Sponsorship Sales Lie #61: Desire Equals Success

Pigs Fly - SmIf you’ve been selling sponsorship for any length of time, you already know this is a myth. You know how much goes into a successful sponsorship sale, and please feel free to move along to some other blog. But judging by the hundreds of emails and messages and phone calls I get from sponsorship seekers looking for advice, I can attest that the vast majority really don’t get it.

This is an example of an email I received last week (with identifying details removed) and is extremely typical of some of the approaches I get:

“I have an idea for an event that is GROUND-BREAKING. NOTHING LIKE THIS HAS EVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!! I have been approaching sponsors, but they are TOO LIMITED to see the value of this. Exposure in the MILLIONS!!!

I want to make this work. I HAVE THE DESIRE!!!!

Please tell me how to make sponsors INVEST IN MY DREAM!”

Step one: Stop with the all-caps. They are making my eyes bleed.

In all seriousness, the one thing these emails scream is that the writer seems to think that having a dream and a desire is enough to get a sponsor to hand over cash, and nothing could be further from the truth.

In a recent blog, I talked about a number of the structural attributes that are required before you are ready to seek sponsorship, but as the number and intensity of these totally hapless sponsorship seekers seems to be growing, I thought I should probably expand on what goes into the sponsorship sales process.

Components of a successful sponsorship sale:

  • Research – You need to understand the objectives, target markets, and attributes of the brand you’re targeting for sponsorship. Every sponsor needs something different – even sponsors in the same category.
  • A business case – Selling sponsorship is not about what you’re selling. It’s about what the sponsor can achieve with what you’re selling.
  • Points of differentiation – What you’re selling is unlikely to be all that different from many other options a sponsor might have. You need to find the genuine points of differentiation – the ones that will make a difference to their brands – and how they can use them to achieve their objectives.
  • An offer – You need to outline a specific complement of benefits and put a price on it. You can always negotiate from there, but you need to set the starting point. This would seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people contact sponsors without actually putting what they are selling into the proposal.
  • Lead-time – Sponsors need time to sell the opportunity internally, make a decision, negotiate the deal, plan leverage, then implement that leverage. That takes time. If you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment, you know progress doesn’t tend to be fast.
  • Credibility – If what you’re selling doesn’t have built-in credibility – if it’s brand new or starting up in a new market – then your organisation needs to have enough credibility and expertise that they can be confident you know what you’re doing. If you’re also new to this, you need to bring on board some advisers who can provide both expertise and the credibility you need.
  • Skin in the game – Sponsors are not risk-takers and they’re not interested in underwriting your idea. They want to know that you are making a significant investment and you are taking the risk to make this happen. If they think that their investment is the difference in your event or project happening or not, they won’t do it. That tells them you’re not invested and you’re risking their money.
  • Contacts – Sponsorship sales don’t happen via unsolicited spam pitches to total strangers. They happen when you either know the right contacts, or you have done the research and used your network to find the right contacts, and address them each individually.
  • Professionalism – Sponsorship is not sold in ALL CAPS. Sponsorship is not sold in a short email at all. It’s not sold in 140 characters or less on Twitter. It’s certainly not sold in text-speak. You need to be every bit as professional and polished as the companies you target.

On the other hand, these tactics are counterproductive:

  • Statements like “ground-breaking” or “never before seen” – Just because you’ve never seen it done before, doesn’t mean it’s new. Seasoned professionals know that even the most innovative ideas are generally derivatives of some other successful idea.
  • Pressure – Sponsors don’t work to your schedule. Pressuring them may get you a faster answer, but it won’t be “yes”.
  • Requests for “support”, “help”, or “assistance” – Want to sound like you have no idea how to be a commercial partner? Use those words.

There are many, many more things you can do that are counterproductive, but those are a few of the big ones.

The upshot of all of this is that your desire, belief, or vision is not going to get you sponsorship. Seeking sponsorship is hard. It requires legwork, strategic nous, patience, and manners – and even then, there is no guarantee that any given sponsor will say “yes”. But if you’re doing it right, a lot more of them will.

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.

If you could use some additional support, I provide sponsorship coaching, sponsorship consulting, sponsorship training, and if you need a fast, cost-effective start, the Jump Start program. If you’re interested in any of these services, please review the materials and drop me a line to discuss:

Kim Skildum-Reid
AU: +61 2 9559 6444
US: +1 612 326 5265


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