When I was working within professional sport, one year, the team I was working for weren’t performing well. The organisation wasn’t hitting their commercial targets and indicators were that our value proposition to our partners wasn’t as it had been in previous seasons. Retaining sponsors was tough.
Thinking back, as well as speaking to sponsorship professionals around the world, one of the biggest issues faced is resourcing. What that translates to is not having enough time to do everything needed for sponsors.
The life of a sponsorship professional is generally focused on the necessities, such as:
- delivering benefits;
- preparing for executions;
- lead sourcing;
- selling to new partners; and
The focus in the above list is mostly transactional. The key thing missed here is time spent on relationship building with current sponsors.
Again, thinking back to the professional sports team I was working for, I was extremely lucky to have a very experienced boss because he taught me the value of building relationships with sponsors so that the discussions with them, at the end of the year, were more than a simple ROI and basic acquittal.
Instead, he helped me ensure that the partnerships ran far deeper and, as a result, our sponsorship churn rate was less than 3%. That’s impressive considering that the team had its worst season on record, lost members and had a below average TV and live audience.
How To Build Real Relationships With Sponsors
Building relationships is not about becoming best friends with your sponsors, but there are some tips I have learned along the way which really help build and maintain strong mutual relationships.
Understand what your sponsors want
By talking with your sponsors you will get a real understanding about what they really want from the relationship. Some will be sponsoring you for leads, some will want a real return on investment, some will want introductions and others will simply want exposure.
Understanding what they want will help you devise valuable activation opportunities and derive what the sponsor perceives as really valuable content.
Make sure you deliver what you promise
Regardless of the personal relationship you may have with your partner, or their staff member managing the relationship, you will still be held accountable for contracted benefits. These must be delivered and acquitted.
It is not good enough to get to the end of a season and find that you simply did not deliver what you promised. Nothing wrecks a relationship faster than gaining trust, making promises and then not delivering. Sponsors feel cheated and that impacts retention.
Be conscious to not make it simply a transactional relationship
Whilst you are delivering the contracted benefits, and there is a certain element of simple transactions, be conscious that, in order to develop a deeper relationship, your conversations and interactions with sponsors can’t all be about the sponsorship.
Engage with your sponsors after events or call them with some updates. Or simply call just to check in and say “Hi”. You do not want to let the sponsor think you are only speaking to them because you want something. So, focus on this element as a priority.
Share the love
All sponsors deserve attention and naturally the larger ones often get and deserve more attention. The trick is, however, not letting your smaller sponsors feel less important. A good sponsorship manager will divide time between sponsors, spending time roughly commensurate with expenditure. This time, no matter how big or small, can be extremely meaningful and will become more and more meaningful if relationship is front of mind.
Be transparent and helpful
Everyone makes mistakes and things always change over a sponsorship period. The worst thing you can do though is hide or try to mask these from your sponsor. Transparency is very powerful and will encourage your sponsors to be transparent with you too; which is really helpful at renewal time.
It is vitally important to have strong relationships as we all know that retaining sponsors is far easier and cheaper than finding new ones.
Mark Thompson // Director
Mark specialises in sponsorship and diversified income strategies and has used this expertise across the Community, Semi-Professional and Professional Sports sectors. He combines hands-on experience in managing the expectations and obligations of sponsors with marketing and stakeholder engagement to deliver outstanding results.
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