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Volume 23 No. 17
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How to approach new prospects: Be ready at moment’s notice

Nailing down new sponsors is not for the faint of heart.

How difficult is it to get in front of prospects? Ask Steve Robinson, CMO of Chick-fil-A. “We take a long-term strategic approach to sponsorships. Every one we have ever done, we initiated the conversation.” In other words, Chick-fil-A isn’t waiting for the phone to ring from cold-callers.

You know you’re up against it when Jack Hollis, Toyota Group’s vice president of marketing says, “I would recommend that cold callers resist the request for an in-person meeting during initial contact.”

So if you’ve broken down a prospect’s firewall and earned a hearing, be prepared. Clients want to feel that sales representatives are genuinely interested in their business and well versed. Doing so helps build traction, trust and respect.

The following is an excerpt from the book “The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts,” by David J. Halberstam. The text is a step-by-step handbook on developing new sports media and sponsorship accounts. It covers the sales process, from identifying prospects to closing pieces of business, and the emotional roller coaster that sellers endure.

Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s senior vice president, club business development, says, “It used to be enough to be an expert on your product. To be successful today, sales executives need to understand their prospect’s business as well as know their own. It takes a new mindset where you are not just selling your intellectual property rights. You are truly integrating the two brands in an authentic way.”

While tendentious, prospects’ websites are a good start to get educated. You’ll learn about core goals and the benefits of a company’s goods and services. Add words like issues, challenges, complaints, competitors to your Google search and you’ll likely download unbiased assessments.

From the trenches: Kodak

Two years or so into my first sales job, I was peddling three baseball franchises that Katz Media represented nationally.

One January day, I reached out to Kodak in Rochester and got the usual runaround. Marketing and advertising people then still had assistants who screened incoming calls. Despite my pleasant persistence, Kodak’s gatekeepers (called secretaries then) insisted that I contact Bill Campbell at J. Walter Thompson, the company’s ad agency in New York. There was no recourse.

I did a little homework and learned that Campbell played football for Columbia University before becoming its head coach. Fired after six seasons in 1979, Campbell popped off the mat immediately and landed at Thompson managing the Kodak account. Business wasn’t foreign to him. The ex coach had earned his Columbia degree in economics.

Bill Campbell picked up the phone on my first call. He didn’t say much but allowed me to give a quick spiel. When I asked for an appointment, he said, “Can you come over now?” Wow!

By the time I hung up, I grabbed a couple off-the-rack presentations, threw my jacket on and rushed over to Thompson. In his office, Campbell was a man of few words. I told him what I had. He asked a couple questions, made a few requests and said, “You have an order.” He bought three packages from me on the spot. I was so stunned that, had I been hit with a feather, I would have fallen right off my chair. I had never experienced anything like it.

Knowledge Is Power!

Does the prospect use distributors, wholesalers or jobbers? Is it a business-to-business account?
Does it market directly to consumers?
Is there a history of business partnerships between the prospect and other sports properties?
What is its market share, regional biases or recent developments?
What is the company’s media strategy? Is the prospect visible year-round, or does it advertise in lockstep with product seasonality?
How is the prospect doing versus its competitors?
Do the prospect’s competitors engage successfully sponsoring other sports entities? Draw parallels.
What are the industry’s challenges?
Sellers are problem solvers. What are the prospect’s problems? Can you propose helpful and creative solutions?
n Research the prospect’s consumer reviews on social media.
Is the target’s advertising themed around branding, price point attractions or other commands to action?
Find out who really makes the final sponsorship and media decisions.
How does the target’s demographic fit the wheelhouse of your product’s strengths?
What is the financial health of the company?

The feeling was eerie. In one way, I felt like I was given the keys to the kingdom and in another, I was so leery that I didn’t immediately call the three franchises to share the good news. The entire development was that implausible.

How real can this guy be? Generally, even if an ad agency has interest in a package, it would be eyed over and analyzed by a litany of people in the media department before it’s sent to the client with a recommendation.

It taught me a valuable lesson. Bright minded and bold executives are more confident about making immediate decisions. Intuitively, Campbell felt that Kodak should have a presence in a family game like baseball, when the outdoor season is in full swing. He could have had the proposals float around the agency but he went with his gut and reached out on a limb. His instincts said do it and he did.

Placing the order a couple of months before the season allowed him to market the program internally, to plan some product placement or what in today’s vernacular is called experiential marketing.

The Campbell story will happen to a seller once in a decade or two. The Bill Campbells of the world don’t surface every day. I said to myself that this man will either be fired shortly for operating against the grain or will run the place in due time.

By the time the baseball season was fully embarked, Campbell was hired as head of marketing at Kodak’s corporate office in Rochester. He was a man on a fast track. From Rochester, Campbell went to California to become marketing head for Apple before it had the cachet it has today. In his 30-plus years in Silicon Valley, Campbell became somewhat of an icon; a mentor and coach to CEOs of several major corporations, 17 years on the Apple board and today he is chairman of Intuit.

There’s an interesting twist to my cold call. In 2009, many years after we first met, I reached out to Campbell with the cooperation of Chris Simko at CBS Television to see whether Intuit would have an interest in becoming an official NCAA sponsor. Intuit is a visible leader in tax accounting software and its selling season is compatible with NCAA basketball. So Bill and I had a phone conversation about a customized package and he asked for a proposal.

When I got him on the phone to follow up, he didn’t beat around the bush. He said no as quickly as he said yes 30 years earlier. That was that. You win some and you lose some.

(Campbell died on April 18 after a long battle with cancer. A big-hearted, larger than life character, he touched many, from the tech mogul to the car repairman.)

David J. Halberstam (halby@halbygroup.com) is the author of “The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.” It is available through sagamorepub.com.