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How to Talk to Sponsors: A Guide to the First Meeting

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for. You’ve agonized over your sponsorship package, edited and re-edited your proposal, and now your target sponsor has agreed to a meeting in person. You’re excited and nervous at the same time. You really want things to go well, so how you do ensure success during this first sponsor meeting?

A phased approach to a successful first sponsorship meeting is recommended as follows:

  • Do your research on your target sponsor as well as the individual you’re meeting with
  • Create a list of discovery questions but keep it short
  • Be prepared to talk about your organization a little bit, but save the sales pitch for another time
  • Use icebreakers, small talk, and even jokes to lighten the mood as appropriate
  • Wrap up the meeting by asking about next steps and whether there’s an opportunity for you two to work together
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting
  • Prepare for the second meeting with requested documentation
  • Have a third meeting as necessary

In this extensive guide, I will walk you through everything you need to do to get prepared for a sponsorship meeting. You’ll also learn how to ace the meeting and what to do when following up, which is very important.

Let’s begin!

How to Successfully Prepare for Your First Sponsorship Meeting + How to Talk to Sponsors

Ahead of the Meeting

Research the Sponsor and Your Point of Contact

When you land a job interview, it’s in poor taste not to research the company and the role ahead of time. There’s even time at the end of most interviews for you to ask questions. Failing to do so makes you look ill-prepared.

Just like you wouldn’t walk into a job interview without having looked into the company first, the same has to be true of your sponsor. You want to know all the basics about them, such as when their company was founded, by whom, and where as well as what they do.

Besides this introductory information, you also need to commit to some deeper digging. For example, what kinds of sponsorship opportunities does this sponsor take? It would be really embarrassing to go into your sponsorship meeting seeking donations when all this company gives are in-kind gifts.

Who are the sponsor company’s target customers? What are their current goals? If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, then you need to keep researching until you can.

Once you finish that part, don’t put away your research materials quite yet. You also want to learn about the point of contact you’ll be meeting with at the sponsorship company. You can start with a Google search or check LinkedIn to glean some basic info on this person.

What do you need to know about them? Their full name, for starters, if you don’t already. Having some other background info, such as where they attended college, what they studied, and maybe a past job or two can also come in handy when you sit down with this person soon.

Don’t spend too much time on this task. You still have a lot you need to do, and you don’t want to come across as creepy or overbearing with your knowledge. You just need some material for small talk and maybe some talking points during the meeting, that’s it.

Make a List of Discovery Questions

When you’ve got what you need from the research end of things, it’s time to move on. Next, you want to focus on selecting your discovery questions for the sponsorship meeting. If you missed it, I wrote a post a while ago with more than 35 awesome discovery questions you can use during your meeting.

These questions pertain to your sponsor’s audience, their business goals, ROI, and how they measure success. Here is a smattering of discovery questions from that post to get you started:

  • Who is your ideal customer and why?
  • Can I tell you a bit about my audience to see if we have common goals?
  • How do people move through your company’s sales funnel?
  • How do you define brand awareness?
  • How much does new customer onboarding cost your company?

Upon reviewing the full list of discovery questions in that link above, you’re going to feel inclined to ask each question. This way, the meeting will give you a lot of great information to put into your sponsorship proposal.

Not so fast. Remember, this is a business meeting, not an interrogation. You can’t ask all 37 questions, nor can you ask even 15. I’d recommend picking five or seven really good ones. This will keep the length of your questions session reasonable.

Another reason to limit how many questions you ask is that you need to memorize them. Yes, that’s right, leave the documents at home unless your sponsor requests documentation during that first meeting. Many sponsors won’t though.

Create Your Organization Outline

If a sponsor does want to you to bring any document to this meeting, it will likely be an outline that tells them more about your organization. Here, you want to describe the history of your company, a bit about your audience, and the current opportunity you’re seeking.

Keep this document, which is really an outline, to a few paragraphs only. Trust me when I say that if a sponsor is truly interested in doing business with you, they’ll be eager to learn more about you in due time. Don’t rush or push the process. If it’s meant to happen, it will.

The Day of the Meeting

Review Your Materials

After many hours spent researching as well as preparing your discovery questions, the day of the meeting has arrived faster than expected. An hour or two before your meeting, you want to sit down and go over the materials you crafted just for the meeting. These include the discovery questions and your organization outline if you were tasked with making one.

You should have this information more or less memorized, but it doesn’t hurt to glimpse over the materials one more time just to ensure they’re ultra-fresh in your mind.

Relax

There’s nothing left to do at this point but drive to the sponsor company’s office and head into this meeting. Remember, you want to be empty-handed unless you were asked not to be.

You’re going to feel your nerves kick into overdrive as you get closer to your destination. It’s okay to be anxious, but you want to walk into the meeting feeling confident, so take a deep breath. Remember that the sponsor wouldn’t have asked for this meeting if they weren’t at least a little interested.

Anytime you feel your nerves threaten to get the best of you during the meeting, take a moment and collect yourself. Being nervous can make you blank on your discovery questions or forget to ask for other important information.

At the Beginning of the Meeting

Ease into the Conversation

Your point of contact calls you up from the waiting room to their office. It’s officially go time, but you don’t want to press business matters right after issuing your firm handshake. Remember, your sponsor is a person too. As much as they’re focused on determining whether they want to work with your organization, they’re also assessing whether they’re interested in the people in your organization, such as yourself.

You’re representing your whole organization with your presence, so be personable. Remember the information you studied during your research phase. If you two and the sponsor share anything in common, now would be the time to bring it up. The conversation might flow in that direction for several minutes, and that’s okay. Let it happen. This person is enjoying their conversation with you, and that’s what you want.

If you don’t have any common interests to bring up, that’s okay. Now’s the time to dust off your favorite icebreakers or small talk. Obviously, you want to stay away from any sexual, religious, or political topics, as these are extremely inappropriate. Discussing a sports team or a big TV show is a good starting point. Just try not to resort to conversations about the weather, because that’s pretty dry.

You can also use a joke or two as your icebreaker, but this admittedly isn’t for everyone. Your joke has to be safe for work and not offensive. You also have to nail the delivery, which requires confidence. If you feel a little jittery, then skip the jokes, as it just isn’t worth it.

If you do opt to go the route of telling jokes, cap it after one, two max. You’re here to conduct business, not do a comedy open mic. You got your positive reaction, so now it’s time to keep matters moving swiftly along.

Ask Permission to Begin Business Discussions

You don’t want to segue from your joke about what the buffalo said to his son when he left for college (the punchline is “bison” by the way) straight into why your organization should be sponsored. That’s quite a jarring transition.

Instead, when you feel like you and the sponsor have exhausted the small talk and before things start to get quiet and awkward, request their permission to start discussing the matter at hand.

This is polite, so it’s the right thing to do in this case. Again, you’re winning brownie points with this person. Further, you’re adjusting both your mindsets to business so you can have a productive meeting.

Skip the Sales Tactics

Here’s where things can get a little confusing. In sponsorships, the initial meeting is often referred to as the sales meeting. Thus, all the advice I’ve given to this point may seem counterintuitive. You shouldn’t bring anything to the meeting? That’s right, not even your sponsorship proposal.

You may have your elevator sales pitch memorized (as well as your discovery questions), but you want to leave the sales pitch for another meeting. I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but this isn’t the time to launch into a deep discussion about why your organization is so worthy of sponsorship.

Do you like being forcefully sold to? No, right? Of course not, because no one does. It’s like an example I mentioned before on the blog and I’ll repeat now. When you go to the mall and you’re rudely interrupted from your shopping experience by someone trying to make you buy perfume or cologne, you want nothing to do with it.

When you go into your sponsorship meeting with a pushy sales-minded approach, you become that perfume salesperson. It’s not so nice hearing it like that, but it’s necessary.

If attaining sponsorship can be likened to buying a car, then right now, the sponsor is looking at the car and doing their own research. They don’t yet want a test drive because they don’t know if the car is right for them, but they’re learning about it.

To ease your mind even more, walk into this sponsorship meeting thinking of it less as a meeting and more of a conversation. The sponsor is learning about you, but you’re also learning about them.

Because yes, in some instances, you might be the one to walk out of the sponsorship meeting feeling like the sponsor isn’t a fit. It happens!

At the End of the Meeting

Inquire about Next Steps

You and the sponsor have spoken for about an hour now, maybe a little more. By this point, you either feel really good about the prospect of working with the sponsor company or not so great. The other party will be making their mind up about you as well, although not necessarily definitively.

You need to be brave as the meeting is about to come to a close. Ask the sponsor directly if it sounds like the two of you are a fit. You might say something like “it sounds like our companies could work really well together. Do you agree?”

If all has gone well, then you’ll hear that golden word: yes. Now, just because the sponsor agrees you two could be a fit doesn’t mean it’s time to draw up the contracts and begin pondering activation ideas. They haven’t said yes that they want to work with you, only that they agree your companies could be a fit.

Through reviewing your proposal and your sponsorship packages, the sponsor could just as easily change their mind. So, while you should chalk this up as a win, it’s a minor win at best for now. Still, be glad things are moving in a positive direction.

Also, make sure you ask your sponsor what the next steps are. Will they call you? Send out an email? Should you call them? Do they want to read your sponsorship proposal tomorrow?

Repeat Back What You Hear

Whatever the sponsor says the next steps are, repeat them back aloud. This shows that yes, you’re comprehending what you’ve heard. Doing this will also let you remember exactly what the sponsor said so you can recall it later once the flurry of emotions wears off.

Ask to Make a Document Outlining Potential Opportunities

While you’re still having the conversation about your two companies being a fit, you want to ask your sponsor about you drawing up another document. This time, the document will outline and identity where sponsorship opportunities exist between you and the sponsor company.

Now, I told you before not to get too excited, because even at this stage, the sponsor might say they don’t want such a document. After all, it sounding like your organization could be a fit versus actually being a fit are two very different things.

If you get a no, it doesn’t necessarily mean the sponsorship deal is dead in the water. The deal is admittedly in poor shape, but you could possibly bounce back. Ask the sponsor for some feedback so you can make improvements. You could then call or email in a few days and discuss the opportunity again.

Schedule a Follow-up

Let’s say that in this case, the sponsor said yes, they want to see the opportunity outline. Great! That’s another win for you, but don’t get carried away. If there’s one mistake you want to avoid making during your sponsorship meeting, that’s leaving the building without having scheduled a follow-up.

Here you are, right in front of your target sponsor, and you’re talking to someone at the company. You’re in prime position to schedule an appointment and have that appointment be honored.

Once you go back to your office and your sponsor gets busy with their own work, it could become harder to get back in touch. Even if you had a great first meeting, if too much time goes by with no word, then the deal might not proceed any further.

The purpose of this second meeting is to review the draft document you’re creating, which the sponsor did say they want. Thus, there’s no reason for them to turn down a second meeting with you. Get the meeting scheduled and then you can leave.

After the Meeting

Send Your Outline Doc

The next morning, when you’re back at your office, you want to set aside a few hours to work on the outline the target sponsor requested. Time is of the essence here, as you have a follow-up meeting scheduled.

If you need other key members of your organization present to make your opportunity outline, then bring them all together sooner rather than later. Sit down, brainstorm, revise, come up with more ideas, and revise those until you’re happy with the progress of your outline.

As you create your outline, think about things from the perspective of the sponsor. What are their goals? Do they want to increase their audience base? Better a local community? You should be able to answer these questions by now.

Then, thinking about the most pertinent goals of the sponsor, address how your organization can help the sponsor achieve those goals. Perhaps your audience could intersect with theirs, for example.

As many ideas as you may be brimming with right now, keep in mind this document is an outline only. You don’t need full-fledged plans yet, just actionable ideas the sponsor can work with.

Request Feedback on the Doc

Walking into your second meeting with the target sponsor, you’ve left behind a lot of the anxiety of that first meeting. You’re allowed to carry a document with you this time, the opportunity outline, but still, that’s it. Yes, once again, leave your sponsorship proposal at the office. The time for it may come very soon, but not right this minute.

Present the document to your point of contact at the sponsorship company. Talk over the points with them and ask for their feedback. If there’s anything you think could be added or changed, you want to hear about it as well at this point.

Like during the first meeting, one of two things will now happen. Either the sponsor will agree that your outline could pave the way for further discussion, or they won’t be interested. Once again, you’d like to get feedback if possible on what you did wrong so you can craft stronger outlines in the future.

At this point, a no is probably the end of the line for you and this target sponsor. Hopefully, you have a few other sponsors you’ve targeted, as you’ll need to start the process all over.

Discuss Possibly Sending Your Proposal

If the target sponsor does indeed like your ideas, then ask them how they’d like to proceed. They might ask you to take your opportunities outline and make it into a full-fledged document. You could finally send your sponsorship proposal as well. Perhaps you’ll come back for a third meeting and present the proposal in person.

Then it’s true decision time, as the sponsor will have a very good idea by that point whether they want to work with you or not.

Conclusion

Your target sponsor likes the ideas you’ve floated and wants to meet with you to discuss them. If this will be your first sponsorship meeting, prepare accordingly. Ask discovery questions, do your research, and leave the documentation at home.

Skip the sales tactics during the actual meeting too. Instead, try to determine if you and the target sponsor are a fit. Then, explore potential opportunities during a second meeting. It’s only then that you’ll send your proposal and hopefully clinch the deal. Best of luck!

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.

Connect with Chris via: The Sponsorship Collective | Twitter | LinkedIn