Know How – Sports Marketing: Ardi Kolah: Stop selling if you want to drive more sales

IF you’re looking to drive more sales for your club… then stop selling!

This isn’t a typo. I really did mean ‘stop’, not ‘start’, selling!

Here’s why…

Back in 1953, one of the most famous sales books ever written was published in the US. In it, the author wrote: “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”

The author was Dale Carnegie and his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is one of the most successful sales books ever published. It sold in excess of 15 million copies worldwide and is still going strong today.

What’s fascinating is that the book was written before access to the powerful databases we have today, that contain millions of bits of data on just about every aspect of our lives, as is legally possible to hold.

But don’t let that fool you. What Dale Carnegie said then holds true today in our data-mad driven world.

And it’s this.

If we only operate on a rational basis in order to try to influence a person to come and watch our game or company to sponsor our club, team, league or sports personality, then we’ll fail miserably.

The starting point for selling – just about anything you can think of, including a ticket for a match – isn’t what you may expect.

It doesn’t start with you, the seller.

In fact, it starts with identifying the issues, challenges, problems and opportunities of the person you’re trying to sell to.

So, stop selling!

Selling is about you. It’s about your bottom line. It’s about your profit motive. It’s about your attendance figures.

The potential fan or sponsor has their own agenda and actually won’t give a second thought as to how you’re going to make money out of the deal.

And why should they? If it is a potential sponsor that you are trying to reach out, they’re too busy figuring out how they’re going to remain profitable and beat the competition in any way they can.

As all brilliant sales people will tell you, it’s much more profitable to see the world from the other person’s point of view.

“The goal isn’t to sell to people what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe,” remarks Gordon Ritchie, one of the most successful sports and entertainment entrepreneurs in Scotland who I’ve worked with over the last decade.

One of the biggest mistakes that sports bodies of all shapes and sizes often make is to talk exclusively about what they do and how they do it, rather than why they do it.

And this is where the passion for what they believe in comes into play.

Let’s dwell, for a moment, on the specific issue of trying to secure sponsorship – just one element of the sports marketing mix.

It’s clear that those who are more successful in business development and selling sponsorship will focus on connecting with potential sponsors and brand partners by sending messages to the what is known as the ‘limbic’ part of the brain where the emotions ‘live’ and which control the decision-making process but doesn’t process language.

In other words, selling a sponsorship opportunity is about harnessing the power of emotional intelligence – feelings and emotions – rather than being stuck outside of that ring of influence and only appealing to the rational part of the brain.

So, focusing exclusively on what the sponsorship opportunity looks like and how it will work will often simply be not good enough.

“What you buy shows the proof of what you believe,” adds Gordon Ritchie.

And of course nowhere is this more important than when a sponsor commits to supporting a team, league, personality or event.

Prior to making a pitch to a prospective sponsor, those responsible for sponsorship sales at a club must have a full understanding of the company they’re approaching. This must cover its distribution channels, new product launches, new market competition and previous, current and upcoming sales and marketing campaigns. And that’s just the starting point!

While it may sound basic, the most successful sales people are those that are fabulous at listening.

And this is an area of competitive advantage for clubs that are in hot competition with each other when it comes to wanting to attract some of the biggest corporate sponsors in Scotland.

Listening involves understanding the prospective sponsor’s marketing and communication objectives, opportunities, challenges and requirements.

There needs to be a basic understanding of the environment for sponsorship and I often tell my post-graduate students that context is often as important as content.

Without this perspective, sponsorship selling starts to resemble an unfocused email marketing campaign where potential sponsors are being ‘spammed’. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Whether selling a new sponsorship or working with an existing partner, clubs need to listen to what the sponsor’s objectives are, what they’re trying to accomplish and to be able to translate that information into real opportunities for the sponsor.

The only really effective way to achieve this is through collaboration. When working with sponsors, clubs must adapt the mindset of 1+1=3.

It’s also expected that the sports organisation will collaborate with the sponsor in the measurement of inputs, outputs and outcomes of the sponsorship programme in an ‘open book’ way. It’s vital for the longevity of the relationship that the sponsor’s objectives are uppermost in the mind of the sports organisation.

Ardi Kolah is a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School, London and his new book, Improving the Performance of Sponsorship, is published by Routledge in June 2015.

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We support our local, Loudoun Academy 30-strong cycling team, which has seen them complete challenges like Galston to Ireland (with the aid of a ferry for the crossing) and aiming to ride from one side of Scotland to the other.

We also support the Ayr Burners cycling team, which – with its growing member base – is dedicated to getting people fitter through cycling.