Should We Break Up Sponsorship Sales and Servicing Roles?

Should we break up sponsorship sales and servicing roles

This is a question I’ve had with increasing frequency the past few years from (usually) larger rightsholders. Most of them have been breaking up the roles, and they’re wondering if it’s in their best interest to keep doing it.

And the answer is… sort of.

Selling sponsorship is different than most sales

The thinking behind breaking up these roles is often rooted in the belief that sponsorship sales requires a specific set of skills. They want someone out there selling who can pitch the assets – a negotiator, a closer, someone who can sell ice to Eskimos… a shark. They want that person selling all the time, not doing the day-to-day sponsorship servicing work.

On the surface, this would seem like a perfectly legitimate breakdown of responsibilities, but the reality is that sponsorship sales bears almost no resemblance to selling a commodity, and there is a huge overlap in the skills required to sell and service sponsors.

Both need to understand a sponsor’s brand positioning, brand and business objectives, the brand’s target markets and their priorities (psychographics). They both need to understand that the sponsor’s results come from what the sponsor does with a sponsorship – how they leverage it – and have the wherewithal to feed them with creative leverage ideas, both pre- and post-sale. They both need to understand the critical nature of internal buy-in to the success of a sponsorship, and be able to help that key contact engender that buy-in every step of the way.

Sponsorship is about creating vision for what can be achieved and giving a sponsor the tools and ideas to achieve it, and that’s the driving force behind both sales and servicing.

Servicing isn’t admin

There’s also a notion with many rightsholders that servicing is primarily an administrative role. If that’s genuinely the case, you’re doing it wrong.

This is not to say that there isn’t a role for admin, and shrewd rightsholders often have a kick-arse organiser in charge of arranging tickets and hospitality, marshalling IP use, signage, parking, and other incredibly important detail work. This is unlikely to be the same person assisting sponsors with internal buy-in, measurement strategies, and bringing their big leverage ideas to life.

Sponsors appreciate consistency… and redundancy

While sponsors understand that different people on your team have different strengths, they want to develop and maintain relationships with each of those key people. That provides them with a consistent experience throughout the sponsorship, and redundancy within the team of people who understand their brand, in case of unavailability.

Sponsors aren’t impressed by your sales funnel

“You know all that rapport we’ve been building leading up to the signing of this contract? That’s all well and good, but now that I’ve got your signature on the dotted line, you’re no longer my problem. NEXT!”

If you’re seeking enough sponsorship to justify having a team of people being involved, I’d bet most of you have some huge whiteboard (or the cloud-based equivalent) showing all of your prospects and where they are in your sales funnel. While this may be very useful in visualising the process for you, sponsors never want to feel like they’re just another revenue stream to your organisation.

This hand-off is like saying,

“You know all that rapport we’ve been building leading up to the signing of this contract? That’s all well and good, but now that I’ve got your signature on the dotted line, you’re no longer my problem. NEXT!”

You’re telling sponsors that, to your organisation, sponsorship is an assembly line, not a real partnership, no matter how much lip-service you may give that word.

Renewals should be seamless

As a rightsholder, one of the best ways to look at servicing is that it isn’t primarily about delivering benefits, it’s about laying the groundwork for an easy renewal. The servicing process should blend seamlessly into collaboration with the sponsor on how the new sponsorship will work, but that can only happen if the person taking point on the sale has been involved throughout the relationship.

By keeping the sales and servicing roles separate, sponsors will see the salesperson as someone whose reason for being is to part them from the most amount of money for the least amount of benefits, while the servicing person will be seen as someone who’s helpful, but lacking clout. Even if this view of your team is only partly true, it’s not helpful to an easy renewal.

My advice

Managing sponsorship sales and servicing operates less like an athletics relay, with the baton being passed in a one-way, one-and-done situation, and more like basketball, where everyone plays multiple roles, and the ball can go back and forth between teammates several times in a given passage of play.

My across-the-board advice for any organisation big enough to have a few staff dedicated to sponsorship is to split out the admin function. This is not a job for an intern or someone super-junior, but a critical support function, best handled by one or more people who are dependable, organised, perfectionists.

From there you want to organise your team so that the sponsor has a consistent, strategic, and expert experience throughout. One way to handle this is to create one or more teams of two, one who is more seasoned than the other, both with strong, best practice sponsorship skills.

Both – together – will be meaningfully involved in epicentre sponsorship functions, such as…

  • Sales and renewal meetings
  • Offer development
  • Major leverage planning sessions
  • Post-sponsorship debriefs

The more seasoned sponsorship pro will take the lead on…

  • Initial sponsor contact
  • Securing background information required for offer development from a new prospect
  • Sales and renewal meetings
  • Negotiations

The less seasoned sponsorship pro will take the lead on…

  • Researching prospects
  • Major leverage planning sessions with the sponsor
  • Monthly reporting
  • Regular, working meetings with the sponsor

This should be a close, working relationship, with both keeping each other in the loop throughout the sponsorship. The result of an approach like this is that…

  • Sponsors will see both members of the team at all critical points in the sponsorship, demonstrating a true partnership orientation.
  • Sponsors will have both consistency and redundancy – if one person is away, the other will be able to capably step in.
  • The important creative processes will significantly improve when there are two people brainstorming ideas, instead of one.
  • Talented sponsorship staff will be pro-actively developed, so they can easily step into the more senior role.

Need more assistance?

For all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition. You may also be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.

If you need additional assistance, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive Sponsorship Systems Design service for large, diverse, and decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

Please note, I do not offer a sponsorship broker service, and can’t sell sponsorship on your behalf. You may find someone appropriate on my sponsorship broker registry.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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