One of the first sponsorship topics I discuss with clients of The Sponsorship Collective is prospecting. Many don’t understand what prospecting is, and others have no idea how to do it properly.
They can already start their sponsorship properties on a sour note, as if they don’t prospect correctly, they have little chance of proceeding with a successful sponsorship deal. Most sponsors they pursue won’t be interested, and the ones that are might not be aligned with their audience.
This post will examine five strategies beginner sponsorship seekers must follow when prospecting to find the most lucrative sponsors.
Survey Your Audience
When prospecting for sponsors, what criteria do you use? A. How much money you perceive a sponsor can give you. B. Your audience’s preferences. C. How popular a brand is.
The answer is B. I’ve discussed this on the blog before, but now is a great time to reiterate a point.
Your audience doesn’t care how much a sponsor can pay you. They can give you $2 million, but none of that trickles down to your audience, so what difference does it make to them if it’s $20 or $2 million?
The same goes for how popular a sponsor is. That doesn’t have much bearing on your audience, who should attend your events for you and whatever service or entertainment you provide.
So that brings us to response B, your audience’s preferences.
As an event organizer, whether a motorsport organization, a music festival, or a business expo, your attendees are everything. If they don’t go, you have an empty expo hall, a heap of embarrassment, and a lot of wasted money.
Get to know your attendees and what they want by issuing them a survey. This post details some questions you should strongly recommend asking on your survey. They touch on areas like an attendee’s interests, opinions, motivations, demographics, and geographics.
I especially recommend asking these questions:
- What programs or events have you attended in the last 12 months?
- What products have you purchased over the last two years?
- What do you wish you could spend more money on?
- What are your favorite brands in these categories?
- Financial services
These questions will reveal all the insights you need to prospect for sponsors. Those brands your attendees mention using/consuming directly from the above industries shoot to the top of your prospect list.
Does that mean you’ll call these sponsors up tomorrow and ask them to support your event? Not exactly. There’s a critical point between prospecting and discovery you need to do first, and that’s research. But I’ll get to that.
In the meantime, focus on populating your list based on those brands your audience mentions directly in their responses. The more mentions a brand gets, the higher up it should be on the list.
Expand Your List
I always recommend having a backup when prospecting for sponsors. Actually, make that several backups.
You could find a potentially great sponsor and never hear back from them when you reach out. You probably won’t ever know why, so it’s not worth agonizing over or making yourself crazy.
Having a list of backups helps you move on to the next prospect. So how do you develop a longer list beyond the dozen or so prospects you already have from your audience surveys?
Remember that question you asked your attendees about other events they’ve gone to? Research those events, especially the ones your audience mentions repeatedly. What kinds of sponsors work with those events?
Could those sponsors help with your event? If not those sponsors directly, perhaps brands like them?
Another option is to research the brands your audience mentioned using and consuming. Find out which companies advertise to audiences of those brands. Then, put on your thinking cap and determine which brands should advertise to those audiences.
By now, you should have a bulked-up list of prospects. Your list might be 100 companies deep, and that’s fine! The more the merrier, in this case.
If you’re still not pleased with the length of your list, research three to five competitors of every brand you have listed.
Keep in mind that the further you get from brands your audience mentions directly, the cooler your prospects are. That makes it likelier for there to be a disconnect between your audience and those brands.
In other words, your audience could have minimal interest in the sponsor, resulting in less engagement and a reduced chance of achieving the sponsor’s outcomes. That will prohibit the sponsor from wishing to work together again, leaving you in the lurch.
Do Thorough Research
I briefly touched on the importance of research before, so now it’s time to dive deeper.
Researching your sponsorship prospects is a necessary part of the equation. After all, just because your audience mentions using the brand doesn’t mean it’s a fit for your event or organization.
What are you looking for when you research a prospect? You want to learn more about them, including what they do, what they sell, what their values are, and what their audience is like. You can discover this kind of information by reviewing the company’s website, social media profiles, press releases, and news clippings.
You might discover what was otherwise a seemingly great prospect that has a shady past or has recently had a scandal. Others might seem like a mismatch on the surface, but upon learning more about them, you realize you two can potentially work very well together.
There’s no way to expedite the research process, I’m sorry to say. It’s going to take time, as you should dedicate at least an hour per prospect. This is the only way to eliminate prospects from your list.
By the time you’re done, you will have two or three lists. One list will be your “right nows,” another will be the “not right nows,” and a third will be the “not evers.”
Ask Good Discovery Questions
Your list started with 100 prospects, and now you have maybe 75 after researching. That’s still a huge number of potential sponsors to work with, so what’s the next step?
You should find someone within the company’s sponsorship division that or someone within your organization knows. A common contact is a great icebreaker and increases the likelihood of a prospect getting back to you.
If you don’t know anyone in the sponsorship division or the company, I always tell my clients not to sweat it. It’s nice to have a common contact, but it’s not like a prospect will ignore you if you don’t know anyone in their company.
When you reach out, do so with one goal: to have the discovery session.
You can call or email. It doesn’t matter which communication method you choose, but remember that you’re working toward your goal of discovery. You should have the meeting scheduled by the time you hang up the phone or ping-pong a few emails.
The discovery session is your opportunity to ask more questions about the prospect you couldn’t find out when researching them.
For example, how short are their sales figures falling? Why are they struggling to connect with a coveted audience segment? What kinds of advertising and marketing tactics have they tried?
If you’re wondering what kinds of questions to ask, don’t worry. I’ve got a reliable list right here of more than 30 questions.
You shouldn’t ask every question. The discovery meeting is conversational. Grilling the prospect comes across as too accusatory and destroys the vibe. I would recommend asking 10 questions max, interspersing them between talking points to keep the conversation flowing.
Asking discovery questions tells you what the prospect tried before, whether it worked, and what they’re interested in trying again. You can use this information to formulate the assets and activations you’ll present to the prospect to solve their challenges and drive their sponsorship goals.
Document What Works
You’ve done it. You’ve prospected for sponsors, had a great discovery session or several, created tailored assets and activations, and won their business. You couldn’t feel prouder of yourself for mastering this sponsorship thing.
Great work! Now that you’ve successfully prospected, you’ll soon gear up to do it again, especially if your sponsorship opportunity is a yearly festival or event.
I don’t know about you, but when I don’t do something for a whole year, my mind kind of goes blank on how to do it. I don’t want you to feel like you’re starting from scratch the next time you have to prospect for sponsors.
Do future you a favor and document everything you’re doing now. Create a document or spreadsheet, tracking what works, what could work, and what didn’t work. Include your outreach cadence, including how many follow-ups you sent before you got a response.
Write down the discovery questions you asked. Make a list of the websites you used for research and which questions you asked your audience in the survey.
Will you repeat the prospecting process verbatim the next time you seek sponsorship? Possibly, but likely not. No two sponsorships are alike, but they share enough common threads that you will find yourself following similar protocols.
Having a guidebook to how you did it will help you tremendously next time.
Prospecting for Sponsors Is About More Than Dollar Signs
The sponsorship discovery process isn’t merely selecting a company because it’s popular or has lots of money. If you do that, you’ll find yourself hearing nothing from prospects because they’re inundated with requests.
If what you’re doing in sponsorship isn’t working, it’s time to change tact and try a different approach. Let your audience guide your prospecting decisions. The results should be much more to your liking.
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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