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Developing Sales Talent, Part 1: How To Find It And How To Make It Fit

Developing Sales Talent

Travis Apple, Pittsburgh Pirates
Leigh Castergine, New York Mets
Charlie Chislaghi, Kansas City Royals
Bryant Pfeiffer, Major League Soccer
Jamie Spencer, Tampa Bay Lightning
Janet Duch, San Diego Padres
Moderator: Bill Sutton, Bill Sutton & Associates and University of South Florida

At the recent SBJ/SBD Ticketing Symposium conference, sales executives from across sports talked about building a successful sales culture. The discussion was led by moderator Bill Sutton, principal and founder of Bill Sutton & Associates and founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida.

Today, we feature Part 1 of the discussion. Check back every day this week for more from this engaging and informative session.

SUTTON: Each of you talk about how you find talent, and once you have talent, how you start developing that talent to fit your system.

The Sales Development Panel: (from left) Bill Sutton, Charlie Chislaghi, Travis Apple, Leigh Casterine, Jamie Spencer, Jeremy Walls, Bryant Pfeiffer

CASTERGINE: I can’t teach personality, and I can’t teach work ethic. I can teach you sales. I can teach you how to sell a ticket, I can bring people in like Charlie to help the strategy and to build the process. But really it starts with someone that has energy, someone that’s smiling in the interview, and someone that we clearly look at that’s going to run through a wall for us. We need passion, we need energy. Those are the real base points that we look for in our department. After that, one of our strategies has been that consultative selling approach. Adding people that are not just going to repeat information that we put in front of them, that can think on their own, that are going to ask us questions, that are going to engage their management team to make them better. That’s probably one of the biggest things that we look for. Kids coming out of college these days are told what to do their entire lives. They’re told by their parents, they’ve been told by their professors, and they get into the workforce and they expect us to tell them every single little solitary detail of what they are supposed to do. They are very cautious and curious in the beginning, so we really encourage them to ask us questions and engage with us. As for where we’ve transitioned to on the training side, it really is about getting them to use their own personalities, using their own strengths. So we spend a lot of time personalizing their own sales approach. While we give them the basics, we bring in Charlie to go through the approach, Charlie also does a really good job of working with each rep independently to find out how to best utilize their own personalities, their own skill sets, their own comforts. Whether it’s more face-to-face appointments, whether they’re more comfortable with the smiling and dialing, it really is about having that customized approach for each sales rep, for each student. Our sales reps are students. We are responsible for teaching them and coaching them, for getting them to the next level. Ironically, it’s been an interesting transition in Boston for us. My experience coming from Boston, Kate Mahon, our director of ticket sales is from Boston, our inside sales manager was with the Celtics. So we’ve tended to hire a couple of Boston natives, which with everything that’s gone on recently, it’s no surprise that our most recent promotions are both kids from Boston. That city really has embodied that work ethic that we’ve talked about. Not to say that we don’t love our New Yorkers, but it’s been an interesting couple of months for us down in New York.

Jeremy Walls says he looks for employees who are engaged and positive.
WALLS: Everything we do, whether it’s recruiting or retaining our current staff, comes back to the culture that we protect. I want employees that are engaged, not compliant. Our mantra is as big as results. It’s not just results. You don't work for us very long if you’re negative, if you’re into gossip, if you don’t work hard, you just don’t work for us. We create a success-story culture. Three times a week, all 65 of our sales and service people meet for 15 minutes, and we start with success stories. We’ll have eight or 10 success stories, then we also have spotlights where people will recognize their fellow sales or service people. So we really protect that very closely. That’s really the backdrop for everything we do.

APPLE: With the Pirates, to have a good culture it all starts with people. It starts with the bottom up with the recruiting end. I look at recruiting as a numbers game, just like I look at sales. The more phone calls you make, the more appointments you set, the more sales you make. Same thing with recruiting. You go into sports sales combines, to career fairs, workshops, and just pound through the phone calls of potential applicants. We have a very in-depth interview process that we will interview 100-200 people on the phone, narrow it down to 30 or 40, and bring them in and spend all day with them. We’ll have a Saturday interview session, starting at about 9 a.m. They’ll spend the entire day through about 10 o’clock that night after the game. We get to train them, so the training starts at the interview process, to spending personal time with them, quality time, because to get the right people and the right culture you need the right people that buy into you as the training process continues. I always tell our inside sales manager they have the most important job in our company. To getting the right people in place. That eventually — you know, those are our minor leagues — will get to the senior level, the major league system.

SPENCER: I’m a former college and pro player, so I played hockey, grew up in a locker room. Everything I’ve ever done is team, so the very first ingredient that we look for is building a team. I look at my job like the head coach. You’ve got to assess talent, and it’s not once in a while, it’s every day. Are the lines working? Is this guy a first-line forward? … to use some hockey commonalities… The very first thing I look for is, have you won something? I don’t care if it’s pee-wee, little league, have you ever held a trophy above your head? Because if you haven’t, you don’t know what it’s like to be a part of something that's bigger than you. I also like to see adversity, tell me something in your life that you’ve overcome. Is it a bad homework assignment, a family member dying, something that is significant that tells me that person isn’t going to fold when there are tough days. Because we all know there are tough days in our business. To the point about rebuilding, the very first thing you do is you look at the talent, you assess it, you go with your gut instincts. It’s pretty easy nowadays to get to a dismissal if it happens. Sales is pretty easy, there’s phone calls, you’re attracted by revenue, there’s aspects of the job that you can keep them accountable to. As long as you’re clear with your goals and objectives, it makes termination a pretty easy conversation, frankly. We tell people from the beginning, here’s what you’re signing up for, here’s the mission, here’s your individual goals and objectives. And if you can’t reach them at any point, we warn them, we bring them in and talk to them. And by the time they get to that dismissal point, it’s understood. In fact, most of the time the relief is seen in their eyes, because they know they can’t do the job. I realized that when I got to the Lightning, that the culture, from getting to the office on time, to the way that we dressed, to the office space, to the salaries that were out of whack, to the comp structure. I remember making a mental checklist of things to do, I reached 140 in week one and said I’ve got to stop. That’s no disrespect to the prior ownership, there was different philosophies, different culture in place. We built what I call the sales war room. Again, I grew up in a locker room. We meet in the locker room every morning. We have white boards with all the metrics, from group sales, inside sales, retention touch points. We give hockey pucks, just like they do when you score a game winning goal. Above the wall, just like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish when they go out to the field, our tap on the way out is "No Alibis, No Regrets." We keep it very consistent, clear. It’s a daily grind, but you got to have fun. We launched an "Apprentice" contest during the work stoppage. Dark days, we’d have a two-week contest, and people were fired. We learned a lot about our staff, and it was an interesting time. You’ve gotta also bring that fun, keep your door open, walk the sales floor, make yourself accessible and it’s amazing the type of things that start to happen. But the No. 1 thing above all is purpose, you’ve got to create purpose for every person because we all need it and we all want it. For millennials, by the way, praise and constant recognition, give them things that are tangible. And build a bottom and the top gets stronger. We’ve finally got to that point, where can recruit and train. We’re having people not meet with five teams, but just with the Lightning.

Check back tomorrow for second installment of the Developing Sales Talent discussion.

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