Peter Stringer
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10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers

If you work in a marketing capacity for a professional sports team, you’re a target. You’re constantly bombarded by calls, emails, tweets and LinkedIn requests from complete strangers who want to sell you dime-a-dozen virtual products that won’t increase your bottom line, and are largely built on hype.

Countless companies are all selling the same vaporware solutions for problems that most teams don’t even understand, or frankly, don’t even exist. Because there’s a new headline on Mashable every day that tells us about the growing importance of social media, business development reps at vendors around the globe are relentless in their quest to reach new targets as they try to make commissions before their start-up goes belly-up.

The good news for vendors? It’s easier than ever to identify (read: stalk) brand marketing decision makers, as everyone’s got a LinkedIn profile, many of us have a Twitter account, and some even maintain a blog. (Oops!)

Cold Call Phone

Sports and brand marketers are accosted daily by vendors, especially in the digital space, all of whom seem to be selling the same thing.

The bad news? We may be easier to find, but we’re harder to reach. You’re all competing with each other for our limited attention. Our phones ring constantly. And your solution is not unique. I’ve probably been approached by 10 vendors in the last month with nearly identical products. If you’re like me, you don’t answer your desk phone unless the caller ID reveals a familiar name.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely unsympathetic to the vendor’s plight. Being a salesman in the social media gold rush is a thankless job. Cold-calling people is no fun. Leaving voicemails is worse. But sports marketing professionals work crazy hours, even in the offseason. Our time is valuable. If we took every call and meeting, we’d never get anything done. So we have to be selective. In that spirit, here’s 10 tips for vendors attempting to pitch sports teams with their cutting-edge social media Swiss Army knives.

Do some research before you cold call. Don’t call a sports franchise with a million-plus fans on Facebook telling them that you can help them grow their social media fan base. Guess what? Big market teams–and even many small market teams–don’t need help with this. They’ve got fans all over the globe, and that fan base is already growing organically. Teams are unlikely to pay for growth when they can just watch the clock and watch their likes grow for free. You need a focused value proposition that you can succinctly articulate. Know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the field, and prove you can generate some real world ROI, because we’ve already heard the same pitch from 20 companies just like yours.

Do some more research before you cold call. Don’t call trying to sell us a Facebook application if we’ve already got a Facebook application. Seems obvious, but it happens way too much. If you don’t have the time to check our fan and do some cursory research, why should we waste our time?

Our game schedule is available. Check it before calling. Calling at 4 pm on a game day is the easiest way to guarantee you’ll be leaving a voice mail. The front office is usually very busy on game day, and most of us are headed to the arena/stadium late in the afternoon. Every team’s game schedule is freely available on their website. Look it up. Pick an off day, or better yet, an off day when the team’s on a short road trip. Extended road trips = vacation days.

Keep voicemails and emails short and sweet. If you can’t deliver your elevator pitch over voicemail in under 45 seconds, you need a new elevator pitch. Or try another elevator. Which reminds me, one of the best voice mails ever received at Boston Celtics HQ is from a vendor who introduces himself, then pauses, sneezes loudly (!), and continues on with his pitch for about 60 seconds. We listen to the first 10 seconds of this thing on speakerphone like once a quarter, and it always delivers the unintentional comedy goods.

“Hi, Keith…this is…EH…AH…ACHOU!…this is so-and-so and I want to tell you about…”

As for email, if you send six paragraphs, there’s no chance it’s getting read. In the age of skimming, who has time? Keep it short and sweet, and send a link for more info. Use a bit.ly link to track whether we clicked through. (Um, I shouldn’t be telling you this…)

If we don’t respond after multiple attempts, don’t continue to harass us. Trust me, we got your email. And your voicemail. And your LinkedIn request. And your Twitter mention. There’s no need to forward us your second unreturned email and ask if we got it. If we’re interested, we’ll let you know. If not, you’re wasting your time.

Don’t exaggerate who’s using your product. The sports business is a small community. Most people who work at a team have worked for multiple teams, or across different leagues, and we do plenty of networking. So if you tell us you’re working with other pro teams, and we’re actually interested in your product, you can expect us to place a call to those teams to get feedback. And if by “working with another team” you mean “gave them a presentation” or “had a conference call with them”, we’ll find out in short order.

Last year, one vendor actually showed me a product demo during a WebEx with content customized for an NHL franchise, and intimated that they’d built a solution for said team. When I followed up with the hockey team, they were shocked and told me they’d never heard of the company. Needless to say, that’s where my conversation with said vendor ended.

Go to networking events and conferences. If you really want to get in front of a sports marketing executive, go to a conference where they’re attending or speaking. You’ll probably be able to meet them in person, and if nothing else, have a beer and chat about your product. People at conferences expect to do some networking, so it’s much better environment to try to make a connection. That said…

Manners are important. Don’t interrupt when we’re talking to someone else. I’ve had this happen multiple times after panels or presentations at conferences. I’ll be speaking directly to someone after a session, and a vendor who’s in a rush to leave the conference with my business card will interject – because their time is apparently more important than that of anyone else – and give me their card, expecting mine in return.

I always try my best to prevent the interruption (even if I can feel the intrusive stare from a vendor who’s looking for a chance to interrupt), but it’s an awkward situation for everyone and leaves a terrible first impression. It also usually earns your business card a trip to the circular file.

Teams spend big money on players, and small money on marketing technology. So teams aren’t going to drop $20,000 on a social media tool that they didn’t know existed yesterday. Sports teams operate with lean staffs on leaner marketing budgets. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies out there willing to work with teams for free or nearly free, because being able to put a team’s logo in your sales deck is worth far more than the $20,000 you’re trying to squeeze out of us for your “must-have” social media solution.

Try to do a deal with the league. Many successful software vendors who have multiple team clients managed to convince the league office that their software is unique and valuable, and cut a deal with the league for all 30 teams to have access to their software. If your product is truly unique, and has scale, you might be better off trying to approach the league first.

Comments on: "10 Tips for Vendors Pitching Sports Marketers" (1)

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  1. Great advice, Peter. So, what’s your next speaking event? And until then, yes, we are willing to work with the Celtics so we can get your feedback. Go Celts! Cheers, timo

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About Peter Stringer

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Peter Stringer is in his ninth season with the Boston Celtics. Currently serving as the team's Senior Director of Digital Media, Stringer manages the the team's interactive and social media marketing and strategy.

Opinions expressed herein represent those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Boston Celtics.

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