759 Tips on Selling Convention Sponsorships

. . . .759 Tips on Selling Convention (and other) Sponsorships

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. . . well, less 749, because you’re probably just as tired as I am of reading the “top 3 ways,” or “5 things that guarantee success,” or “12 email subject lines that get results” that all the cool kids advise you to lead with these days.

What you need is substantive advice, with a dash of innovation. I’ve been selling sponsorships for association conventions for years, and I’d be honored to share my insights into what really works.

  1. Give Some Away
    Nothing builds on success better than a sense of momentum. When potential sponsors see their competitors sponsoring, they often jump on the bandwagon. Begin by zeroing in on a few friendly active vendors in your community (and not always the biggest ones) and recognize them as a sponsor of a low- fulfillment cost item. (Signage at an event, a program insert, etc.) Generally the vendors in these circles deserve the goodwill anyhow, and their competitors will be paying attention. Your goal is to subtly convey that sponsorship with you is essential for staying ahead of the curve.
  2. Leave Something to the Imagination
    Too often I see folks who want to figure out how much every single benefit will cost and how all the logistics will work before marketing  a sponsorship. While it’s important to have a good idea of hard costs for pricing, it’s okay to leave room for negotiation and settle final details once you’re closer to finalizing a deal with an interested sponsor. Generally, many benefits are branded related and have little to no costs. (It’s not much to throw logos in your program and/or onto signage you were doing anyway). And most convention expenses are fluid and change as details and planning of the show evolve. Again, there are certainly some expenses you have to have an idea of (If a keynote sponsorship comes with a banner hung in the room, you need to know rigging, labor, etc.), but even here it comes down to what is negotiated in the final agreement, and one assumes you are going to do a keynote whether you have a sponsor or not. So margin measurement should be realistic.
  3. Come Out of the Gate Swinging
    Get their logo immediately up on something they can see (not their name, but logo)–and preferably on more than one thing. Surprise them by putting it someplace that was not part of the discussions. This is not only a gesture of goodwill that you are not waiting for paperwork to be completed, immediate payment, etc. but it also prevents potential buyer’s remorse and second thoughts from kicking in (especially on the part of smaller vendors) if the final sponsorship agreement ends goes through numerous reviews, to an attorney, and so forth. Although you should avoid an overly cumbersome negotiation process (see number 9) in whatever paperwork you do use for final processing don’t include the ones you gave them complimentary. These are just tokens of your appreciation – not meant to be part of contracts, etc.
  4. Do You Know Who You’re Talking To? This is tricky. Frequently – whether they call you, or you call them – the first person you talk to is not in charge of the pocket book. So, ultimately (like anyone else in sales) you want to avoid wasting too much time with folks who are not decision makers, but get right to the person who is. But also keep in mind, often the non-decision makers are your best assets.
  5. Make Prices and Sponsorship Options Transparent
    For those who come knocking, there is nothing better than knowing what level of interest they have based on the given sponsorship they inquire about. You then take it from there – plus you can highlight all the bells and whistles already sold.
  6. Never Propose the Most Expensive Sponsorship
    This goes against the logic of almost all sales folks selling convention sponsorships (in particular – though I suppose selling anything for that matter) – as the thinking is that the higher the ask, the more likely they will settle for a second offer that is less expensive. While this may be more applicable to development and fundraising, I think this approach is patronizing to convention sponsors – as they know generally where their budget will be if they are even having the conversation with you. Since they roughly know where they want to go – then go along for the ride, as any up-sell you may be lucky (or skilled) enough to get will happen on the benefits side of the discussion. Further, and more importantly, the vast majority would find it bad form that you are not looking after their needs by immediately trying to convince them that they need to buy the most expensive car in the lot. No they don’t – and most can’t afford it. So sincerely work with them to find a good sponsorship fit for them, and hope for their success – as both the organization and sponsor will benefit in the long run.
  7. Be Flexible
    Organizations that are not flexible with their internal acknowledgment/benefits rules make less money than those that are. As an example, if you follow a tiered sponsor model whereas a sponsor gets an ad in the program at the “Silver Level,” but they don’t want it, or are too small to create one, or just do not value it – well then give them something else. (I am not naive here – I realize many are just negotiating for a lower price when they claim they don’t value this benefit, or that acknowledgement,etc., but the point is if you do not have flexibility with more arrows in your quiver to swap out and/or offer your clients, you risk losing loyalty and business.)
  8. Customize
    Each package should be unique in some way – do not make them cookie cutter, but rather very specific to what was discussed and negotiated and be generous in what you deliver.
  9. Make Closing Easy
    Nothing is worse in sponsorship sales than working out the details, getting the sponsor to a happy place, feeling great about your organization and upcoming show than following up with an overly burdensome legalese sponsorship contract where you are worried about commas/parenthesis, or if the numbered benefits listed are identical to other agreements. I have seen many sponsorship sales fall through, or stall over overly complicated (and with due respect to all my wonderful attorney friends) likely unnecessary contract negotiations. Every organization is different and you are going to have to do what is required per your organization. However, I can’t urge this enough; if feasible your sponsor agreement should be no more than a form that outlines the positive benefits of the partnership, with the fine print – being just that. But if you can’t swing that with your internal crowd, then if possible untangle your billing from the agreement (Send them an invoice, or process card, etc.), keep working on number #3, and then hold off on processing the agreement as long as you can. This way by the time the sponsor receives it, you would of already delivered and fulfilled many of the benefits and their support will be a foregone conclusion. It of course is possible you get burnt, and the sale falls through, however, in my career I have sold well over 300 sponsorships, and less than a handful have ever gone south. So, as long as you are taking care of the sponsor and getting paid, it’s not that much of a gamble to stall on processing a cumbersome agreement. But again the more simple the processing paperwork is, the easier closing the deal will be. (As an aside, occasionally there is strategic reason to hold off processing any agreement, but this is a post for another day.)
  10. Manage Internal Expectations
    Tradeshows, conventions, conferences, meetings, or whatever genre they fall into for you are a hotbed of cutting-edge technology and societal evolution. There is always a new flavor of the year, and kicking show element that planners want to see at their meetings, but of course have no budget for it. I am all for rolling out the latest bell and whistle and love new fresh energy and options; however, not all roads leads back to new sponsors and priorities often need to be made. Just be sure to manage internal expectations that you cannot deliver a sponsor for everything.

I feel compelled to offer the disclaimers about how the above tips are not always applicable to every organization, and these should be looked at within the context of overall vendor offerings, and that sometimes exhibits and sponsorships are sold bundled together, etc. However, for our purposes, I will presume you already know all this.