The 11 Stages of the Sponsorship Journey
What does your sponsorship journey look like? Without a documented methodology for how you get from Point A to Point B, your company or organization is forced to start from zero with each new sponsorship prospect.
This can create stress where there doesn’t have to be any.
Although every sponsor is different, I’ve found through much research and experience with real prospects that you can generally divide the sponsorship journey into 11 stages. Join me today in this post as I highlight what those 11 stages look like in full.
A property in sponsorship refers to what you’re offering the sponsor. For example, perhaps your company throws an annual gala, and you want the event to be sponsored.
Any event counts as a property, from a sit-down dinner to a convention, an expo, or a program.
It’s hard to tell a sponsor what you can offer them without identifying and understanding your property or properties. Although this step can be sort of a no-brainer for some companies and organizations, you still don’t want to skip it. You just won’t spend much time on it.
Identifying Your Audience
Now we move on to the most important part of the sponsorship equation: your audience.
On this blog, I try to stress as much and as often as I can that your audience is the greatest asset you can sell to a sponsor. So let me say that again: your audience is the greatest asset you can sell to a sponsor.
You must take time to learn who your audience is, then you can segment them (more on this momentarily). Whether your audience is people who buy your products or services or attend your sports games or events, the process will be the same.
How do I recommend you begin to learn about your audience, especially if your audience is on the larger side? It’s easy. You send them an audience survey.
An audience survey is a multiple-question information sheet that covers areas such as audience demographics, geographics, and psychographics (which refer to the behaviors and motivations of your audience, FYI).
You get to put the whole thing together, which means you choose the questions in the survey. In the link above, I recommend my top sponsorship survey tips to ensure your survey is high-quality.
After all, if you’re not asking the right questions, then even if every member of your audience responds, you still won’t know anything more about them than you did before the survey.
I recommend asking about basic geographic and demographic information such as the customer’s name, location, industry, job title, earnings, marital status, number of kids, etc.
The real meat of the audience survey is the psychographic questions. You want to quiz your customers on their usage habits. What events like yours have they gone to? What brands do they buy from and why?
You also want to learn their opinions and motivations when it comes to your company or organization. Ask about past attendance at your events, including why the customer attended, if they enjoyed their experience, and if they would attend again (and if not, then ask why).
This isn’t one of those super drawn-out personality quizzes with 50 questions like you see online. It’s a short and succinct survey that hits on all the areas you need to know more about.
How do you get your customers to take the time to respond to your survey? You have to motivate their participation, and there’s no better way to inspire them to reply than to give them something tantalizing.
I’d suggest an exclusive coupon or discount for their cooperation. You can even enter their name into a contest among survey respondents for an awesome prize.
You can send your survey via email. Before you do, prune your email list and remove any inactive addresses. Allow your audience a few weeks to respond to the survey but send out periodic reminders through email.
Even if you follow all my best practices to the letter, you will not get a 100 percent response rate. If a quarter of your audience answers, that’s decent. If your response rate is higher, that’s better still.
Segmenting Your Audience
You have a massive pile (well, hypothetically since your replies are all emails) of survey responses from your customers. Now what do you do with them?
That’s the next stage of your sponsorship journey, and it goes hand in hand with the second stage. You want to take your responses and use them as the basis for segmenting your audience.
As a business or organization with an ever-growing audience, I can bet you’ve already segmented your audience a time or two before. However, you probably haven’t gone as in-depth as I’m going to require you to do here.
Sponsorship prospects want to know as much about your audience as you can tell them. The more details, the better.
You’re not going to get those fine details if you split your audience by which state they live in or how much money they make.
Instead, you must niche down.
You might have heard of a little saying in marketing that I’m quite fond of. It goes “the riches are in the niches.”
This means that the more highly segmented or niched-down your audience data is, the more valuable it is to your sponsorship prospects.
I usually illustrate this niching down concept with examples such as the Russian nesting doll or sieves with increasingly finer mesh nets. Fine-mesh sieves will allow only small particles through, but eventually, the sieve is so fine that you’re getting practically dust.
There is a stopping point to your niching down of audience data, and you’ll know when you get there.
Allow me to provide you with an example.
Let’s say one segment of your audience are accountants. Well, an accountant can serve a variety of roles. Are they more involved in general bookkeeping at their company, or do they have a specialty such as taxes?
Depending on how you answer those questions, you’ve now created several accountant sub-segments.
You can then divide your specialized accountant groups even further. How much money do they make per year? Where do they live? Are they male or female?
In the end, that’s how you end up with a group of 35-year-old female accountants in Thornton Park in Orlando making $124,000 a year.
Building Your Inventory of Assets
Now we’re onto the fourth stage of the sponsorship journey, which is to build an inventory of assets.
An asset is a tangible or intangible item that you sell to the sponsor. You’re not just throwing anything and everything at the sponsor and hoping they’ll pony up their money, though. Of course not.
Instead, the assets you select should help the sponsor connect with your audience.
That’s why I always tell my clients that a logo is about the weakest asset you can sell to a sponsor. How does a logo help the sponsor connect with your audience? That’s right, it doesn’t. It doesn’t do much of anything.
Now, a speaking opportunity can connect your sponsor and audience, so it’s a more valuable asset. So too would be an interactive booth provided by the sponsor.
Your sponsorship property that you identified at the beginning of your sponsorship journey can even be an asset. So too can concert series, sports tournaments, and program or building naming rights.
At the beginning of the asset inventorying process, I recommend thinking of as many relevant assets as you can. Some irrelevant ones will inevitably slip through, and that’s okay. This is a loose list that’s purely internal at this point.
That said, I do not recommend including assets that you know you could never reasonably procure or produce just because you want to look impressive to a sponsor. Keep it solely to those assets you can realistically make happen.
Once you’re done brainstorming which assets would be most beneficial to your sponsor, you must sort them into an inventory of assets. You can group like assets together into smaller properties if that makes it easier to organize.
I want to reiterate that your list of assets could be quite long by the time you’re onto the fourth stage of the sponsorship journey. You might even wonder if the list is too long.
My advice? Don’t stress about it quite yet. By the time you’re onto the seventh stage of the journey, your assets list will have been significantly whittled down.
Getting an Internal Buy-In
You likely didn’t involve your entire company or organization in the asset brainstorming process, but now you need to get more colleagues in on the matter.
Sit down with your senior staff members and board to have a meeting about the quantity and quality of your assets. Everyone must be comfortable with the assets you’re proposing to sell.
If you get any pushback, don’t discard it. Instead, address the colleague who has an issue why they’re concerned. You may then decide to rework that asset or even dispose of it entirely.
I told you that your asset list was naturally going to get smaller, and this is where it really starts.
Completing a Valuation
After an internal review of your assets, it’s now time to value them.
If you’re not familiar, valuing assets means determining the value for each one. The way I recommend doing that is to research the market value for each asset on your list.
Let’s say you agree to name your program after the sponsor. How much does an average company pay to get naming rights?
Once you see that price, however much it is, you should then adjust it to your situation. For example, building naming rights are very high-profile and expensive. For the case of program naming rights, your price would be far less.
If you were producing a series of blog posts or social media posts for the sponsor, how much would a marketing firm charge for the same? Once again, you’d adjust your price based on that information.
Rather than copying and pasting every price you see, you’re considering factors such as the quality of your asset and its perceived value to the sponsor to determine its price.
Do you have to go through and value every single asset in your property? You betcha. I wish there was a more convenient way to do it that saved time, but there isn’t.
As you go through and value your assets, I recommend above all else that you eschew any emotional attachment to the asset.
I know, this is easier said than done, especially if the asset is really good and you came up with it yourself. The fact of the matter is that sometimes an asset that you think is very valuable won’t be.
Just as is the case where sometimes an asset doesn’t seem all that valuable, but it turns out to be worth more than you first assumed. There are indeed two sides of this coin.
When you’re finished valuing your assets, organize them by the most valuable to the least valuable. Then go through and assess them again, determining which of the least valuable ones you’ll trim off.
Now we’re at the part that I’m sure you’ve been waiting for, and that’s selecting your sponsorship prospects. Note how I said prospects, as in you can’t just have one.
If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll actually have more like 60 or 70 prospects, maybe even upwards of 100.
The method I use and have my clients use when finding their prospects is the concentric circle method.
Essentially, you create four circles, and each gets progressively smaller. The first circle is the largest one, and it includes the warmest prospects.
You don’t need to do any further work to identify these prospects, because your audience already did that for you. Remember that audience survey you sent out earlier in the sponsorship journey? In those responses, you’ll notice that your customers mention brands.
Whatever those brands are, take note. By the time you’re done tabulating the audience survey responses (yes, you have to go through the survey responses again, so I hope you didn’t get rid of them), you’ll have a list of brands.
Some of them might have only been mentioned once or twice. You can keep these brands on your prospects list, but towards the bottom. Instead, you’re more focused on the brands that your customers mentioned the most.
These brands can run the gamut, and that’s okay.
Next, you want to look at your own sponsorship property to find which prospects from this first circle would be most closely aligned to it.
Upon identifying that list, it’s time to make another circle of prospects, which are the companies that advertise and market to your audience. This information also should come courtesy of your audience survey.
You should have asked about the brands that advertised to your customers within the last year and which of them stood out the most. As was the case with the first circle, in this second circle, you’ll see some brands very seldomly and others that pop up frequently.
Like you did before, focus more on the brands your audience cited the most in the survey. Then select several prospects based on how their values align with your own.
Onto the third circle. These are brands that should have an interest in your audience, but for whatever reason, are currently not targeting your audience. To find these prospects, look at the prospects in your second circle and go from there.
For example, let’s say your audience likes music, and they really prefer Gibson guitars (cool!). You’d add brands like Fender, ESP, Rickenbacker, PRS, and the like to your list in the third circle.
Finally, you’re onto the fourth concentric circle, which is the coldest. Look at the list of prospects you have now and then find three or four competitors for every single one.
This last circle is going to take up most of your time to do, as you must research quite extensively. Take an afternoon to do the research, but don’t pour too much time in.
After all, you’re not sure where your audience’s collective stance is on these brands, nor do you know what kind of relationship–if any–these brands have had with your audience in the past.
As you wrap up, you’ll have a beefy sponsorship prospects list. I recommend starting with those first-circle warm prospects and then working your way down to the cold ones.
Getting the Meeting (and Asking Questions)
You have your list of prospects, but what do you do with them? By this stage in your sponsorship journey, you contact the prospect to set up a meeting. The meeting is your discovery session.
The discovery session is not a sales meeting, but an introductory session where you sit down with the sponsorship prospect to ask about their audience, their challenges, and their goals. Then you listen to their responses and make a frank assessment.
You might find out that your solutions are not tailored to the prospect’s needs or issues. This can happen, but it shouldn’t if you select prospects using the method above.
Still, even if you have to sever this potential working relationship before it ever really got started, at least no money changed hands and no contracts were signed.
My list of 37 discovery questions will help you decide among your team which questions to focus on. You cannot ask all 37, though. That would be crazy. Instead, narrow it down to no more than 10 of the questions you like best.
FYI, feel free to tweak any of those questions to suit your sponsorship property.
Rewinding a bit, how do you even get a sponsorship prospect to agree to a meeting? Well, cold calling or emailing is one way, but let’s be real. Cold calling doesn’t exactly have the highest response rate.
That’s why I tell my clients to look at their contacts. Not only should you use your own professional contacts but enlist your colleagues or partners to do the same. Ask if someone is a friend of a friend or a distant cousin of someone at the sponsor company.
If you find someone, then great! You can mention in your initial email to the sponsor that you work with so-and-so. In my experience, this connection usually motivates a prospect to respond to you, but it’s not guaranteed.
Should you not have a contact at the sponsor company, then you’re stuck with cold calling and emailing. Fortunately, I have plenty of templates here that you can use so you’re not writing and rewriting your email ad infinitum.
Building a Custom Package
The best sponsorship package is one that’s customized.
It’s not a gold, silver, bronze package. It’s not one that says “if you want me to customize anything you see here, just let me know!” You don’t have to even mention the word customization because the package is already customized.
Your sponsorship package, by the way, is an assortment of all your valued assets in a menu. The sponsor selects the assets they want, they agree to pay that value, and that’s the funding you use for your event or sponsorship property.
So how do you customize your sponsorship package with your prospect? It’s simple! Ask them.
Say, “hey, I found X asset that I think could really help with Y problem. What do you think of that?”
Once the sponsor gets a chance to review your assets, they’re going to have their own opinions. This can kind of feel like someone going in and redoing all the hard work you just put in because yes, that’s sort of what’s happening.
The sponsor might want some assets vetoed because they don’t think those assets are a good fit. They might decide that some assets that were priced moderately are worth a lot more because they can help the sponsor with one or more of their issues.
I know this part of the process can be a little frustrating, but that’s why I told you earlier not to get emotionally attached to your assets. Go with the flow here.
If the sponsor throws away some assets that you thought were valuable, they’ll usually end up increasing the value of others.
You can fight for some assets that you think are being unfairly discarded but know when to choose your battles. If a sponsor is willing to give you more money on several assets but that means throwing away a couple of others, maybe this isn’t a fight worth having.
Closing the Deal
When the sponsor is pleased with the arrangement and so are you, they go from being a prospect to your official sponsor. Well, after signing some paperwork, of course.
I wrote a detailed guide into what should go into a sponsorship agreement or contract. I want to make clear a point that I mentioned in that post as well. I’m not a lawyer, so that article is not legal advice.
You must hire a lawyer to read over the details of the contract before you sign it. Once your name is on the dotted line, you can’t walk back anything in the contract.
Make sure you’re 1,000 percent clear on what you’re agreeing to. Reread the contract as many times as it takes. Ask your lawyer about unclear legal jargon, of which any contract contains plenty of.
You don’t want to agree to terms that you didn’t really mean to because you were too afraid to ask what they meant. Remember, you’re on the line for delivering anything and everything promised in the contract. You need to be plenty sure that you’re capable of doing that.
Fulfilling the Deal
You’ve made it to the last stage of the sponsorship journey, which is living up to those expectations you legally promised the sponsor. I want to underscore the word “legally” in that last sentence because it’s so important.
If you fail to live up to what you said you would, then unless some act of God was involved, you’d be in breach of contract. You’d have a lot more to worry about than an unhappy sponsor. You could have to pay back restitution as well depending on what the contract terms were.
Creating a track record of success in sponsorship tends to attract more sponsors, so always do your best to help your sponsor smash their goals.
The sponsorship journey includes 11 stages in all. By following this blueprint, you can demystify your sponsorship program and begin obtaining more sponsors. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.