How to Hire Sponsorship Sales Staff (or Get Hired)

In my time working in the sponsorship and cause marketing space I have been interviewed and hired, I have interviewed and hired staff, I have hired consultants, been hired as a consultant and have helped clients recruit sales staff. While this doesn’t make me a recruiting expert by any means, it does put me in a position to comment on some trends I see in the process of hiring sponsorship staff.

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.

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Not Understanding the Sponsorship Sales Process

It is simply unfair to hire new staff and expect them to close sponsorship within the first few weeks of their tenure. I have seen examples of employers expecting their sales staff to start selling on day two. Not only is it disrespectful to your staff, but also to your sponsors. Your sponsors deserve a sales professional who knows their product well and who feels supported by their employer.

This issue stems from a lack of understanding of 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. There is no amount of sales technique that can overcome bad planning and a lack of understanding of the sales process.

It’s OK if you don’t fully understand the sponsorship sales process! But when hiring staff, be honest about your situation and ask them what their first 90 days in position would look like. Don’t hide your concerns from them only to reveal 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.

Your Pipeline Doesn’t Match your Expectations

Every organization’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 full of cold contacts (or no contacts at all).

Sponsorship takes time, sometimes lots of time. Reaching out to “company X” because they invest a lot of money in sponsorship is not a strategy. While low hanging fruit may exist, even low hanging fruit takes months 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 is 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.

The sponsorship sales process takes as long as it takes independent of our needs, deadlines and expectations.

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Hiring for Contacts

I think both sides are guilty of this, and it is causing problems in 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 of 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 sewn 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.

Remember: Cold contacts of today are your warm contacts of tomorrow. After all, every contact was a cold contact once.

Hiring a Roofer Then Asking the Plumber What to Do

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? No, 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.

Every day, without fail, I hear stories of good sponsorship salespeople being told how to sell sponsorship by their employers…who are not themselves trained or skilled in this niche and highly skilled area. Everything from how to write e-mails, what the sponsorship package should say, which prospects to talk to and how much assets are worth.

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.

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.

Chris Baylis is a corporate sponsorship and cause marketing expert. Chris has managed the entire spectrum of the sponsorship process, raising millions of dollars for charities, associations and not for profits and is a board member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn | Google+