How to Overcome Objections in Sponsorship Sales
Have you ever gotten to the point in your sponsorship program where you have a discovery session as well as a few good follow-up meetings (or so you thought they were good) only to be told once you start talking sales that the prospect doesn’t want to go through with the deal?
You can feel gobsmacked, flabbergasted, speechless. You knew things weren’t set in stone, but this was obviously the last outcome you were expecting.
Is there any way to address your prospect’s objections at this point in the game and possibly inspire them to change their mind? In today’s post, that’s exactly what we’ll talk about, so make sure you check it out!
Storytime: How I Dealt with an Objection in Sponsorship Sales
You might feel like you’re the only sponsorship seeker in the world in your unique predicament, but that is far from the case.
To show you just how far from the case it is, I want to take this first section and share a story. Most of the stories I recount on the blog are predicaments of a client of mine.
Not this one. This story is my own and how I navigated the very predicament you might find yourself in right now.
Okay, so this was quite the predicament. I was on the phone with my sponsor, and they were quite angry.
Why was that? Well, the sponsor had just found out that I had sold one of their remaining sponsorship slots to one of the sponsor’s competitors.
My sponsor and I had been working together for years, so I could understand where their anger was coming from.
That being said, the reaction did catch me off-guard since it came out of nowhere. After all, several months before, when I had talked to this sponsor about the opportunity of another year of sponsorship, they told me that they didn’t have the budget right now or the time this time around.
That’s disappointing news, obviously, but what am I going to do? Twist their arm until they change their mind? Of course not.
So I did the only thing that a sponsorship seeker in that situation can do, and that’s move on and begin prospecting.
Now, I can admit mistakes, and I’ll admit one here. My sponsor never outright told me no. They said the timing wasn’t right and they didn’t have the budget, but they never said no.
I just assumed that because of the timing and budgetary issues that they were saying no without directly saying it.
After getting off the phone with my irate sponsor, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I talked to my boss. (Yes, these were the days before I was my own boss offering sponsorship advice here at the Sponsorship Collective).
When I had a conversation with my boss about the matter, he was frank with me. He said I assumed for the prospect what they wanted, which is the cardinal sin of sponsorship.
And my boss was right. My sponsor had never said no, just that they didn’t have the budget right now. And that simply means they didn’t have the budget right then and there when we talked. It didn’t necessarily preclude them from having the budget in a couple of weeks or months.
Even when my sponsor told me “I’m too busy right now,” that didn’t ne 0cessarily mean no. Again, it’s a situation that in a few weeks or months could be totally different.
It’s easy to think that anything other than a vehement “yes!” in sponsorship sales is a no, even if that word is never directly uttered. We assume the prospect is just trying to be nice, so we respect what they say and continue prospecting.
In the meantime, you’re also losing the sale.
So how does this story end for me? Well, several months after I received that angry phone call from my sponsor, they called me again. This time, they had room in their budget for a sponsorship engagement,
However, the sponsor was still frustrated with me, and rightfully so. They ended up going directly to my boss, who had the patience of a saint. He smoothed things over, and the company ended up retaining that sponsor.
But it almost didn’t happen.
What Do You Do When Your Sponsor Has Objections?
Objections are going to crop up in your sponsorship program. It’s all about how you handle them. Here’s what I recommend.
Keep Your Own Personal Biases Out
After I got off the phone with the sponsor and talked to my boss about what went wrong, my boss chastised me for assuming I knew what the sponsor wanted.
I let my own personal biases get in the way of the conversation, which is something we unknowingly do all the time.
We can then turn a situation into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, let’s say you had your eye on a cute guy or girl for a while. You’ve developed a crush.
Each time you see this person, you can barely say anything, but with the help of your friends, you’ve finally mustered up the courage to ask them out. That said, you don’t think it will go well.
If your crush doesn’t say, “yes, I’d love to go out with you,” then you’ll take anything else as a rejection because that’s what you were expecting anyway.
So even if your crush tells you, “I don’t have time this week, maybe next week?”, to you, they’re saying no.
But they’re not saying no. They’re saying they don’t have time this week and maybe you two could go on a date next week.
That’s just like how my sponsor was telling me that at that point in time, they didn’t have the budget.
I heard what I wanted to hear, what I believed I was going to hear, a rejection. And I went through with that narrative even though I was the only one who thought it was true.
If you were in the above scenario where you ask your crush on a date and they say next week, then next week happens and you don’t plan a date, that’s it. You blew it.
Then you end up with hurt feelings just as I did in my story from the last section.
As hard as it is, don’t let your personal feelings, beliefs, or assumptions play into how you hear and perceive what your sponsor tells you.
Ask More Questions to Gather Information
Here’s something else I definitely recommend doing. Ask the sponsor more questions to get information.
I’ll admit, this is something I skipped when I had that initial angry phone call with my sponsor. I was surprised they were behaving this way and feeling flustered, as the egg was certainly on my face.
I was nervous and eager to get off the phone to process what I was taking to be a rejection. So I didn’t ask any kinds of follow-up questions just as I hadn’t asked any follow-up questions when I first talked to my sponsor about sponsorship sales.
For example, when my sponsor told me they didn’t have time right now, I should have said, “okay, when will you have more time? Would you like me to call you back in a week? Two weeks?”
Then they would have given me a timeframe that would have worked better for them. I could have talked to them when they had more time and avoided almost jeopardizing that professional relationship.
Maybe your sponsor has told you they’re too busy to talk much. You can always follow up with something like, “would you prefer me to send you an email instead of calling you?”
Even if a sponsor tells you they don’t have the budget right now, that will mean having a conversation about money. It’s unavoidable.
You might ask something like, “roughly how much money do you have left in your sponsorship budget?” If this is the first or second year you and the sponsor are working together, they might overestimate how much cash to have set aside.
If it turns out that what money the sponsor has available is enough for your sponsorship program, then great. If not, then you can follow up with a question like, “when can we circle back around to talking about budget? In a month or several?”
Now, if the sponsor truly doesn’t have the budget and won’t think they will until six months from now and your event is four months away, you need to tell the sponsor the truth. They very likely are not going to work with you for this event, and that’s something you’ll both have to be okay with.
Do Take No for an Answer
I’m not giving you this advice so that if a prospect or sponsor says no, you can try to look beyond it. As with everything in life, no means no.
Once you hear those two little letters, especially when they’re said directly, you can’t do anything else except graciously bow out.
After all, this article is about overcoming objections in sponsorship sales, not rejections or flat-out refusals.
It’s one thing to ask a sponsor a couple of questions to better understand how busy they are or what their budget looks like. It’s another entirely to keep pestering a sponsor once they’ve made themselves clear.
Sponsorship sales are not about forcing people to buy something they don’t want. Give your sponsors or prospects the autonomy to say no and then respect that answer.
What About When a Sponsor Says, “Let Me Think About It?”
In sponsorship sales, the only worse thing to hear than “send me the proposal,” (which is usually a polite brush-off) is “let me think about it.”
To you, it sounds like it could be a polite brush-off. This is one of those scenarios where you’re not sure what kinds of follow-up questions to ask because what do you even say? The sponsor is telling you they need time, so you have to give it to them.
Here’s what I always tell my prospects or sponsors when I hear this kind of response. “Sure! Take your time. These are big decisions and potentially a big investment as well as a huge part of your upcoming marketing strategy. You should think about it.”
Then I say this. “Is there anything I can provide you to help you make that decision? Are there any questions you have for me that can help you make that decision? Would it be helpful if I put you in touch with an existing partner of ours and you can discuss how they’re seeing value in this partnership?”
I know it can sound daunting when a sponsor says, “let me think about it.” It sounds like a rejection. They’ll “think about it” for weeks and months and you’ll never hear anything.
In the meantime, your event or program or opportunity is drawing ever nearer and you’re still down a sponsor.
Well, I’m here to remind you that you’re doing that thing again where your own personal biases get in the way. “Let me think about it” simply means they want to think about it.
If you ask the kinds of follow-up questions I recommended in the paragraphs above, then you should feel good that you’re going to hear from the sponsor again.
That said, I’m not telling you to sit around and wait forever twiddling your thumbs. If the sponsor hasn’t gotten back to you in a week, follow up. Then if you don’t hear back after that, you can follow up one or two more times.
If you continue to hear silence through all that, then yes, it’s time to cut the cord.
When it comes to your sponsors, don’t make the same mistake I did. Unless a sponsor says no clearly, then anything else they tell you is not necessarily a rejection.
Take a step back, hear what your sponsor or prospect has to say, and ask them how you can help them overcome their objections.
If you need some extra help with your sponsorship program, I highly recommend signing up for my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. You’ll learn what sponsors are looking for so you can approach new prospects with confidence!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.