source of the spark, it’s that spark that’s key.

So how do you get salespeople excited about your sponsorship opportunity? Here are some pointers to get you started.

Present a Crystal-Clear Opportunity

How is a sponsorship sales rep going to sell your opportunity to sponsorship prospects when they’re not even 100 percent sure what your opportunity is all about? Now is not the time for ambiguity. 

If you haven’t already sat down with the stakeholders in your company or organization and defined what this opportunity is, what your projected goals are, and what kind of outcome you’ll hope to generate, then you must do this before you interview a single prospective sales staff member.

Sales reps need details, details, details. It’s these details that help them excel at their jobs, so please, don’t be stingy or vague on the information! 

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Have Defined Audience Research 

You’re aspiring to find a sponsor for an event or opportunity, and that means audience research is a must. 

I won’t go into how to issue an audience survey or quantify the results in this post, as I’ve written about the topic extensively on the blog. 

However, I will mention my best practice of having current audience data. If you haven’t surveyed your audience within the last six months to gauge their interests, needs, and pain points, it’s time to revise your survey and prune your mailing list.

Your sponsor certainly benefits from having current audience data, but so too will your sales team. They need this data to understand the type of people you’re trying to appeal to through your sponsorship opportunity.

If you have customer avatars or very niched-down data, a sales rep can easily identify certain attitudes and personalities of customers that they’ve worked with in the past. Then they can formulate a sales plan that will work for your audience segments based on their experience. 

The Sponsorship Salesperson Hiring Process 

Now that you’ve generated interest in your sponsorship sales opportunity, it’s time to begin hiring the right candidates. Here’s how that process should play out.  

Know What You Want in a Candidate

I’ll talk about this later in my section on sponsorship sales staff hiring best practices, but you must know what you want in a sponsorship sales team before anyone begins working for you. 

How much experience should your ideal candidate have? Is it necessary for them to have worked in sponsorship sales or is general sales experience acceptable? Do you prefer a sales rep that only works with high-profile brands and companies or is a roster of smaller past clients okay?

These are questions that only your team can answer, but I recommend you mull them over carefully. Get as many stakeholders involved in the decision-making as you can to ensure that your company’s sponsorship sales goals have a better chance of being fulfilled through your new hire(s). 

Determine How Much You Should Pay for the Level of Experience You’re Requesting

Do you want a highly-skilled candidate with niche expertise? Then you better be willing to pay the prices that a sales specialist commands. 

Research similar job opportunities to yours on job boards and deduce how much these companies are paying their ideal candidates. If your rate is significantly lower than the competition, then any candidate who comes through for an interview will take a better offer elsewhere. 

If your company can’t afford to pay the rates that a sponsorship sales specialist should fetch, then perhaps you want to revisit hiring anyone at this time. 

Put Out a Listing

Now it’s time to create a listing advertising your job to the masses. 

I again must recommend clarity when writing your list. Spell it out plainly what kinds of responsibilities you’re looking for in a candidate, the skills the sales staff must have, and anything else that’s going to be expected of them. 

By clearing up any ambiguity in your job listing, you’re likelier to see more qualified sales reps apply. Sure, you’ll get some applications that don’t fit the bill, but that’s true of any job listing. You can just discard those applications. 

Where you post the job listing is your choice, but I recommend specialty sales job sites, boards, and resources. This may help you attract a pool of more qualified candidates than using a general site like Monster or Indeed. 

Assess Resumes and Cover Letters

After several weeks, a month, or longer, you should close your job listing and take it down. Now it’s time to review the mountain of resumes and cover letters you received.

If you have a list of qualities your ideal sales candidate will possess, pull that up now and compare the skills and experience you see on the candidates’ respective resumes with what your dream sales rep looks like.

You want to meet with the candidates that have as many of those skills and talents as possible. 

Interview the First Round of Candidates

Now it’s time to schedule an interview. This can be done in person, of course, but you can also meet with candidates through video chat or even on the phone. 

Determine who within your company or organization will be asking the interview questions and whether other stakeholders in your company will be present as well. 

Prepare a list of interview questions that you’ll ask of all the candidates. You can go off-the-cuff during some conversations, but to be fair, you want to ask all the candidates the same questions. This will help you determine which ones will advance. 

If Necessary, Have a Second Interview

You may wish to have a second interview with your sponsorship sales rep candidates if a.) you’re unsure who to hire and want to get to know your candidates even better, and b.) you’re not in a rush to hire someone for an upcoming event.

The second interview should be in person or over video chat if the first one was only on the phone. You want a sales rep who can assimilate into your company culture as much as one who’s talented on the job, and you can’t get to know how well they’ll fit in without seeing them. 

Make your Hiring Decision 

Now comes what is arguably the most difficult part, selecting which candidate to hire. If you’re trying to build a full-fledged sales team, you might hire several sales reps. 

How to Create a Sponsorship Sales Culture 

Every office has its own culture, but that culture doesn’t have to be completely out of your hands. Since the sales culture will drive behaviors, attitudes, and values, you want to establish good habits now that will pay back dividends long into the future.

Make It Competitive

You know what drives a lot of people to succeed? A little bit of healthy competition. If you know that’s something that your sales reps can appreciate, then gamify your sponsorship sales to inspire higher, more lucrative goals.

But Don’t Shame Poor Sales

When you have a sales rep who knocks it out of the park, then you want to celebrate that, of course. However, don’t use a sales rep’s poor numbers as an example of what not to do, especially in front of the rest of the team.

That’s humiliating, and it will not inspire that sales rep to do better. If anything, they might start performing even more poorly because they’re so self-conscious about being called out.

A bad sales week or period can happen to any rep, even your superstars. Perhaps they have a personal issue at home, or they’re juggling too much at work. It could even be that you’re feeding your sales reps opportunities they’re ill-equipped for.

The best thing to do when you notice poor performance from your sales reps is to have a private one-on-one conversation about what could be going on and how to fix it. 

Track More Than Numbers

It’s not only sales that make an excellent sponsorship sales rep, but their level of activity too. Are they always seeking new prospects? Are they the most eager to hear about you new opportunities? 

These are the kinds of things you want to track in addition to sales metrics.

Boost Morale Whenever Possible 

The lower the morale, the higher the turnover rate, which means you’ll go through the above hiring process far more frequently than you’d like. 

Don’t save the morale boosts until after a top seller leaves or your latest sponsorship opportunity produces low sales. Instead, make it a point to keep the morale of your team up all the time. 

When you win a major opportunity, celebrate. Perhaps the team gets gift cards, or you order lunch. These small things can make a big impact on the selling motivation of your sponsorship sales reps! 

Sponsorship Sales Staff Hiring Best Practices

I want to wrap up this post with the sponsorship sales staff hiring best practices that I touched on in the intro. Keep these points in mind in conjunction with the other tips and advice I’ve presented to this point. 

Understand the Sponsorship Sales Process

It is simply unfair to hire new staff and expect them to close a sponsorship deal within the first few weeks of their tenure. I have seen examples of employers expecting their sales staff to start selling on day two.

What do you think happens in a situation like that? You can’t throw someone into the water and expect that by yelling at them, they’ll magically know how to swim. That’s not how it works. Plus, it’s disrespectful to your staff and your sponsors to use inexperienced sales reps.  

Your sponsors deserve a sales professional who knows their product well and who feels supported by their employer.

After all, this issue stems from a lack of understanding the sponsorship sales process. If you hire staff with three months to make budget, or who start after your prospects have made their budgeting decisions, you’re in trouble.

No sales technique can overcome bad planning and a lack of understanding of the sales process.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand the sponsorship sales process! That said, when hiring staff, be honest about your situation and ask them what their first 90 days in the position would look like.

Don’t hide your concerns from them only to reveal to them after your new hire has started in hopes that they can pull off the impossible. If what they are describing doesn’t sound like a fit for your needs, either change your expectations or keep looking.

Keep Your Pipeline Expectations Realistic

Every organization or company’s pipeline is in a different state from others. There’s nothing wrong with this at all.

Where you get into trouble is when you expect the outcomes of a robust and fully active pipeline that has had a year of stewardship from a pipeline of cold contacts (or no contacts at all).

Salespeople are darn good at their jobs, especially if you hire talented reps, but they’re not wizards. They can’t make something appear out of thin air that just doesn’t exist.

Sponsorship takes time, sometimes a lot of time. Reaching out to Company X because they invest a lot of money into sponsorship is not a strategy. 

While low-hanging fruit may exist, even low-hanging fruit takes time to ripen.

I think it’s a good practice to be honest about your pipeline size and challenges during the interview and use it as an opportunity to see how your candidates would address such a problem. 

It’s never a good idea to hide your pipeline size and quality in hopes that your new hire will just work harder to make the sale, as I talked about before. 

Remember this as your main takeaway in this post. The sponsorship sales process takes as long as it takes regardless of our needs, deadlines, and expectations.

Hire Who You Need for the Role You Want

When the roof in your home has a leak, who do you call? A roofer, right?

Would you hire the best roofer in your city and then have your plumber tell him how to do your roof? Of course not! If you did it and your roof fell in, could you blame the roofer? Or the plumber?

It was a bad decision from the beginning.

Hire a roofer and let them roof. If you want to check their work, hire an inspector to act on your behalf.

Why am I talking about roofing in a post about sponsorship sales? It’s all related, trust me. 

Every day, without fail, I hear stories of good sponsorship salespeople being told how to sell sponsorship by their employers, who are themselves not trained or skilled in this niche. 

Everything from how to write emails, what the sponsorship package should say, which prospects to talk to, and how much assets are worth. It all comes from the employer. 

I’ve been there myself, and it feels like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. You don’t want to upset your boss, but you can’t help but feel like you know better than they do. 

If you don’t know better, I again want to stress that it’s perfectly acceptable to be honest with yourself. More so than acceptable, it’s admirable and necessary to help the sponsorship sales process move along. 

When you hire a sponsorship expert, trust them and ask them to teach you the process. Not sure how to measure their success? Hire a consultant to teach you and work with your team.

Resist the urge to think of sponsorship as an intuitive activity. It most definitely IS an intuitive activity…for someone who has been doing it for years.

Don’t Hire for Contacts

I think both sides are guilty of doing this, and it is causing problems for our profession. 

Simply put, this is the belief that your sponsorship sales expert is bringing you a Rolodex in exchange for their salary, and it is based on the false belief that you “sell” things to prospects. You don’t.

What you do in the sponsorship space is determine what you have to offer, identify the people who value that, and then build a relationship.

Hiring for contacts is a bad idea for the following reasons:

  • If your new hire is bringing you contacts, where do you think they got them from? Likely from past employers. Remember that every current employer is a future past employer! Meaning, if your candidate is taking contacts with them, yours are going with them when they leave, and you’ve just paid them to build contacts for your competitors.
  • If your candidate claims to have a Rolodex of the who’s who in your city and a direct line to all the decision-makers, there’s a good chance they’re lying! If you are promising your contacts to future employers and can’t deliver for any reason, you’ve sown the seeds of your own dismissal.
  • Sponsorship is a process of building real relationships on purpose on behalf of an organization. When we move on from those organizations, we leave the relationships put…which is a good thing. Hire someone who understands the process and will build your network for you and leave it with you when they leave. 

Don’t Make These Mistakes When Hiring Sponsorship Sales Staff 

You’re now equipped with more tips and best practices than you can shake a stick at, but even still, you may run into some difficulties during the hiring process. As you go ahead hiring top sponsorship sales staff, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of these faux pas. 

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Rushing Through the Hiring Process

I understand your company has goals and deadlines and you need to secure a sponsor sooner than later. However, when you put people on a conveyor belt and interview them one after another in a flurry of one to three days, it’s awfully difficult to make a sound hiring decision.

You’ll find that the details of each candidate blur. Also, when you rush through interviews, you might not give the candidates enough time to let their personalities shine. When some could have benefited from a second interview, you’ll probably forego that just to make a hiring decision faster.

Ultimately, this hasty choice ends up costing your company, as you’ll have a higher rate of turnaround, or you’ll have to let the employee go sooner because it’s just not working out. 

Not Calling References 

If you asked for references and your candidate provided them, don’t just look at the names. Contact these people! That’s the whole point of having a references sheet.

Again, this is why you can’t rush the hiring process. Chatting with a reference or two for each candidate you’re interested in will help you gain a greater understanding of their strong points and weaknesses. 

If you were on the fence about a candidate, hearing about them from others they’ve worked with or been professionally associated with can help you make up your mind one way or another. 

Failing to Establish Your Company Culture 

Hiring sponsorship sales staff is as much about ensuring you want them as they want you. The only way the candidate can be 100 percent certain that the job is a good fit for them is by understanding your company culture.

And yes, every company has its own culture, whether you realize it or not. I say “company,” but even if you’re an organization or a nonprofit, the point still stands. 

What kind of water cooler talk does your team engage in? Do you regularly have morale-boosting events like happy hours or team-building exercises? What are your values? 

You can determine what your company culture is based on the answers to these questions. Although it’s sometimes hard to articulate culture in words, do the best you can when writing the initial job description.

You also want to convey the company culture during the first (and second, if necessary) interview. 

If you don’t bother with expressing your company culture and you hire an employee who doesn’t fit, it can be culture shock for them. They will also be more likely to leave the job because they’ll feel like an outsider. 

Not Asking Good Questions During the Interview

Successfully hiring sponsorship sales staff requires you to ask the right kinds of questions. If you’ve been displeased with the quality of the candidates you’ve hired until this point, look inward at the job listing and the interview questions you ask. 

Standard questions get standard answers. I know that may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised. Once you switch away from the cookie-cutter questions, you’ll receive more thoughtful answers that will individualize your candidates and make it easier to hire one for sponsorship sales.

Here are some questions you might ask. Feel free to retool them to your company brand, values, and culture as needed.

  • How do you choose the best sales leads to proceed with?
  • Describe an instance where a colleague or coworker’s working style or personality differed greatly from your own and how you two worked well together. 
  • How do you handle tight deadlines and heavy workloads? Please provide an example.
  • What is the toughest work situation you’ve faced and how did you get through it?
  • What makes you want this job?
  • Where do you want to make improvements over the next year?
  • What career goals do you have two years from now? How about five or 10?
  • What is your top career accomplishment? Why are you so proud of it?
  • Why are you entering the workforce now? What made you want to leave your cur rent employer?
  • Tell me something interesting about you that isn’t already on your resume.
  • What do you believe your greatest strengths are? How about your weaknesses?

Fuzzy Onboarding Protocols 

Once you decide who to hire, the next step is onboarding. However, if you don’t have a clear protocol on how to onboard your employees, you may find that although you’re hiring qualified sponsorship sales staff, they don’t stick around.

Employees want—nay, need—a straightforward and effective onboarding process to help them acclimate to their new role. That means providing a clear start date, maximizing employee training, and prioritizing transparency along the way. 

If you haven’t already, begin standardizing your onboarding procedures so the next time you hire more sponsorship sales staff, whether that’s next month or nine months from now, you’ll have a reliable framework you can fall back on. 

Not Providing Sales Incentives 

Okay, so this tip also revolves around what employees will do on the job once you hire them, but it’s still something you should think about while in the hiring stages. 

Sponsorship sales staff are people at the end of the day, not machines. They need motivation to keep them working their best, which means implementing incentives.

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Gamification is a great example of this, as you introduce a competitive element into a salesperson’s daily routine. Everyone wants to top the leaderboard, and the sales member who makes the most calls or closes the most deals will do that. 

When providing sales incentives, keep these two best practices in mind. First, your goals must be realistic. Incentive or not, it’s unlikely your sales staff can close 100 sponsorship deals in a few months. 

Your incentives must also be good, not something lame like a pizza party. Look inward at what boosts morale according to your company culture when selecting the rewards.  


What Should You Look For When Hiring a Sponsorship Salesperson? 

The right salesperson for your team will have an innate knowledge of sponsorship processes. They will also possess critical and analytical thinking abilities, relationship-building skills, sales savvy, strong communication skills, and good problem-solving abilities. 

How Do I Choose Between Two Qualified Candidates?

This is a tricky position to be in but one you may find yourself facing somewhat frequently as you expand your hiring. Your decision will ultimately come down to minute factors like company culture matches or experience.


There’s no question that it’s hard to find good staff, especially when the lifeblood of your organization depends on your revenue streams. Sponsorship experts have a niche skill and are incredibly driven people. 

They want to succeed far more than you want them to succeed. The best way to do that is to use best practices throughout the hiring process and to trust and support them.