Sponsorship Sales During a Crisis

By Austin Hahn

At Caravel Marketing we know selling sponsorships right now feels like pushing a rock up a mountain with your nose. We also know you are strong, disciplined, and fearless by nature.  During times of crisis, your sales talent, experience and determination are more important than ever. So keep selling.

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You’re a sponsorship salesperson sitting on the couch in your pajamas missing your Starbucks coffee. You log-on to start selling from your quiet living room in what seems like an end of days Hollywood movie. You are convinced you have likely done your last deal. Selling anything feels like pushing a rock up a mountain. You consider emailing your boss to tell them, ‘no one is buying sponsorships right now, don’t you see everything is put on hold, how can we even think about sponsorship sales at this time?’ At least one of these thoughts has run through your head as a sponsorship seller this week, but the truth of the matter is, as long as we’re employed, we have a job to do. It’s easy as salespeople to scale back sales efforts in the face of adversity, but now more than ever, people in all revenue generating positions need to stay resilient to ensure the overall health of their events.

Assess the Situation
Timing is important under any circumstance, but especially during times of uncertainty.  Don’t expect quick decisions are going to be made and don’t launch into a sales pitch without making sure prospective sponsors want to hear what you have to say. Ask what their timelines are and respect them and ask when a better time to talk is. Acknowledge that your goal is to establish or grow your relationship. If the conversation is about mitigating the fallout from canceled events check out our previous post about steps to take. Most importantly if you are selling a sponsorship or building a relationship, remember the steps you take today are going to affect the results that you expect tomorrow. If you don’t maintain a disciplined sales process during this time, then you are going to be left behind when the dust settles.

Consider Your Approach
Before you hop back on your sales horse, it’s important you listen and ask smart questions. Acknowledging the situation and having a sense of empathy towards your potential partner needs is essential. This is a good time to drop the hard sell approach and be gentler in your outreach. Don’t reach out with strong messages, instead, let your prospect know you understand times are difficult, and that you’re interested in helping them. Let them know you understand right now may seem like an inopportune time to discuss a partnership, but that you want to take advantage of the time to develop a relationship and plan for the future. Closing deals is not the #1 priority and unlikely to happen during times of crisis, but it is the right time to develop relationships and position yourself as a resource for solutions. Sponsors need to show ROI and the risk of valuable marketing dollars getting locked up in a possible canceled event is obviously stressful for them. Sponsorship sales is all about relationships. Show you are worth the time now or in the future and that you are playing the long game.

Be Prepared for the Tough Conversations
It’s inevitable that sponsors will want to back out of current deals and prospects who are near signing a contract will be weary of moving forward. Now is a great time to revisit how you’re propositioning the value of your sponsorship. Community events in particular are heavily dependent on corporate sponsorships. Work on crafting talking points that highlight how much your attendees recognize the roll of sponsors and support them. Make it clear that continued support will be met with even more enthusiasm by your event attendees once the crisis passes. Consider offering additional benefits to deals for this year at minimum or no cost.

Stick to Your Process
Admittedly, you’re going to get more “no thank you’s” in this time of uncertainty and sponsors will be distracted by the current crisis. Let’s face it, this is happening to everyone. But now more than ever, it’s important to remember all you can control is your sales process. Continue to make the calls, send  emails, follow up, schedule calls, and track your results. Stay in direct communication with your boss about what you’re hearing from sponsors, and work as a team to craft the best sales message.

The COVID-19 situation will most likely get worse before it gets better, but it is most certainly going to get better. And when it gets better, you don’t want to be the sponsorship salesperson that gave up in a time of difficulty. Be the fearless salesperson we know you are.

About the Author: Austin Hahn is the Director of Partnerships at Caravel Marketing. Austin is a sponsorship marketing outsider with over seven years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry. Austin solves business problems by bringing brands and properties together around sustainable sponsorship solutions. He isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo of conservative sponsorship thinking.