“Should I reach out to my sponsors?”

“What should I say?”

Questions an association executive asked me three months ago.

In early March, she was humming along, confident about her relationships with her top sponsors, and on track for another stellar year.

How things have changed.  Now dealing with her two children at home, trying to find time to work without distraction, and worried about the health of her mom are primary concerns.  At work, her annual conference was postponed and rescheduled for early next year.

Emails piled up in her inbox.  One seeking a sponsorship refund, another asking about specific plans for the rest of the year, and a third requesting a fee reduction with payment due in 2021.  Eek!

She knew action was needed, had doubts about how to handle the current situation, and sought a check-in on her next steps.

So, how should you handle sponsorship management and sales now?

1. Communicate

Avoidance is not an option. While you may not be clear on your plans, now is not the time to disappear.  Be pro-active.

Reach out and set up calls with your top sponsors.

2. Acknowledge the Current Situation

Working from the basement and hoping that your kids don’t get into a knock-down drag out fight while on a call is today’s reality. Your sponsor contact faces similar distractions – or worse.  Now is a different time and we all face challenges.

A surface-level conversation about how everything is fine will not enhance the relationship.  It is important to acknowledge the challenges faced.  Don’t try to sugarcoat reality. Acknowledge that times are different and difficult.

3. Get Personal

We are all living a shared experience.  Attempt to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and have a real conversation.  Ask how your sponsor is doing and the challenges attempting to overcome – both personally and organizationally. Share one or two vulnerabilities (not multiple!) that you dealt with over the last few months. They will respond with a similar situation and issues they faced.  A real conversation…person to person as opposed to an organization to organization.  We are all human and your contact gets it.

Now is the time to connect on a deeper level and strengthen the relationship. Listen empathetically and authentically about their families, pets, or what is important now.  Show your humanity and form a stronger bond. Strengthen and deepen the relationship by being vulnerable.

4. Ask Questions and Be a Resource

As you discuss personal situations, the conversation will shift back to work.  They know what organization you work for and your role – and they will begin talking about work. Their work situation – not yours.  Ask questions about their status, plans, expectations, and challenges.  This allows you to figure out the next step.

If interested in your events and sponsorships, they will let you know.  As they discuss their work situation, ask questions related to their marketing activities and plans.  This will guide the conversation and let you know when – or if – to bring up sponsorships or other opportunities.

Share with your sponsors as much information as possible. Your organization likely conducted a survey or obtained updates on recent trends.  These are of value to sponsors and can help them enhance business relationships with your member base.

Think of new and innovative ways your association can offer value to sponsors.  We are living in a different world than earlier this year.  If we don’t change with the times we will be left behind.

How can your association be responsive to your sponsor needs in these new times? Identify any ideas that you feel may be of interest and seek feedback – not for a sale – but rather to get a sense of how worthwhile these ideas are to a sponsor.

5. Wrap Up on An Inspiring Note

Summarize what you have committed to do in a positive way when concluding the conversation.  Ask if there is anything else your association can provide. Ask when the right time is to reconnect.

You are building the relationship, establishing trust, and positioning yourself for success down the line.  This is a time primarily to listen and learn.  The more you learn from the call the more you’ll be responsive to meet your sponsors’ needs and priorities.

Next Steps

The association executive who asked the initial questions reached out to me last week.  She was thrilled as she connected with five of her top sponsors and held follow-up discussions.  Three committed to sponsorships for their conference next year.  She is working with two of them on other benefits outside of the conference.  The information she sent on industry trends spurred other ideas on how they can collaborate.  These relationships will be at higher dollar levels compared to 2019.    She enthusiastically commented that the relationships are now stronger, she has a much better understanding of their plans and knows the revenue from her top sponsors will increase.

Virtual Sponsorships

How Will You Move Forward?

Don’t let your sponsor and partner relationships remain stuck.  It is too easy to bemoan the current situation.  Remember that your sponsors still need to connect with their prospects: your member base.

Be pro-active, follow these steps, and position you and your organization for success.

Build stronger relationships.  Establish offerings that create win-win scenarios.  Generate additional dollars.

You have a choice to make and you know what to do. Will you STEP Up?

Flax Associates helps associations and nonprofits establish mutually beneficial sponsorships and partnerships that result in additional funding. We help develop the strategy, structure, and ability to STEP Up your sponsorship revenue and results.  If you’d like to discuss your current sponsorship strategy and plans to boost your revenue, please reach out by email ([email protected]) or phone (301 922-9309). Schedule a call today.