Bonus, there is an editable spreadsheet at the end to help you create your own checklist. Read through to the bottom).
Look, it’s been overstated…but you can’t operate the same way you did before the crisis.
For one thing, with the lost inventory of games, we are digging out of a hole to get started. For your team, it could be as high as a 38% loss as sponsors drop out or how much they spend with you.
Then we have what looks like a worse recession than last time in 2008. In that year we only saw a 1% drop in total sponsorship spending…but it took longer to recover back to double-digit growth.
Why do I bring this all up? Money will be the tightest it has ever been in spending with us. If we want to be successful and pull out of this hole, we need to re-evaluate some items.
When thinking about how we jump out of this I couldn’t help but think back to one of my favorite episodes on The Inches podcast: Building a Winning Culture with Mike Johnston.
In that episode, when we asked Mike how he wins recruits and turned around a junior hockey program he gave a tactic that is gold when thinking about your customers and packages.
It came with a simple question:
“If I were a recruit or family member of a recruit, what would be on my checklist?”
Mike has been able to build a program that sees top NHL draft picks every season with a simple question.
So I started to think, how can we implement this into our sponsorship departments? That’s exactly what I do below.
First, let’s break down the simple question Mike asks
A key here to understanding the power of this question and how it can change the culture is understanding the parts that go into it. Let’s break down the fist & second half separately.
The first thing that is key in the first half of the question….the recruit
“If I were a recruit or family member….”
Not if I was on the coaching staff. Not what I as the head coach. Not if I was the team president.
If I were a recruit or family member.
The reason this part is so important is it takes into account the stakeholders from square one. It ensures that you are looking at it from the customer’s viewpoint.
If Mike went in and tried to recruit a kid based on what he the coach wanted…he wouldn’t be getting the recruits he wanted simply because it would be hard to convince them that their goals and aspirations would be met.
The first half of this question helps us focus on our customer segmentation. Whom we are building packages for and understanding their needs. It reminds us that we are here for them, to help them grow, and reach their goals.
This gets us in the mindset to look through their lens. It sets us up for success before we even get tactical.
The second half is the tactical side, “what would be on my checklist?”
After we understand whom we are building for, we can then focus on what they would be interested in.
What would be on their checklist? What items would they need to check off in order to say YES to our packages…or in Mike’s case coming to play hockey for him.
Again this is not what is on you, the sales person’s, checklist. You can’t make this checklist successfully without understanding your customers.
Now, this checklist can change prospect to prospect….but as you make these checklists based on what you hear or know from your customers you will hear some themes that you can build an overall strategy behind.
Okay so how do we pull this to sponsorship sales?
The same way Mike is working to get kids to trust him, his program, and commit to his team…we are doing that with our customers.
This question helps us understand on the micro & macro level what our customers need. In all honesty, it is a cheat sheet. It’s the answers to the test before you take it.
But like any cheat sheet…you need to do some digging to get the answers (more on that later).
Overall, we can shift Mike’s question to fit our needs in sponsorship by asking the below of ourselves, our department, and our packages & assets.
“If I was a brand & were going to spend money with [Your Team Here] in sponsorship, what would be on my checklist?”
Again, our focus first is on our customers. Second, we get into their viewpoint and build a package on their needs over our own.
This forces us to build, sell, and execute on their needs, not ours.
If signage does not help them reach a goal on that checklist…DO NOT SELL THEM SIGNAGE. Don’t even bring it up. It is the wrong answer on the test.
If there is something that repeatedly comes up on this checklist you don’t have, it is time to build it in and give some serious love there.
Again this checklist you will build will be your secret weapon. It will be like coach Kline’s secret playbook that was stolen from him in the Waterboy movie. You can come back to it and
You should be asking this of every sponsor you have currently have in your portfolio AND whom you want to close in the future.
The first step here is to ask this question for EVERY SPONSOR YOU WORK WITH.
What this will do is call out our assumptions. In sales, we lose deals because of assumptions.
Assuming that they have the same needs as last year. Assuming that they want to keep buying signage as a path to awareness. Assuming that budget-wise they still have the funds for on-location vs. digital.
Sponsors leave when you come back with a package that assumes they have the same needs as last year. Sponsors leave when you assume that a campaign worked well but it was not on par with the expectations from the sponsors.
On a macro level, a sponsor also will leave if they don’t see your packages shifting overall with the way that attention is shifting (I’m looking at you digital).
If you ask this of every sponsor you can find where your holes are. You can start to question your assumptions and know where you need to fill those holes in order to truly create offerings that help.
It is a roadmap to success.
But don’t stop there with current partners. The next step is to do this for the companies you are prospecting.
With our prospects, our first goal should always be to understand their needs & goals in sponsorship.
But before we even reach out, we’ll need to have a reason to reach out. We need to do our research to see where we can be relevant to their business &
This is where the checklist begins. If we fill this out we can see what assumptions we have for them. We also can see where we still need to find new information.
Here again, the checklist is letting us know where our holes are in understanding what our potential partners will need. It helps us know what we need to do in order to close our partners.
Using the checklist, as you can see, helps us with our prospects as well to drive new business.
What this does that is most important is forces us to talk to our customers.
What I love about this is it forces us to talk with our customers and ask questions. As you fill this out for the first time you’ll begin to write what you think you know your customer wants.
Then, the second-guessing comes in…’ Do they still want to promote that community initiative? I didn’t even ask the last call..”
This document is a tool to keep us in check and away from our assumptions. It forces us to ask the questions we need as sponsorship salespeople to build a package that helps them reach their marketing goals.
The reason why you should be using this is it keeps you honest when you start to slide back into complacency with assumptions.
This won’t work all the time…but it sets us up for success every time
Sometimes we’ll use this formula and a brand still won’t sign with us. That is part of the business. Even the best baseball players only connect with a hit a little over 1/3rd of the time.
But this is our process. It is how we perfect our swing. It is how we build a system that can be scalable to any industry or client.
The reason why the Patriots, and Mike at the Winterhawks, are always successful is they create processes they can lean on. Those processes may be tweaked…but they always come back to a core.
This is the core you can lean on, and it works because it is customer-focused.
If you only use it some of the time…you won’t see the results you need. If you stop using it after not winning a few deals…I’d argue it’s because you haven’t perfected it to really understand your customer.
Bill Belichick is arguably the best coach in NFL history….but before the Patriots…he had some tough years with the Browns.
The same goes for Nick Saban. Not many remember his under-performing time with the Miami Dolphins.
Heck, Money Ball was a disaster in the beginning. And they didn’t win a championship…but they did with no money what the Yankees did with 10X the payroll. They did it with a process.
It will take some time. This though is the blueprint you can follow. Stick with it.
This checklist is a living document. It is evolving all the time.
I’m 30, and if you asked me what was important to me 5 years ago you would get a totally different answer than today.
This is true as well on the macro and micro level with this checklist.
Sometimes a sponsor will be in a different lifecycle in their business lives. Maybe they doubled the size of their firm and now tickets & hospitality are important. Our list will need to adjust for that.
Sometimes platforms like Tik Tok come out of seemingly nowhere and on a macro side, we need to look at how we can leverage this into our packages as it comes onto our sponsor’s checklist more frequently.
This checklist is never done. It is constantly evolving as we are in the sponsorship world. But it will help us stay on the right path to always be the solution for their marketing plans no matter what comes.
The results of this checklist: Understanding what the sponsor is willing to pay for.
Relevance is everything in sales and driving revenue. The reason is it leads to what the sponsor is willing to pay for in our sponsorship packages.
This checklist is a map to what the sponsor is willing to pay for.
Plain and simple, it shows you where you can increase the price and cost and where you won’t be able to.
An example, if a potential partner comes to you and says the most important thing on the checklist is driving leads for their insurance business.
If you offer back signage in-stadium…you won’t sell the package. There is no relevance toward their goals. Their willingness to pay for signage will most likely be extremely low…honestly non-existent.
This is where you lose the deal, this is where they go ghost on you and don’t respond.
The reason is…we failed to find relevance toward what their goals are. We focus on what we want to sell at a high price instead of what the prospect is willing to pay for.
This checklist tells us what the sponsor is willing to pay for. This way when we build our packages we know that add that is worth money to them.
The list tells us how to maximize our package size. The list lets us meet their needs with every item we add and build a package they will pay for.
The most powerful item this list has is it leads directly to revenue. It is the treasure map to big packages…because it finds exactly what our sponsors need to be successful and we’ll give it to them.
This also drives creativity in your assets to reach innovation.
If I gave you a list of assets you already have in your packages and said go sell them to your sponsors…then you would offer the same ones for each sponsor with very little variation. You put into place a system of offering the same exact items to all sponsors.
The problem with this is we get put into a box of what sports sponsorship is. We try and jam-pack our very rigid assets into the patterns we identify with our clients.
If you give them parts (customer needs) then there is room for many ideas, which opens your department up for new ways to engage, connect, and ultimately engage your sponsors.
This is how you get out of the cycle of offering the same assets that we always have. This is how we take the next step as an industry and focus on the sponsor’s needs to create the asset instead of conforming to what we already have. If we can focus on the destination (sponsors goals) rather than the pattern recognition, then we can shake up the game.
Easy is boring. Our goal in sponsorship should be to push boundaries with every asset we send to our sponsors. We shouldn’t expect it to be easy to reach their goals. We should be looking to wow our sponsors with the activations we create.
This process will bring that out in us. There are no set rules of awareness=signage. If we focus on the client’s needs, we are pulling ourselves out of the constrains to be creative to reach their goals.
A simple question brings the ability to grow with our client’s needs.
Sometimes it is that simple. Sometimes one question can shape our entire department strategy and make it really that simple.
Thanks to Mike Johnston, we have that question.
“If I was a brand & were going to spend money with [Your Team Here] in sponsorship, what would be on my checklist?”
Bonus: I made the worksheet that helps visualize this process
In working on this article I started to realize that you could make this into a worksheet for your organization.
So I built it.
Click HERE to access a Google Sheets document. You can’t edit it…but if you Duplicate it under the “file” tab to the top left you can have your own version.
A gift from me to the sponsorship community that has supported me. I hope it helps.
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