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Sponsorship Secrets From the Frontline 

by | September 17, 2021

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

Before I started sharing my sponsorship expertise here at the Sponsorship Collective, I was a sponsorship seeker just like you. I even had a boss who didn’t understand sponsorship. He asked me to find a sponsor in the same nonchalant tone you would ask someone to buy you a sandwich from the deli. 

Maybe you’ve experienced the same. Your boss tells you to call a sponsor and ask for X amount of money you can achieve Y objectives. What they don’t realize is that sponsorship is not nearly that easy. 

If it was, after all, then I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.

In this post, I want to share more anecdotes like these directly from the sponsorship frontlines, revealing valuable secrets along the way. Let’s get started!

My Best Frontline Sponsorship Secrets

Sponsors Are Accountable to Other People, Too

Unless you’re your own boss, then there’s someone above you who handles the decision-making at your company. Continuing with my story from the intro, that person was my boss.

Remember, he had asked me to call a sponsor and ask for money, so that’s what I did. Of course, it didn’t work.

That’s not only because sponsors aren’t walking ATM machines (although they aren’t), but because they’re beholden to someone else as well.

Those people in the sponsorship division at the target company are not on the highest level. They have a boss or manager, and that person might have a boss or manager as well. 

If a sponsor agreed to give you $10,000 without clearing it with anyone else, they could get in a lot of trouble with their own boss/manager, who would be in trouble with their boss/manager. 

I know it’s nerve-wracking to have to wait for a target sponsor to review your sponsorship proposal and make up their mind about you, but it’s what you must do. Those in the sponsorship division are accountable to others, so their decision must be cleared by the right people.

ROI Is Important to Sponsors

I always recommend that sponsorship seekers think about things from the perspective of the sponsor, especially when putting together their sponsorship program. 

It’s so easy sometimes to get caught up in your own company’s needs that you forget about the other company you’re working with.

When a sponsor funds your event, they’re investing in you. Like you don’t blindly invest in stocks or new technology, a sponsor wants to ensure that their investment is a worthwhile one. 

If your event is a catastrophic failure, that’s just as bad as investing in the stock market and then watching your stocks crash.

Sponsors need to know where their money is going and what kind of results they can expect. Will their website traffic go up? Will they have qualified leads they can convert? How many? Will their product sales increase?

If you sell the sponsor the right assets, then yes, these things should happen. You also need thoughtful activations that link segments of your audience–which should fit into the sponsor’s target audience–and the sponsor. 

Before getting into any of that though, I must recommend a discovery session with the sponsor. During the discovery session, you ask the sponsor pointed questions to learn more about their needs, goals, and why those needs aren’t being met.

The discovery session is the best way to determine whether your assets can benefit the sponsor. If they do, then the sponsor’s ROI will be higher, which will increase the likelihood of them working with you again. 

However, if you can’t offer the sponsor what they need, it’s better to back out early. You don’t want to promise the sponsor things you can’t possibly deliver.

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Be a Sponsorship Advocate, Not a Salesperson 

After I let my boss know that none of the sponsorship prospects were biting, he told me to keep trying, and so try I did. In the end, I amassed more than 45 “no thank yous” from sponsors.

Ouch, right? 

I didn’t want to keep doing this, so I decided to try a different approach. I called one of the sponsors back and asked them to tell me exactly which outcomes were most important in their sponsorship program. 

Then I requested them to break it down into a list of must-haves versus nice-to-haves. I also asked the sponsor to give me an honest price of what they’d be willing to pay for those outcomes. 

I went back to my boss and told him about the sponsor’s goal outcomes and the assigned budget and presented it as an ultimatum. 

Suddenly, I wasn’t just a sponsorship salesperson. I was also the sponsor’s advocate.

I wasn’t trying to leech money from the sponsor, but I was working on their behalf, like an extension of their team.

How do you think that worked? That’s right, it went over fabulously.

After putting together a sponsorship package with the client, I sold it internally to my boss, who went for the deal. 

I didn’t only do this once, but several times for other sponsors. Each instance I used this tactic, a sponsorship sale resulted. 

In total, I sold roughly one and a half million dollars in sponsorship sales, which my boss told me was the highest amount anyone has sold in that position to date. 

When you go into your sponsorship program with a salesy attitude, it tends to blow up in your face. As I always say, sponsors have been around the block, some of them many, many times. They know what you’re doing perhaps even better than you do. So it doesn’t work.

What does work and always will is consulting with the sponsor, customizing your sponsorship package, and treating them with warmth and respect. Your sponsor is a person, after all. When they feel like you have their best interests at heart, they want to work with you all the more. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Change When Something Isn’t Working

A few months ago, I published a post about failing in sponsorship. In that post, I talked about a Seth Godin quote that goes like this: “he who fails the most wins.” 

Failure is bound to happen, especially as you’re learning what works in your sponsorship program and what doesn’t. Yet rather than failing repeatedly, part of winning means abandoning tactics that just aren’t getting you the results you want.

Imagine if I kept calling sponsors and asking them for money, even though it hadn’t worked 44 other times. The mindset of “well, if I just keep doing this enough, eventually, someone will accept” is a bad one to have. 

That’s how you end up calling 100 sponsors, or 200, and soon you’ve exhausted everyone in your social circle, and they’ve all said no.

How about this? Rather than even let it get to 40 sponsors, if 10 of them all tell you no, then change course.

Yes, change can be scary. It’s even scarier when you’re going against your boss’s wishes. If it will make you feel better, you can always go to your boss before you change tact and tell them about what you want to do. 

If that new approach fails, then you have to be willing to change course yet again. Eventually, something will stick. Yet even when it does, guess what? Sponsor needs will change, so you need to be ready to change right along with them. 

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Before my days of offering sponsorship services, I was a sponsorship salesperson myself. The lessons I learned on the frontlines are valuable ones that I’m happy to share with you so you can avoid making some of the mistakes I did.  

My biggest takeaway is this: don’t go into a sponsorship deal as a salesperson. Be their advocate, their champion, their ambassador, and they’ll start to view you as a confidante. That’s part of how you build not only sponsor relationships but partnerships. 

If you feel like your sponsorship program is lagging behind, why not check out my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program? It’s full of best practices you’ll use all the time.