There are three steps to association sponsorship sales: awareness, cultivation, and commitment. Each step is important, but cultivation is the bridge that turns initial sponsor interest into a sale. Cultivation goes beyond just making potential sponsors aware of your association's existence and instead shows them the unique value your association can offer.
It’s also a step that is often missed according to association sales consultant Lewis Flax of Flax Associates.
“Most associations cater to their members and provide them with the same benefits without much differentiation. When it comes to reaching out to sponsors, most associations handle outreach the same way,” Flax says.
Here are 3 ways your association can start customizing outreach and prioritizing cultivation.
1. Begin with Sales Leadership
Sales team leaders play a crucial role in making cultivation a priority for their teams. Instead of focusing solely on booth and ad sales numbers, leaders can help their teams think more strategically about the sponsor’s priorities. Cultivating each sponsor should begin by ensuring the sales professional has the answer to these questions:
- Why is the sponsor interested in partnering with your association?
- What pain points are they looking to address through sponsorship?
- Who else do they sponsor or partner with and what have their experiences been?
- Who is the decision-maker and what is the decision-making process like for the sponsor?
Flax advises his clients to use the SCORE sales framework: situation, changes, objectives/obstacles, other relationships, envision the future. This helps the sales team and association leaders to better understand where they stand in the cultivation and sales process.
2. Align Sponsor Needs with Your Association’s Offerings
This step is the key to unlocking successful cultivation: uncover the sponsor's needs and share outreach that shows them you understand what it is. Associations have a wealth of valuable content and information that can be of interest not just to members, but also to sponsors. Here are a few ways to customize your outreach:
- Send them an article: Share an article that would be of interest to a specific sponsor, showcasing your association's expertise and relevance to their industry.
- Invite them to attend an event or webinar: Extend a personalized invitation to sponsors, demonstrating that your association values their involvement and wants to offer them unique opportunities to engage.
- Share industry trends and challenges: Forward valuable information such as survey results, data, top ten lists, or templates that relate to the sponsor's industry, showcasing your association's expertise and providing them with relevant insights.
These tactics aim to educate and enlighten sponsors, generating interest and encouraging them to explore further partnership opportunities.
3. Continue to Cultivate After the Commitment is Made
The goal of cultivation is to arrive at a financial commitment from the sponsor, but cultivation doesn’t stop there.
"Once the sale is made, the association staffer should have a better understanding of the sponsor’s interests, pain points and goals,” Flax says. “Ongoing cultivation should be personalized and customized based on the interests of the sponsor."
Send personalized content that continues to demonstrate the value your association delivers. Look for thought leadership opportunities or facilitate introductions to other industry colleagues that may be beneficial to the sponsor. Go the extra step and offer additional value. Each of these ongoing cultivation efforts will strengthen the relationship with the sponsor and grow the partnership.
Strong sponsorship sales results give our associations the resources to focus on our missions. The important step of cultivation allows us to invite them into our work by aligning their needs with our offerings.