Relationship Building in Sponsorship

There’s a misconception among sponsorship seekers that you have to build a relationship with your sponsors to increase the chances of working with them again. And while I agree that sponsor relationships are important, they’re maybe not quite as important as you’d think.

I know, that sounds surprising, right? Come along with me today as I explain how much time and energy you should put into strengthening your sponsor relationships and what’s even more important than a solid bond with a sponsor.

Why Relationships Aren’t the Be-All, End-All of Sponsorship Sales

If you’ve read any of my guides lately on pursuing sponsorship, such as how to find local business sponsorship or soccer sponsorship, I always recommend having a point of contact within the sponsor company.

I say that because this common connection no longer makes you a complete stranger in the eyes of the sponsor. You’re someone who their friend or former colleague knows.

I’ve also suggested breaking the ice during your first sponsor meeting with jokes or small talk, getting a little personal if appropriate (but never too personal, of course).

These are all relationship-building tactics because having a relationship with a sponsor is helpful. But it’s not crucial.

When I say this, especially to new sponsorship seekers, they always give me the same strange look. I wouldn’t say that look is unwarranted.

Listen, you certainly do want to take the time to foster a relationship with your sponsor. You want an easygoing rapport with them so that each time you need to communicate about your upcoming event or sports game, the interactions are smooth and agreeable.

You want to make working with you a pleasure. People prefer to spend time around others they like, and if a sponsor likes you, then you two could partner together again.

Yet some sponsorship seekers try to use a relationship as a panacea for not having the strongest sponsorship program. They think if they make the sponsor their BFF that maybe the sponsor will overlook their under-inflated attendance numbers or poor conversion rates.

I’m here to tell you that won’t be the case. If you want sponsorship sales, you need to focus more on outcomes and less on being the sponsor’s bestie. That doesn’t mean you’re cold towards them or that you don’t build a rapport. It just means you have your priorities straight.

Trust me, this will mean more to the sponsor in the end than your gestures of friendship.

How to Know If You’re Focusing Too Much on Sponsor Relationships

This post so far has been food for thought, that’s for sure. Yet you’re still not totally sure if you’re giving your sponsor relationships just enough attention or too much. How can you be certain?

Here are some signs that your sponsor friendships are more important than making the sale.

There’s a Lot of Small Talk

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to ease the tension of meeting a target sponsor for the first time by engaging in some small talk.

Yet what happens during most meetings is that the topics of conversation dry up and then you transition into discussing the reason you’re having the meeting in the first place. You know, your sponsorship opportunity.

Yet that’s not how it goes with you and the sponsor. You two can chat and chat and chat. You ping-pong emails back and forth, but they lack substance. You talk on the phone, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s all just conversations about mutual interests or the weather or weekend plans.

You’ve made a friend, that’s for sure, but not a sponsor.

You Haven’t Had a Formal Meeting

When you make initial contact with a target sponsor–which should only come after you prepare your audience research, valuate your assets, and write your sponsorship proposal–you have one goal in mind. You’re not calling to ask how the target sponsor’s dog is. You want a meeting.

If you and the target sponsor have communicated dozens of times but none of them have resulted in a formal meeting, that’s a problem. You’re stalling out with this sponsor, and the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to get you back on track.

You’re Meeting Outside of Normal Business Hours

Okay, so you haven’t had a formal meeting, but you’ve done a few business lunches and even a dinner with the target sponsor. In my experience, this isn’t something that happens all too often between sponsors and sponsorship seekers. I’d even go so far as to call it abnormal.

Once again, it sounds to me like you’ve made a new friend, but I don’t think this person is going to become your next sponsor.

You Know Nothing about the Sponsor’s Audience or Goals

Who is your sponsor’s target audience? What are their goals and where are they falling short in achieving those goals? If you’ve had a discovery session, then you should be able to answer those questions easily.

The discovery session is a no-sales-talk-allowed meeting where you learn more about your target sponsor and their needs. The goal is to determine where your assets fit and if you two are a match.

If you know more about your target sponsor’s television habits or pets than you do their goals and target audience, that’s a huge indicator that you two are talking about the wrong kinds of things.

Your Sales Numbers Are Down

Is your company continually falling short of meeting milestones? Each month, your goal is to achieve a sponsorship sale or several, but once you and a target sponsor start talking, things rarely go beyond that.

Trying to befriend every sponsor you come across might be growing your social contacts, but that’s the only area of growth your company has, not sales.

How to Balance Relationship Building with the Rest of Your Sponsorship Program

The last section made you realize that you are indeed spending too much time befriending sponsors. It’s good to recognize this, as now you can change the behavior.

So let’s set up a scene here. You found a great sponsor for an upcoming event. You’ve done your audience research, learned a bit about the company, and came up with some assets you’re really excited about. You’ve also made the first contact with the sponsor.

Here’s where things can fall off-course for sponsorship seekers who are more relationship-driven.

The best way to keep your sponsorship program moving forward is to remind yourself that developing a sponsor relationship is one step of many. If you linger on this step too long, you can’t progress.

You might worry that if you don’t have a lot of time to build a strong friendship with the target sponsor that your relationship will come across as transactional.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Anytime you interact with the sponsor, be warm and inviting. You can ask how their family is when you chat with them on the phone, but then get back to business. This will make the sponsor feel less like a walking ATM machine.


How do you keep sponsors coming back for more? No, it’s not by becoming their BFF, it’s by delivering on promised outcomes.

When you sell valuable assets and high-quality activation opportunities that further the goals of your sponsors, even if you two aren’t buddies, they should still want to work with you again.

That’s not to say that friendliness doesn’t have a role in sponsorship, as relationship-building is part of the process. Friendliness though doesn’t have to mean friendship.

Building relationships is one tool of many in your sponsorship toolbox. When all you focus on is that tool, it’s like using just a wrench to try to put together a bookshelf. It doesn’t work.

If you’re looking to strengthen your sponsorship program, I highly recommend you check out my free training. In my program, you’ll learn where your energy should go so you can focus on the right areas of your sponsorship program and less on building relationships.


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