This is a pretty common question in my inbox, with many sponsorship seekers telling me that they’ve left “literally dozens” of voicemails or had been following up on a proposal for months. Clearly, it’s time to address this subject, as so many people appear to be getting it wrong.
First off, I am all for following up. Sponsors are busy and get lots of approaches, and it is both the prudent and professional thing to do. What I’m not in favour of is overdoing it. Following up too much, or for too long, doesn’t make you look committed and pro-active. It makes you look unprofessional and desperate, and neither is how you want a sponsor to see you.
Even if you know someone who made forty calls and finally got the sponsorship, but let’s be clear – that’s an extreme long shot. The much more likely outcome is that you’ll burn a bridge with a sponsor – if not this year, then at some time in future.
Below, I’ve outlined some guidelines and some suggested wording for follow-up emails that should help you to do the follow up you need to do, while keeping your professionalism intact.
How often, and how long, you follow-up is somewhat driven by how your proposal ends up in the sponsor’s hands.
If you had a meeting with the sponsor – by phone or in-person – and they both engaged you and invited you to send in a proposal, you are right to expect some type of timely response. In that meeting, do ask them how long it generally takes them to make a decision.
In your proposal cover letter, tell them when you will be following up. Give them a few days to read and digest the proposal, but no longer than a week, before you call to follow up. If you don’t get through, send a quick, follow-up email asking if they need any additional information or have any questions. Tell them that if you don’t hear from them, you’ll follow up with them again in a week.
If you haven’t heard back after two weeks, send an email with wording something like this:
“As I haven’t heard from you, I trust that you have everything you need in order to make a decision about [offer]. I note that you said it takes around X weeks to make a decision, so I’ll follow up with you again on [date].
In the meantime, if you do have any questions, or if there is anything I can provide, please just let me know.”
Do contact them again on that date. If you still don’t hear back from them, a few days later, you should call off the chase (see below).
Note that in the advice, above, I said “engaged”, as someone telling you to “just send in a proposal” without providing you any background on their brand, objectives, or target markets, is not engaged. They’re just trying to get rid of you. For more on how to handle those requests, read “What to do if a sponsor says, ‘Just send me a proposal”.
If you do send them a proposal, you should treat the follow-ups as if the proposal was unsolicited.
Sponsors treat unsolicited proposals more or less like you treat junk mail: They didn’t want it, didn’t ask for it, and are under no obligation to bend over backward to get back to you any more than you bend over backward to send responses to all of the real estate agents, lawnmower services, and takeaways who stick flyers in your mailbox.
That’s your starting place – junk mail – so don’t make it worse by going overboard on follow-ups.
To shorten your odds on getting their attention, you need to ensure that the offer is complete, fully customised to reflect their brand, markets, and objectives, and professionally put together. (If you need full instructions and a template, get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.)
In your covering letter, you should then point out early that your offer was fully customised and based on research of their brand, as you don’t want to waste either of your time. Tell them you’ll follow-up in a week.
From there, you need to stretch out your follow-ups. As the proposal wasn’t invited, you need to accept that it isn’t their highest priority, and even if you do hear from them, the most likely outcome is going to be a decline. Tough, but true.
Don’t follow up more than three times before you call off the chase (see below) and don’t follow up for more than about 6-8 weeks, in total.
There is a point where you need to accept that either your proposal isn’t going anywhere, or it’s stalled and there’s nothing you can do to re-start the process from your end. At that point, I recommend sending a very professional email indicating that you’re done chasing them.
“As I haven’t heard from you after our very positive meeting in [month] and my subsequent proposal, I have to assume you’re not interested in this. If you want to restart this discussion at any time, please just drop me a line. I wish you the best with your sponsorship program.”
If the proposal was unsolicited, the wording will be slightly different.
“As I haven’t heard from you after submitting a proposal in [month], I have to assume you’re not interested in this. I realise the proposal was unsolicited and probably not a high priority, but believed the match was strong enough to take the chance on sending you a customised proposal.
If you want to discuss sponsorship at any time, please just drop me a line. I wish you the best with your sponsorship program.”
What this does is focus on your professionalism and acceptance of the probable outcome. If they have any real interest at all, you’ll likely hear back – even if it’s to say they can’t consider it until next year, or similar. If not, you just need to move on.
Once you’ve accepted that your offer is pretty much dead in the water, it’s time to autopsy it to see if you got it wrong. Even if the proposal was invited, if your offer isn’t really compelling, the sponsor will go off the boil.
Not sure what a best practice offer looks like? Unfortunately, this is a skill that is no longer optional. Before you get stuck in voicemail hell again, be sure to check out these resources:
Your approach is every bit as important to your sponsorship success as your offer. If you get the proposal to the wrong person, or put all your eggs in one basket, there’s every chance it will fail.
The proper person to receive your proposal is the brand manager. In smaller companies, the marketing manager or general manager may cover that role.[spacelist]
As for putting all of your eggs in one basket, don’t. I know it can be tempting to identify a brand you think will be the perfect sponsor, and then focus all of your efforts on that one brand. Here’s the thing, even the perfect offer and the perfect approach is more likely to be a “no” than a “yes”, so it is absolutely in your best interests to develop a strong, well-matched hit list of around 15-20 sponsors and approach them all at once. There is no issue with approaching more than one insurance company or airline or whatever, as long as you can find a genuine attribute, target market, and objective match. But thinking a brand will sponsor you because you are so convicted that it is the perfect match is a recipe for failure.
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“.
If you need additional assistance, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building 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.