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Sponsorship and Car Sales 

by | May 10, 2022

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I’m sure everyone has a horror story or two about buying a car, right? Pushy salespeople, mountains of paperwork, leases that sound good until you actually have to start paying them.

If you’re like me and it’s been a while since you’ve bought a car, then you can write off some of these terrible tales as maybe partially factual but mostly hyperbole. 

Well, until recently, that is. 

Late last year, my wife and I went to buy a car, and I was very surprised at how I was approached by the car salesperson.

Today, I want to teach you why that approach is wrong whether you’re selling cars or sponsorship and recommend what you can do better.

Let’s begin!

My Car-Buying Horror Story

Okay, so first, let me tell you what happened.

My wife and I were in the market for a new car, as mentioned. We found a few we liked, and we wanted to take one on a test drive.

All pretty standard stuff, right? 

I liked what I was seeing so far, but I was curious about the roof rack options. After the test drive, I asked the car salesperson what kind of roof rack configurations this particular make and model of car could have.

Here’s what they told me. “Well, you know, actually, if you buy this car, I’m going to use the money to send my kids to college.”

Yes, I kid you not. That’s the response I got!

My wife and I looked at one another and did a double-take. We were taken aback and not sure at all what to say. 

After a moment of silence that was a little too long and awkward, I decided the best course of action was to repeat my question about the roof rack. After all, maybe the salesperson hadn’t heard me, or maybe they had heard me but weren’t paying attention.

So then, the weirdest thing happened. After I repeated my question, they told me that if my wife and I bought the car, they’d use the money to take their family on a vacation that they really needed and had been looking forward to for a long time.

The salesperson’s words, by the way, not mine.

So at this point, I was truly puzzled. Both times, all I had done was ask a basic question about the car’s features, and in response, I got an answer that was so far off the mark that it was on another planet. 

I decided to change tack. This time, I mentioned that I have two dogs who aren’t that great at jumping, and I asked the car salesperson to recommend me a make and model that was lower to the ground to ease my dogs’ ability to get into and out of the car.

Then the salesperson started talking about how they’d take their family to Disney World if my wife and I bought the car. They even said that they’d enjoy the money and use it for good.

Things had been truly weird already and were only getting weirder. I had given the salesperson three chances to address even a shred of what I was asking them, but they clearly weren’t going to do that.

So what happened, I’m sure you’re eagerly wondering? Well, my wife and I found an excuse to leave, and we didn’t buy the car. 

Where the Car Salesperson Went Wrong

Have you ever tried conversing with someone who speaks another language that you don’t understand, and they don’t know your language either? Sure, you’re both saying things, but neither of you can comprehend what.

That’s what it felt like talking to that car salesperson. In this case, they were speaking English and so was I, but our languages still couldn’t be any more disparate.

I was asking the salesperson about the car. Rather than try to sell me on the features I was interested in or could have been interested in, the salesperson just kept going on and on about how they’d use the money they’d earn from my car purchase.

If I had to harbor a guess–and keep in mind that’s all this is, an educated guess–I would assume the car salesperson was trying to get me to empathize with them.

In other words, they were trying to pull on my heartstrings and get me to make the car purchase because it would benefit their kids’ college education or pay for their trip to Disney World.

I’m a very empathetic person, don’t get me wrong, but I left the exchange feeling frustrated.

If they had answered my question about the roof rack or how low to the ground the car was and then told me how they’d use the money, would I have felt a little differently? 

Yes, but also, I don’t feel like trying to guilt someone into making a purchasing decision is the right move.

And so that’s what I want to talk about from here on out, how this applies to your sponsorship program.

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Where You Too Might Be Going Wrong in Your Sponsorship Program

Besides the weird part about the car salesperson trying to put emotions into the process of buying a car, their approach was all wrong in a different way. 

They didn’t ask about my needs when buying a car, such as what my budget is or why I want a new car. They only cared about their own needs.

If you’re doing the following, then you too are just as guilty as that car salesperson my wife and I met of putting your needs first.



You Write Impassioned Pages About Your Cause in Your Sponsorship Proposal

When it comes to your company or cause, you can talk forever. You have page upon page of crisp, concise, passionate copy about what you’re all about and what your company does for the betterment of the people. 

That’s all your sponsorship proposal is about, really, what you do and why it matters. You know that once a sponsorship prospect gets to know you, they’ll be on your side, because how can they be anywhere else?

Well, I have a bit of bad news for you. In my sponsorship proposal template, you’ll discover that you only get one paragraph on one page to talk about your cause. 

That’s it. One paragraph.

Let me tell you why.

You might think the passionate, emotive approach is best, but as I proved before, it’s not. 

That car salesperson put me in an uncomfortable position of either a.) buying a car I knew little to nothing about or b.) feeling like a jerk for depriving their family of a trip to Disney World.

And you know what? I took my chances with Option B. Sure, I felt bad for a few minutes, but the guilt faded. Then I was focused on my mission again, which was to buy a new car.

Your sponsorship prospects are going to react the same way. Even if you’re curing children’s cancer, which is a very noble cause, the sponsor is not obligated to give you money. 

You’re supposed to use most of the sponsorship proposal for audience data and assets and activations because those are the things that inspire a sponsor to give you money. 

The most one-sided approach you can take in sponsorship is treating your prospects like walking, talking ATMs. This is something I’ve discussed on the blog, but it’s been a while, so I figured we’re due for a refresher.

You Treat the Discovery Session as a Sales Meeting

The discovery session is your unique opportunity to get to know your prospects and their challenges and pain points. Yet so many sponsorship seekers squander this opportunity because they want to close the deal yesterday.

The disregard you have for your prospect when you go into a discovery session with your proposal and sales numbers is gargantuan. 

You’re saying that you don’t care what they need. You need money, so let’s get down to business. 

Ask yourself a question. If you were in the sponsor’s shoes, would you give you money? 

What have you brought to the table that would entice the sponsor? Have you listened to their problems and come up with tailored solutions?

No, because your company has a one-track mind. As a result, you miss out on a deal with what could have been a viable sponsor. 

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You Don’t Bother with Fulfillment Reports

Although you don’t always go about sponsorship the right way, you have gotten some sponsors to agree to work with you. 

As the time for your event comes and goes, you don’t bother producing a fulfillment or post-event report. 

You don’t see the point in it. You got what you want: money, promotions, a successful event. You don’t need to prove what you did or didn’t do because you earned your keep, and that’s what’s the most important.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but sponsorship seekers with this kind of attitude have terribly low sponsor renegotiation rates.

The Key – Switch from Asking Mode to Listening Mode

So how do you change your mindset to be less like the car salesperson I’ve used as the example of this article?

That’s easy. Really easy, almost stupidly easy.

Just listen. And maybe drop your agenda too.

What would have happened if that car salesperson had responded to my questions about the roof rack or how low the car was to the ground? I would have had the information I needed to make an educated purchasing decision.

Now, I’m not saying that I would have bought the car guaranteed. I would have at least known, right then and there, whether I was likely to buy the car.

The next time you meet with a sponsorship prospect, stop barraging them with questions about you, you, you. Listen to what they have to say about them, including their problems.

Then, if there’s any solution you should offer, it’s one that solves the prospect’s problems.

Again, I’m not saying that this will guarantee that you get a sponsorship deal. Sometimes your solutions and the sponsor’s problems just don’t gel.

More often than not though, they do, especially if you thoroughly researched your prospects before you sat down and met with them for the discovery session. 


It doesn’t matter how good you think your opportunity is. It’s all about how the sponsor perceives it.

You can try tugging on their heartstrings with sob stories or touching tales, but this usually backfires. 

I’ve had enough sponsorship clients who think that their sterling cause alone will get them sponsors, and it never does.

Instead, you must have something the sponsor wants, whether that’s audience segments that fit the sponsor’s target audience or customized solutions that solve the sponsor’s problems. 

Once you reframe how you approach sponsorship, you might find that you become a lot more successful at it!