I am often asked about the sponsorship sales process. I let people know that, in Canada, the average timeline between prospect clearance and closing a sponsorship deal is 18-22 months. Yes, some happen in a week. Others are in the mill for three to four years, but on average, it is 18-22 months. So, what happens during that time?
From my experience, it is relationship building. When you try to close too early, you typically fail and don’t get the deal, or you get the deal and it does not last for more than one year or one event. Day in and day out, I work with clients to help them clearly understand that relationship development is the key. We work on true business development relationship nurturing, learning about the prospect’s business, and providing advice and solutions for their success. Our clients don’t look for the “close.” They look for a relationship for the long-term partnership and how they can help their partners and partners-to-be. I know budgets need to be met, but you will forever be in “catch up mode” if you fail to build relationships.
I can attest that, when I was selling hockey, there were prospects who took two to three years to bring on board. In each of those cases, I fully understood their business—sometimes better than the marketing person. I built programs that worked for them and their budgets. I was also there as a trusted advisor. They often asked me questions about other marketing opportunities (radio, TV, outdoor, flyers, direct mail, etc.) and I helped them with those plans and strategies. Today—twenty years later—several of those clients are still with the Flames or their broadcast.
Recently, I watched our client Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC) secure a great partnership with the Winnipeg Airport Authority (WAA). Director of Development Shelly Smith-Hines followed the process. There was pressure to try and close the “big deal” around what MTC needed/wanted to sell, but she resisted. She ran a smaller program with the WAA to develop the relationship and build trust. She eventually secured a multifaceted deal that was engaging, delivered results for both parties, and a substantial ROI. It took over 18 months, but the relationship was built, and the program was designed to meet the WAA’s needs.
Remember—relationship building does not mean social. It does not mean golf games, long lunches, and cocktails. It means learning the prospect’s business, rolling up your sleeves, and understanding. You need to build the relationship to the point where the prospect says to themselves, “This person is not a sponsorship salesperson. They are an ally, a friend, a business equal who helps me achieve my goals. I trust this person to help me make more money. I will work with them!”
People do business with people they like and trust. Can you say that all your clients truly like and trust you? The big question is: If they had an extra $1,000 or $100,000 to spend, would you be their first call?
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