759 Tips on Selling Convention Sponsorships

sharpened pencils

. . .well, less 749. (For I am sure you are just as tired as me as hearing about the top 3, or 5, or 10 email headlines that all the kids advise you to lead with these days.)

If you did actually make it this far, then you may actually be interested in substance. Whereas, I would be honored to share my insight on what I have learned over my many years of selling sponsorships for association conventions.

I feel compelled to offer the necessary prerequisites about how the following 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.

  1. Give Some Away
    Nothing builds on success better than a sense of momentum. If potential sponsors see their competitors are already sponsoring, there is a better chance than not, that they will want to jump on the bandwagon – for you will be subtly letting them know that their competitors are ahead of the curve. So zero in on a few friendly active vendors in your community (and not always the biggest ones) and essentially find a way to recognize them as a sponsor for a low-fulfilment-cost item. (Signage, insert, etc.) Generally the vendors in these circles deserve the goodwill anyhow, and their competitors will be paying attention.
  1. Don’t Try To Have It All Figured Out in Advance
    Too often I see folks that want to figure out not only how much every single benefit will cost but also how all the logistics will work before even marketing x sponsorship. This is a useless endeavor. Sure, you have to have an idea of real hard costs for pricing (and most importantly before finalizing the deal) but generally many of benefits are branded related and have little to no costs (It’s not much to throw logos in your Program and/or on signage you likely 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.
  2. Initiate Fulfilling Benefits Right Away
    Get their logo immediately up on something they can see (not their name, but logo) – preferably on more than one thing, and surprise them by putting it someplace that was not part of the agreement. This is not only a gesture of goodwill that you are not waiting to get sponsor contracts signed and payment, but it prevents potential buyer’s remorse from kicking in and second thoughts(especially for smaller vendors) if they have to sign a legal mumbo-jumbo sponsorship agreement that goes through numerous attorneys.
  3. Talk to the Right Dude, or Dudette
    This is tricky, for frequently – whether they call you, or you call them – the first person you are talking to is not in charge of the pocket book. So, ultimately (like anyone else in sales) you want to not waste too much time with folks that 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.
  1. Have Prices and Sponsorship Options Public
    For those that 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.
  2. 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. They know where they want to go – so go along for the ride, as any upsell you may be lucky (or skilled) enough to get will happen on the benefits side. Further the vast majority would find it bad form that you are not looking after their needs.
  3. 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 naïve here – I realize many are just negotiating for lower price, but the point is if you do not have flexibility you risk them walking if you don’t have more arrows in your quiver.)
  1. 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.
  1. 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 and parenthesis. 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. 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.
  2. 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.

About ARS

Association Revenue Solutions is run by Bob and Lauren Jonas, former association executives who have worked in every facet of the nonprofit world and know what really works (and what doesn’t)! We’d love to hear your ideas or talk to you about how we can help your org. Visit us online at associationrevenuesolutions.org, email us at [email protected]or [email protected], or call/text 703-609-3974.