SBJ/June 16-22, 2014/Opinion

Eagerness, empathy and volume: How to warm up to cold calls

It’s that time of year. A fresh crop of college graduates begins the pursuit of careers in the business world of sports. 

Graduates who chase jobs in sports sales and are fortunate enough to land them will likely begin at the bottom rung. They’ll be given the equivalent of the Yellow Pages and told to make a million sales calls a day. 

The effective sellers will be duly recognized by management, make a good living and be in demand throughout their careers. 

But let’s not foster any false illusions. Developing new business is a herculean challenge that only the strong survive. 

So what is required of a cold caller, particularly those selling broadcast advertising or team sponsorships?

1. Confidence.

A belief that you can open new doors and can convert soft conceptual variables into hard cash. It requires a bone-deep nerve, which, if you nurture, will serve you well throughout your career. Selling is an art. It’s not a science. 

2. Inflaming emotions. 

Believe in the power of the product you’re selling, the history and tradition of the institution you’re representing. Have the obsession. Have the drive. 

3. Bring it.

Brim with enthusiasm for every presentation, every day. Like a Broadway actor, your 100th pitch should be performed with the same eagerness and excitement as your first. Your audience shouldn’t sense it’s your 100th time. You have to be emotionally invested in the mission. 

4. Selling ideas. 

Sell with the heart. Sell with the stomach. Appeal to a sense of civic pride and the unequaled spirit of sports. Other programs and events like news on television are often full of calamities that advertisers want to avoid. You’re selling something truly special.

5. Fresh relationships. 

There’s something very refreshing about cold calling every day. You never know whom you will get to know or the people you’ll meet. There’s something exciting and enlightening about the unknown. 

6. Lasting fulfillment.

When you get the order after canvassing from scratch, it’s a legitimate home run. You didn’t start on second base such as when you’re following up on a lead you’re given. The feeling is unmatched.

If it takes 20 calls to get one sponsor or advertiser and you’re hoping to close five, you’ll need to make 100 calls.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

7. Coping with rejection.

There will be many failures for every hit. Be bold, tough-skinned and impervious to unreturned calls and unanswered emails. Life is about expectations. Don’t expect a returned call or a reply to an email. If so, there won’t be thwarted expectations. Don’t allow setbacks to temper your enthusiasm. Keep moving.

8. Volume.

It’s a numbers game. You’ll have to make a ton of calls every day. Remain focused and spend your time efficiently. You’ll need a handle on how many calls it takes to close a piece of business. If it takes 20 calls to get one sponsor or advertiser and you’re hoping to close five, you’ll need to make 100 calls. There are no shortcuts. There are no excuses not to make tons of calls. In the words of my first boss, “Excuses serve those who make them.”

9. Scout your prospects.

Prospect by prospect, find out who the real decision-makers are. Don’t pitch some discouraging underling who has no power to give you the order. Start at the top. CEOs and marketing vice presidents appreciate the value of sports. 

10. Put yourself in a prospect’s shoes. 

Be creative. Years ago, Hebrew National’s slogan was, “We answer to a higher authority,” meaning observance of kosher restrictions. The slogan suggests that Hebrew National attempts to appeal broadly, to kosher and non-kosher alike. So the seller of St. John’s basketball in densely populated New York concocted the idea that Hebrew National, a kosher dog, would stand out while sponsoring a traditional Catholic school. It worked. Hebrew National did it. 

11. Keep your eyes open. 

When you drive around town, mark down new businesses and prospects that you come across. Use your smartphone to record leads. Train your mind and eyes to do so. Go to the local drugstore, department store or supermarket and scout the aisles. Check out the products. See if there’s a local distributor of these products that you can pitch.

12. Reach out in measured intervals. 

Just as a coach conservatively allocates his timeouts, you do the same. Plan how you’ll expend the communication assets at your disposal: a typed letter (yes, snail mail in 2014 can occasionally work, too), a handwritten note, a phone call, an email, tickets, invitations to a sponsors’ function, a letter from an announcer or from one of the coaches to the prospect. 

When you pitch a new piece of business, map out your communication resources. It’s a long process. Always leave something in the hip pocket. You can only interact with prospects in measured intervals. So be strategic, tactical and pleasantly persistent.

At commencement exercises this May, the award-winning chef and entrepreneur, José Andrés Puerta, preached departing George Washington University students on the value of three P’s; passion, purpose and possibility.

David Halberstam (dhalberstam@westwoodone.com) is vice president of sports sales at Westwood One/CBS Sports Radio Network.

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