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Sponsorship ABCs

by | September 16, 2021

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Do you know what ABC means in sales? No, I’m not talking about the first three letters of the alphabet. It’s an acronym that stands for this: always be closing.

If you’ve ever worked in sales or you currently do, then you understand this rationale. Your boss wants you to meet a quota, so you have to sell, sell, sell, closing as many deals as you can, and moving right on to the next.

Does this attitude translate to sponsorship sales? It doesn’t, and in today’s article, I’ll tell you why. I’ll also clue you in on what you should be doing instead to increase your sponsorship sales rate, so make sure you keep reading!

Always Be Closing – Why the ABCs Are Not the Best Advice

In sponsorship and other areas of sales, I’m not the biggest fan of the ABC or always be closing mindset. Let me tell you a story that explains why.

This story isn’t mine, but rather, that of a client of mine named Andrea who was part of our program, the Sponsorship Accelerator, earlier this year. 

Andrea told me about how she sat down with a sponsorship prospect for a discovery session. The point of the discovery session, Andrea knew, wasn’t to make the sale, so that’s not where her focus was. 

Rather, she was doing the discovery session to learn more about the sponsor, including their goals, shortcomings, and what would be required to help the sponsor meet more of their goals. 

About 40 minutes into the discovery session, the sponsor told her “I’m ready to roll. I want to work with you. I see a fit, so how can we make this happen?” 

To any sponsorship seeker, these words are like music to your ears. Most sponsors don’t tend to make decisions like this during the discovery session, but it has happened, and it could happen to you. 

During that discovery session, Andrea closed on a $250,000 sponsorship deal on the spot. 

I want to make it clear, Andrea’s story wasn’t happenstance. She didn’t get the sponsorship deal for any old reason. She got it because she focused more on asking the right questions and less on making the sale.

There’s a Greg Hickman quote that says “always be opening” that I like a lot more. If you’re not familiar, Greg Hickman is a sales guru. You can check out his YouTube channel here and learn a lot about sales. 

Although the acronym ABO is not nearly as catchy as ABC, it’s a better mindset to have. It’s the mindset Andrea walked into her discovery session with. When she was open, the sponsorship sale followed.

Are You Stuck on the ABCs in Sponsorship? Here’s How to Tell

Depending on your professional background, the ABCs might have been drilled into you like the lessons you learned back at school. You were expected to follow the ABCs by your boss or your manager so much that the behavior becomes ingrained in you. 

You might not even realize you’re trying to sell to the sponsor until you get a swift rebuttal. Other sponsorship seekers think that if they don’t sell their sponsorship proposal or assets early that they’ll never get a chance to (which is incorrect!).

So how do you know whether you’ve fallen victim to the dreaded ABCs in sponsorship? Here are some telltale signs.

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You Always Have an Elevator Pitch Ready

Your elevator pitch is so perfected that you could recite it in your sleep. Sometimes, you even do. You’ve timed yourself, shortened your copy, memorized that copy, and incorporated it into a natural way of speaking so it rolls off the tongue.

You could meet anybody and be ready to give them your elevator pitch, from your sponsorship prospects to the president of the United States. 

The thing is, your sponsorship prospects don’t want an elevator pitch. When you walk into a meeting and the first topic of conversation is getting that sponsorship sale, you turn off the sponsor.

They don’t know much about you yet, including your audience and what your company or organization is all about. They certainly don’t know what you can do for them, as that will only become clear during a discovery session.

You’re kind of the equivalent of a pushy perfume salesperson at the mall who offers to spritz anybody walking by. You just want someone to like what you’re selling, and you don’t care who. It’s a bad look! 

You Talk Like a Salesperson

The vocabulary you use in your everyday life is so full of sales jargon that to some people, it’s almost like you’re speaking another language. 

You regularly toss out terms like gatekeeper, MQL (short for marketing qualified leads), puppy dog close, sandbagging, and tire-kickers like you expect everyone else to know what you’re talking about.

Like I said earlier, if this behavior is ingrained in you, then you might not even realize you’re doing it, nor do you mean to be doing it. But what matters is that you are doing it, and your sponsorship prospects are not going to be impressed by that kind of talk.

What impresses them is solid audience data divided into specific niches. They want to hear about activation ideas, not whatever a puppy dog close is (spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with dogs).

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You Never Go to Meetings Without Your Sponsorship Proposal

You’ve heard that you’re not supposed to bring your sponsorship proposal with you to the first meeting, but you just can’t help it. To you, walking into a sales meeting of any kind empty-handed feels wrong. It’s like you’re naked, you feel that weird.

Well, let me clarify two points. One, you’ve heard right, you are certainly not supposed to bring your sponsorship proposal to the first meeting. Second, it’s not a sales meeting, it’s a discovery session. That’s why you don’t need the sponsorship proposal.

It won’t be until your second or possibly your third or fourth meeting that the sponsor will ask to see your proposal. It will come up eventually, but at the sponsor’s own pace. Until then, leave your proposal at the office so you don’t feel tempted to push it at the sponsor. 

The Point of a Meeting Is Always to Make the Sale

Since you abide by the ABC mindset, if you walk out of a meeting with a prospect and you didn’t close the deal, it feels like you’ve failed. Now you have to go back to your boss and tell them what happened, and your boss is going to ask point-blank why you didn’t make the sale. 

If you treat your discovery session this way, then you won’t ask the pertinent questions to learn if the sponsorship relationship will work. I can’t stress this enough, but the point of the discovery session is to determine whether you and the sponsor gel.

For example, if the sponsor has needs that can only be met by high-end solutions and your company cannot reasonably produce those solutions, the discovery session will tell you. Although it sucks to have to walk away from a potentially good deal so early, it’s beneficial in the long run.

Think of how much time, money, and effort you would have put into a sponsorship deal that wouldn’t have benefitted either of you at the end of the day. Now you can funnel all those resources into a sponsor that’s a better fit. 

How to Stop Always Be Closing and Always Be Opening Instead

If you’re struggling to get out of the ABC mindset and start focusing more on opening instead, that’s okay. Depending on how long you’ve been living by the mantra of “sell, sell, sell,” it can be hard to snap out of it. 

Here’s what I recommend. 

  • Create conversations, reaching out to new sponsorship prospects every day. 
  • Connect with your sponsors on social media.
  • Ask questions and listen to the sponsor’s response; stop thinking of sales tactics while the sponsor is speaking.
  • Provide value in your interactions, such as with asset recommendations or activation ideas. 

Each day that you work on your sponsorship program, ask yourself this question. Which relationships can I open today? 

There’s a saying I want to share with you that you should keep in mind. It goes: “The second you make a sale, you just lost your warmest prospect.” 

By focusing on opening, you can ensure you have a robust sponsorship pipeline. This way, even if all your prospects don’t work out–which statistically, many of them won’t–you won’t be scrambling to find new ones. 

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Salespeople live and breathe the ABC or always be closing mindset. This attitude can be especially detrimental in sponsorship sales, where it’s important to get to know your prospects, their needs, and their goals during the discovery session. 

When you’re blinded by sales numbers, you miss out on what the discovery session is all about. Although it will take some adjustment, try to change your mantra to ABO or always be opening. 

Do you need help building relationships with prospects or making your discovery sessions more high-value? I recommend my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. Check it out today!