Selling Wisdom from Major League Sports Teams

By Brian Gainor and Andres Lares

Major professional sports teams understand how to sell. From “behind the ropes” access before a game to allowing prospects to walk out of the players’ tunnel, teams are constantly experimenting to find what resonates with their sponsors.

What can your sales organization learn from these approaches? The key takeaway is finding ways to make the prospect feel emotionally connected. For example, when the Phoenix Suns take a prospect through the experience of walking from the locker room out onto the court while being introduced over the PA, it reminds that prospect why sponsoring the team is more than just a media buy.

Or when the Chicago Bulls allow a sponsor to bring their own potential clients to stand on the floor during the players’ pre-game huddle and introductions – it makes that sponsor feel like part of the team.

It’s about creating an experience for that prospect that goes beyond the product/service you are selling.

These days, if teams want to sell deals worth millions, they must do four things:

  1. They must demonstrate that they understand the potential sponsor’s goals/objectives.
  2. They must go above and beyond to meet the sponsor’s goals.
  3. They must provide access so the sponsor can tell its story.
  4. They must show how they can deliver a solution that no one else can provide.

If they do these things well, they can land those major sponsors the team needs. Here are some examples of strategies the pros use that any salesperson can incorporate into his approach:

  • Develop a data-driven approach: For example, in the pros, teams must demonstrate how their fan profile matches up with the company’s potential buyers – how it allows them to reach their core target audience. They use market research to tie back to this data and drive new business. Whether it’s market research on your product or statistics from a credible source, leverage the credibility of using data-driven evidence.
  • Personalize the sales pitch in a unique way: One successful European soccer team created a kit using a high-quality wooden box with a piece of grass from their field inside. There’s an envelope with the prospect’s name containing a letter from a high-ranking executive and a USB drive, which has a video showcasing the opportunity – also customized with the prospect’s name. They may send this to a select list of top Fortune 100 brands. If they land one deal, it more than covers the cost. For your next sales campaign, perhaps try spending more time on fewer prospects – making the first impression on each one unique.
  • Provide access to key stakeholders: One example of this is the Chicago Bulls, who are offering a new corporate partner a VIP experience that features a “Court of Dreams” event with 50 guests playing a basketball game on the Bulls’ floor. This goes beyond the typical into the realm of something you can’t get anywhere else. Maybe in the corporate world, it’s providing an opportunity to have lunch with key executives or access to some type of special event the company may be involved with.
  • Help the prospect see how you’d work together: Show them – by demonstrating through current customers – what it might look like if you were to partner together. Ask happy clients to talk about how the partnership has been valuable to them – showing the prospects how it could be for them. Some pro teams even host B2B summits and bring key prospects in to hear from current sponsors how the partnership has worked for them. The more they can hear from actual clients about how a relationship with your organization has been beneficial, the more likely they’ll be to envision how it might work for them.

When you’re planning your next sales campaign, think beyond the ordinary. Think outside the box about how to provide something that will make the potential customer truly want to be in business with you. Think about how to make the prospect feel emotionally connected so they have to say yes.

Brian Gainor is director of global sports and entertainment consulting at GMR Marketing, and Andres Lares is senior market analyst at SNI.