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The David Chronicles: Turning One Sponsor Into Many

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by David Garland in David's Blog

The David Chronicles: Turning One Sponsor Into Many(NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a new personal series I’m trying out to see if you like it, find it interesting, funny, helpful, whatever. It is no-punches-pulled, 100% ridiculously transparent. The first and second and third articles received an awesome (and unexpected) response so I’ll keep ’em rolling).

Where did we leave off? It was less than one month away from professional inline hockey getting started in St. Louis, back in 2006.

I’d just hustled to sign our first sponsor (fantastic) but now there were other “challenges” on the horizon, including:

  • Signing more sponsors.
  • Finding players for the league.
  • Finding fans to come out to the games.
  • Finding a little help so I don’t go insane (even though I probably am insane).

As I mentioned in the last post, all of these things are really marketing to some extent and there was little time to get going. Armed with caffeine and confidence from who-knows-where, it was time to get dirty (not like physically dirty…you know what I mean). Here are some insights on what happened next:

How To Turn One Sponsor/Advertiser/Client/Customer Into Many More

After signing the gas station and convenience store to a sponsorships, I did something not earth shattering, but effective. I asked them, “Who else do you think would be interested in sponsoring something like this?” Looking for the ole referral!

My advice here is to ask for referrals right away. Right after someone buys. They are excited, ready to get rolling, and more likely to pass your name on. Which is cool.

In this case, the convenience store introduced me to a little company called Pepsi which was a vendor of theirs.

The fun fact here is there was NO WAY a 22-year old was going to get into Pepsi without a VERY warm (read: blazing hot) introduction from someone that mattered. It was social proof at the highest level. Let’s say you are the marketing manager at Pepsi and you get a call from me:

“Hi, my name is David and we are bringing a new pro inline hockey league to St. Louis. It is going to be really exciting and I’d love to talk with you about it and see if it is a good fit to get Pepsi involved.”

“How did you get my number?”

It just wouldn’t have happened.

But now picture this:

“Hi Pepsi lady. It is convenience store guy. Looking forward to our shipment of 345858868 Pepsi’s next week. Anyhow, we just got involved with something interesting. A new pro inline hockey league in St. Louis. I think you guys might be a good fit as well. Can I pass on David’s (the crazy kid behind the league) information?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to take a look. Those Pepsi’s are on the way!”

Thankfully, because the situation was #2, I was in. This story is repeated over the next two years. One introduction turned into another. One person introduced me to another. Some worked out extremely well. Some weren’t a great fit (oh well). But every single sponsor was based on a previous relationship of SOME kind. In fact, one sponsorship was signed at a random art event when the guy came up to me and said, “Pitch me in 2 minutes. Why should we get involved?”…and he got involved.

Over the next two years, a small army of sponsors was amassed (including the convenience store/Pepsi) ranging from UPS to Anheuser-Busch plus a car dealership, US Bank, and more.

We had all kinds of unique/fun/crazy promotions over the next couple of years:

  • UPS Chuck-A-Puck (halftime show where kids and weird adults threw pucks looking to land on the UPS banner to win a prize).
  • Pepsi 3-Stars Of The Game (the stars also received a Pepsi shirt for a little extra branding).
  • Starting lineups fueled by On The Run Mobil.
  • Free 180 Energy Drinks for fans (great way for them to test out products). This became Free 180 Energy Drinks for fans 13-and-over after some parents tried to kill their over caffeinated children.

It ended up being a challenging model, but it worked. There wasn’t some mystical magical story of how I’m the “best salesperson ever” or some secret sauce. It was all about relationships. Period.

An interesting byproduct of it was some media coverage. The local business journal in St. Louis wrote a story, “Fledging Inline Hockey League Scores A-B Sponsorship” where they interviewed me about the league and sponsorships. The sponsorship story actually became newsworthy and was a backdoor way to promote the league…sort of like how people write/talk about Zappos customer service. The story is interesting and also promotes Zappos.

My final sponsorship advice (as we move on in the next installment from sponsorships to marketing)?

  • Tap into your network online and offline. You never know who knows the perfect person or a person that can lead to the perfect person.
  • If the person you are talking to doesn’t have access to any kind of budget, you are talking to the wrong person. As opposed to “pitching” the person without a budget, look for a nudge to the person who HAS the budget.
  • Organization is key. I know we are all creative nut jobs. But, laying out the plan CLEARLY makes a difference.
  • Have options…but not too many. Everyone has different styles of buying. We had one guy who literally in two minutes would make a decision. He looked through the brochure and said, “Hmmmm, I’ll take that one!”
  • Following up separates you from 98% of the world. I know, basic information. Why do so many screw this up?
  • Warm introductions beat cold calls every time. The warmer the introduction, the higher the probability of being taken seriously.
  • Having a plan of action after someone says “Yes!” is critical. Have the next steps ready.
  • Visualization is important. Do you have something you can SHOW? A packet, some photos, something. Telling is one thing, showing is another (and better).
  • Building blocks. The first sponsor is the key one. Leveraging that first sponsor can be much easier. Putting maximum effort into the first sponsor will reap rewards.
  • Some people will say “no” and that is OK. No need to get offended (even though it is hard when you actually care a lot). Just move on. Someone else will say yes.

What about your experience in sales? What have you noticed?

In the next installment: Stretching a $0 marketing budget and being smarter, faster, cheaper in marketing the league.

PS: Did you catch this week’s RISE interview with the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss? Well worth a watch.

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  1. David Hewson says:

    My growing suspicion with sales and marketing has been the importance of “use what you’ve got”, and your experiences seem to agree with that!

    Warm connections vs. cold connections, and following up – basically, I see this as an extension of warm and cold…make a lukewarm connection warmer and hotter as appropriate, and don’t let it turn cold.

    And don’t underestimate the power of your own excitement to bring people along for the ride (within reason, of course – wait til after you’re out of sight to jump up and down with excitement).

    Showing someone the positive effect they are having on your life is very powerful – apart from making their day, it can also be incredibly effective at getting them on your side and helping you any way they can.

    1. David Siteman Garland says:

       Great recap, D

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8 Steps to Turning What You Already Know into a Successful Online Course

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