While a sales manager with the New York Mets, I had a one-on-one conversation with one of my top performers named Jake. Jake was about two months into his inside sales tenure with us and doing all of the right things. He led us in hustle, setting appointments, following processes, etc. Inspired by his hot start, I wanted to shift the conversation toward long-term goals. Managers can learn a lot from regularly surveying the visions we maintain for our team members’ careers.
So I asked Jake, “What are your big goals in this role and for your career?” I fully expected him to say something like, “I want to hit my revenue goal” or “I want to get promoted to a senior level sales role” or “I want to climb the ladder and run a sales department myself.” I myself said all of these things during my time in inside sales. But Jake’s response was surprising.
He looked me square in the eyes and said, “I want to sell a suite lease. It is all I can think about!”
In that moment, I nearly fell out of my chair. Of course, this was not the first time a young seller on my team had a goal of selling a suite lease. Most sports sales professionals focused on new business have this goal in their sales career bucket list. This instance sticks with me because it was THE GOAL. Jake could have responded with anything, yet the only thought on his mind was suites. A few months later, Jake was promoted into new business development as an account executive. Shortly after, he sold his first suite lease to a construction company on Long Island.
The Five Common Anxieties (and Antidotes)
Lo and behold the power of the suite, the crème de la crème, the Rolls-Royce, the Ritz-Carlton of ticket sales. For many sports sales professionals, clipping off that first suite or suite lease is a rite of passage, and rightfully so. It’s traditionally the highest dollar and most complex sale one can accomplish.
While there’s certainly a thrill in selling a suite, oftentimes, sports and entertainment sellers are too nervous to bring up suites as options because we’ve been conditioned to sell through the path of least resistance. Below are five common anxieties young sales professionals face when looking to move suites, as well as the antidotes to get past them.
Anxiety #1: Suites Are Complicated.
Many layers exist in moving the average suite. Food and beverage, parking, rental fees, dynamic pricing, service fees, and terms/conditions are all important elements that must be explained to the prospect prior to finalizing the sale. These truths can intimidate the sports sales professionals afraid of making a mistake.
Antidote #1: Bring up the idea of a suite every chance you have.
A prospect wants to entertain clients, bring up a suite option. A non-profit is looking to raise funds through high-level donors, bring up a suite. A local high school wants to reward teachers achieving tenure, suite. Little Suzy is turning five, suite. It’s Thursday, suite.
The more you immerse yourself in the product, the more comfortable you become with it. Take note and reflect on how you positioned the suite, the talking points you felt most comfortable with, and the areas that still feel foreign to you. For the latter, ask a peer or a leader for guidance and add to your next presentation.
Anxiety #2: Suites Have Long Sales Cycles.
Higher price tags, added complexities, and higher required ticket quantities are all factors in lengthening the decision-making process, which can be problematic for the impatient sales professional.
Antidote #2: Simplify your recommendation and affirm the decision date.
Some sales professionals talk too much, not because we have a lot to say, but because we are surprised that we don’t have more to say… so we just keep talking. Instead, focus on what the space will do for your client first (sell the idea of the suite) and address the logistics of the investment second (either when the client asks for details or after a verbal commitment is made).
When establishing a decision date, lead with a recommended date, not the prospect.
Avoid: “So Darryl, when do you expect to have a decision on this?”
Try: “So Denise, due to the nature of demand, most energy companies we work with are turning around decisions to invest with us within a week. Is that a good timeline for us here as well?”
Once this date is affirmed, we take control back in getting to a decision. Our follow-through becomes an expectation, not an exasperation.
Anxiety #3. Suites Are Less Familiar to Us.
While many sports sales professionals have been exposed to the concept of suites, familiarity with the product from the perspectives of consumers or business executives can be limited. As ticket sales professionals, we tend to focus on what we are familiar with. Though we may have never owned a season ticket or put together a group outing of our own, sitting in the general bowl at a sporting event is a much more relatable experience than experiencing a luxury suite.
Antidote #3: Shadow peers in leadership, premium sales, and corporate partnerships.
Take advantage of your game/event days to learn. Link up with a colleague who frequents the suite level and build a plan for spectating his or her interactions with existing and prospective clients, while also practicing your professional presence. Continue this activity until you are making trips to the suite level to visit your own clientele.
In my role as an account executive with the Pittsburgh Pirates, my “suite role model” was Joe in corporate partnership sales. In taking me to his client’s suite to observe his process, he taught me the art of making a client look heroic in front of their business associates – a critical component of winning recurring business. Thanks Joe!
Anxiety #4: Suites Are Expensive.
The high price tag on suites and suite leases can minimize a seller’s ambition to promote them. In my travels as a sales trainer, I’ve experienced firsthand the regular misconception that, “If I pitch too high or stretch the prospect too much, I will turn them off from investing in anything at all, permanently damaging my relationship with them.”
It is easy to put ourselves in the prospect’s shoes and look at our personal bank account as if we were the one purchasing the suite ourselves. We would much rather avoid the product entirely than come across as tone deaf to the prospect.
Antidote #4: Make price as obsolete as possible and educate your client how to use the suite.
The price tag is only a factor when perceived value is missing. On sales calls, we often say our products are “investments”, but do we truly believe that? If so, we must teach the commercial real estate company how to leverage our suites with their top prospects. We must explain to partners in the tech sector (the industry that most struggles with employee turnover) how a red-carpet experience can positively impact company loyalty and ultimately performance output. We need to remind the mom and dad to consider the suite experience from the perspectives of little Jimmy and his buddies when considering birthday options. Most importantly, we must maintain the notion that we are not here to decide what the client can/cannot afford. Instead, we must show the unique value of suites to clients, allowing them the autonomy to decide for themselves.
Anxiety #5: Suites Ignite Our Worst Fears.
Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown, fear of criticism, fear of rejection… pick your poison sports sellers. All of these self-manufactured fears put a ceiling on our potential to dream big and think bold when making recommendations. The tendency to play out the worst-case scenario in our mind during the sales process ironically results in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy time and time again.
Antidote #5: Accept that we are all failures.
A few months ago, I was at a festival in New Jersey where a collection of festival folk were country line dancing in a barn. I decided to give it a try. About 45 seconds into the first dance, I walked off the floor a failure. On the way home, I felt so embarrassed. Not because of how awful I was (I was terrible), but because I had quit. I vowed to myself that quitting was an unacceptable action moving forward.
Last month vacationing in the Bahamas, I was granted the opportunity of redemption. This time, the dance was the salsa. Equally awful, maybe even more so, I refused to quit. My end result: growth. The point here is when selling something new, advanced, or beyond your comfort zone, you will fail. You will mess up. You may even deal with some unwarranted criticism. That’s okay! Rest easy knowing we’ve all been there. If peers are making you feel like they haven’t endured failure themselves, they are simply lying, or they have never sold a suite either.
To many senior-level sellers in sports and entertainment, this article may have felt like a walk down memory lane. For others, this piece may not have applied whatsoever because you were born a sales guru. Regardless of category, there is likely a teammate right now on your sales floor who doubts his or her ability to move a suite and do so consistently. The next time you walk the sales floor, look out for this individual, lend some encouragement, and tell your own story.
How do you overcome suite sales anxiety?
Write to Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.