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Developing Sales Talent, Part 2: How To Build A Sales Culture

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.

Today, we feature Part 2 of the discussion. Check back every day this week for more from this engaging and informative session.

Click here for Part 1: How To Find It And How To Make It Fit

SUTTON: I teach millennials, and they’re used to getting a ribbon for seventh place. And they’re entering a culture where first prize is a vacation, second prize is steak knives, third prize you’re fired. It’s tough, and after three months they’re ready to move on and become vice president. It’s very difficult. One of the more interesting things I did in 2012 was visit Bryant’s sales center up in Minneapolis. Let’s talk about your philosophy here, why you developed a sales center, and what you’re trying to do by the way you’re teaching this.

Bryant Pfeiffer said the MLS sales training program helps clubs through recruiting and training and as a test lab.
PFEIFFER: We’ve taken a real macro approach to supporting our clubs in this space. About three years ago, we did some extensive research across the league and found out 86 percent of our sales force was under three years of sales experience. Very young obviously. Also did the numbers that a third-year salesperson averaged about 3 1/2 times what a first-year sales person did. So it became a priority for us, how do we accelerate the learning curve and the performance of our salespeople? Additionally, when talking to our chief ticketing officers around the league, many of them were under such pressure with game-by-game standpoints, maximizing their next sellout, that basic managerial functions like recruiting weren’t happening. They’re important, but falling down the list. A couple of clubs had 25-50 business days go by before filling an open seat on their sales floor. We thought we could help in this area as well. Out of these two areas was born our national sales center. It’s a 45-120 day, high-octane sales training program based in Minneapolis. We have two full-time trainers that facilitate the curriculum that really exposes people to all aspects of the training process — from phone sales, face to face, selling through social media, maximizing game nights. It’s really designed to help our clubs in three big ways — from the recruiting standpoint, from the sales training standpoint, and to be a test lab for new and innovative sales culture ideas from a sales metric perspective. So, one of the fun things we do  on the recruiting side is —we average about 100-150 candidates per session, we do four sessions throughout the year. We don’t have the resources to meet everyone of those candidates face to face, so we have a process in place where they all submit a video on YouTube and it’s like they’re trying out for a reality show. It’s a two-minute video, and the assignment is this. Answer two questions, why soccer and why sales? It’s really fascinating, you can see, A, does anyone take the time to do it? B, what can you take from the videos? Resourcefulness, creativity. Do they answer the two questions? Is there some poise, confidence coming through in the videos. It’s a fun process, and it’s a nice additive to the recruiting process.

SUTTON: I was up there and I saw this and I was just amazed. Now we’re going to talk to Don Corleone of sales trainers. Charlie Chislage, who’s worked across all these leagues, worked with a lot of people up here. You’re looking at all the young people coming in. What are the commonalities in developing talent that you see?

Charlie Chislaghi said new salespeople must be able to engage customers in a two-way conversation.
Bryant used the term “sales culture.” That’s exactly what I think of when I meet graduates from your academy. I’ve worked with them with a variety of teams. Competitiveness. They are very aggressive. They are well-prepared to deal with the monotony of making a hundred calls a day, because they understand it gets them to the critical mass of the prospects with whom they have to speak. We have three executives here of Major League Baseball teams, and if I read SBJ correctly, they’re all in the top 10 of sales culture in MLB and the Padres are at the top in the two few years. We have sales culture built by these folks for several reasons, because No. 1, they recruit students who want to learn the business of sport, not just fans. Bryant’s question, why soccer? I love that, because I hear — well I used to hear, I don’t hear it as much anymore — “I love soccer. I grew up with soccer, I eat sleep and breathe soccer.” But when I ask the question, “When did you fall in love with the business of sport?” I get the biggest blank stare I’ve ever seen. Commonalities, aggressive. No. 2, they are engaging. They can engage in a conversation in which they share about themselves. Not just talk to you about themselves, but engage in a conversation that’s two ways. When I met Leigh, Leigh told me, “I want to learn this business.” At the same time, Leigh had already engaged me. And her staff reflects that. … Not only engage in a two-way conversation, they can understand what it means to initiate. … Have they done internships on the sports side of the house? I’ve met a lot of young students who’ve done internships in CR and PR and that’s fine, but then they come to us and think that that’s sports sales. If they haven’t initiated an internship, have they been a social director, or an officer of a sorority or fraternity? What have they done to initiate? Have they put together a fundraising drive on a college campus? They indicate to me that they can work well with a whole lot of other people. And at the end, when they get to their teams, they are encouraged. You’ve heard all that they do to train. We’ve got last, last next to last in the Padres, and they’re the best sales culture. We’ve got 20 years of losing in Pittsburgh, and I’m a native Pittsburgher and that hurts me to say that. And yet, in Pittsburgh we have the largest season-ticket base since PNC has opened.

Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of the Developing Sales Talent discussion.

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