He has a palpable passion for B2B sales leadership. His broad dossier of experience includes stints at two league offices. He carries a baseball bat around a soccer organization. He’s Brett Zalaski, VP of Ticket Sales and Service at the Houston Dynamo.
Before the Houston Dynamo matched up against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes on April 22nd, Brett Zalaski, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the Dynamo, sat down with ALSD.com for a wide-ranging interview. Zalaski chronicled his vast sales experience, including past positions at Corporate Executive Board, the NBA’s TMBO, and the Major League Soccer National Sales Center. He also explained his fanaticism for Tottenham Hotspur, introduced us to his best pal on four legs, and detailed what’s to come for the ALSD’s B2B Sales Forum.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brett, you and I have talked about the sales process before. Can you define "process" and make that term more tactile for those that might not have a good handle on what can be perceived as an abstract term?
I’ve always been very buttoned up in the way I’ve gone about my sales process and my business. What I always think about when it comes to process is what do I need to accomplish for the results to come? We are in a very results-driven business. Sales is that way period. And sports sales is an incredibly competitive, results-driven business.
I believe the best salespeople understand how they’re most efficient at selling, they’re documented in that process, and they think about that process all the time, so it’s repeatable.
I know you can’t tell by my height, but I was a pretty good basketball player. I was a good shooter. But I didn’t become a good shooter just because I woke up one day and had good hand-eye coordination. There is a repeatable process for how the jump shot looks. When things throw you off, do you know what those are, so you can do it right the next time to be a proficient shooter? It’s the same thing in sales. There are so many correlations between what an athlete has to do and what a salesperson has to do.
Making sure you understand that process, define that process, and think about that process will make you an incredibly successful salesperson. You should have a process when you’re doing B2C sales, when you’re doing group sales.
For the purposes of this conversation, my B2B sales process when I think about it is separated into three parts. There’s the engagement process. I’m a huge believer that the impression that the company has of me starts the first time I reach out to them. So I’m very thoughtful in how I set up a touchpoint campaign to make sure I break through the clutter of all the things they’re getting. Then how do I make sure – whether it’s a phone call or an email or a LinkedIn request – it shows a level of thoughtfulness that another salesperson may not have.
“The expression we use around here is 'Game Respects Game'. If someone sees that I’m persistent and sees value in my product, then I believe they will think it’s worth their time to have that meeting. I’m a big believer in 'Game Respects Game'."
The expression we use around here is “Game Respects Game”. If someone sees that I’m persistent and sees value in my product, then I believe they will think it’s worth their time to have that meeting. I’m a big believer in “Game Respects Game”.
The second part is sitting down and executing the meeting. I’m not a big believer that I need to walk into a business and tell them why they should buy a suite. I’m a big believer that I need to walk into that room and be open to the idea of what that business may have going on, and then making sure I’m providing value against the priorities and objectives for that business.
I want to help that company solve their problems through our stadium. And I believe if I do that, one, I’ll show as a better salesperson and they’ll trust us more, but two, I want to give myself access to a much bigger budget. If I’m fighting for entertainment budget, I’m fighting for something that’s clearly defined that other people are competing for. Whereas if a company has an objective, they’re usually putting a lot of resources, which includes money, towards that objective. Then all of a sudden, I’m not just going after the entertainment budget, but all other budgets that are affected by the priorities and objectives that company is having.
And then, the third part is making sure the proposal I put on the table to that company sings to them. It doesn’t just tell the story of here’s the inventory, but here’s the inventory that I believe will help you with your priorities and challenges, and here’s why.
Brett, I want to pivot and share more about your personal story. Any story on Brett Zalaski is incomplete without mentioning your best pal Rudy. Can you tell us who that is?
Rudy is my five-year-old pup who I got in Minnesota during my time at the National Sales Center. He’s now made it from Minnesota to Ohio to Connecticut to Texas.
My family had golden retrievers my whole life, so I wanted to do two things. I wanted to have a golden retriever, but I wanted to rescue. But you don’t rescue golden retrievers. That doesn’t exist. There were years where I kept looking and looking and looking, and there were no golden retrievers.
Finally, I saw an ad for a group of puppies that were golden retriever-Brittany spaniel mixes. I said, alright I’m in. This opportunity is rare. I have to take it. It was the story you hear everyone tell. You went to see the puppies. It was the one that came up to you. You started playing, had the attachment. And so, I got him.
He was the runt of the litter. The entire litter was named with R’s. And because he was the runt of the litter, they called him Rudy, like after the movie. Rudy was absolutely the right name for this dog. It was the best decision I’ve ever made by far, bringing him in. The best part of my day, no matter how good it is, is the first ten seconds after I get back home.
You’ve traveled and worked all over, but we all have a hometown. Where is yours?
I was born and raised in Simsbury, Connecticut. It’s a suburb of Hartford. I was very fortunate to grow up there. It was a typical small town that loved their sports teams and was a very supportive environment.
I had the privilege to have my dad be the vice principal of the high school that I went to. When my friends got in trouble, I heard about it. Ultimately, it was an amazing experience.
Are you a soccer fan? Who’s your club, besides the Dynamo of course? Is there a global club that you follow?
I am now. I tell this story in just about every meeting I’m in with businesses. As much as businesses like our price point, as much as businesses like our schedule, their biggest challenge internally is it’s soccer.
So one of the stories I also tell is when I was living in Washington, DC, working at CEB, I lived with my two best friends in the entire world from Simsbury, Connecticut. One of them was a soccer player. A huge Arsenal fan. I used to make fun of him for waking up in the morning to watch soccer. I didn’t become a Tottenham fan because he’s an Arsenal fan. I have my own reasons. But now, I’m one of those people that wakes up in the morning to go to Bar Munich here and watch Tottenham with 30 to 40 other Spurs fans.
"You’re getting this first generation of soccer fans, and they feel like it’s their choice to take ownership of it."
I’ve been brought in by the culture of the sport. I think it’s so cool to wake up in the morning and root for Tottenham. The Bayern Munich supporters are also at the bar. We can have some shouts at each other. Then everyone can go home and put orange on and go root for the Houston Dynamo that night. There’s no other sport that’s like that.
In so many ways, I don’t think if I grew up rooting for soccer, I’d be as big of a soccer fan today. I believe my love for soccer is so unique, and organic, and different. I was born a Yankees fan. I was born a Celtics fan. I was born a New York Giants fan. But I chose Tottenham, and that’s one of the really cool reasons MLS has become so popular and why you see the other professional sports leagues coming into the United States and gaining popularity, whether it’s the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, all the leagues are increasing in popularity. It’s not just the Premier League. And a lot of it is because Americans feel like it’s not our sport originally, but we’re first generation Tottenham fans. We have first generation Houston Dynamo fans. So you’re getting this first generation of soccer fans, and they feel like it’s their choice to take ownership of it.
Brett, I have to ask you about the bat that you’re holding. That’s not a prop for this interview. I’ve seen you carrying it around the office all afternoon. So what do you got there?
I like holding things and clutching things. I didn’t try to steal this from a Few Good Men with Tom Cruise with his thinking bat. I didn’t steal it from that, although you can absolutely draw a direct line of correlation.
I’m very fidgety, and I always have something in my hands. Most other places I’ve been, it’s been a pen or something like that. Here, it’s the bat. The bat has particular resonance with me because it’s actually my college pregame bat. I used to hit [batting practice] with a wooden bat to make the metal bat a little bit easier. Literally, the tape that’s on this bat is 13-14 years old. So it’s crazy. It’s been fun to have it back and walk around with it.
I get a lot of Walking Dead references when I’m walking the sales floor. But it’s certainly like a security blanket in some ways for me.
And where’d you go to school? Where’d that bat get used?
I went to school at Hamilton College. If I’m recommending someone who is trying to have a professional baseball career, that is not the place I would have someone go. I played baseball in 5-degree weather. We would be outside for maybe a day before we went to spring practice. I loved the school and was very appreciative of the opportunity to play collegiate sports. We were in the [New England Small College Athletic Conference] so a very competitive baseball league. I was very fortunate that I got to extend my playing career four years past where most people have the opportunity to.
Well before we move on to the next chapter here, Brett, can you tease for us what ALSD members can expect to learn from our B2B Sales Forum that we initially launched last fall?
First of all, I’m really proud of the content that’s been created so far. Certainly, it’s a good launching point for what we’re going to try to continue to do. I’m a big believer that as much as people want to have a dialogue about spending seven figures of someone else’s money to reconfigure premium seat areas, I believe, having been around TMBO and working with a lot of the NBA teams and Major League Soccer teams, there’s a real desire to get better at the sales process, to grow outside of just we’re a professional sports team, you should buy our premium seating.
That has really encouraged me. So there’s a ton of stuff you can read on business-to-business. But there’s a difference between selling sports and selling traditional business-to-business, which is how most business-to-business sales books are written. So there’s an opportunity to have a higher level of discourse about the sales process itself. So how do we go from having never talked to a company to having them sign a ten-year suite lease deal.
So not just we designed it and it looks cool, but what are the steps that take place between that first reach out and the time it’s signed. How do you manage it? How do you think about it? How do you manage a pipeline to ensure success? What is an appropriate amount of tracking that comes into play? How do we think about the engagement? How do we think about what we’re trying to drive out of the meetings? How do we think about proposals? There’s a million topics that need to be covered.
There are plenty of business books and business blogs that you can read, but it needs to be covered in sports. And I do believe that if you look at some of the people who have been doing podcasts in sports, there is very good content [on B2B sales] coming out from those people every once in a while. But nobody is making this a consistent focus of what they’re doing. So we can work with those people who are already doing this stuff and organize some of the stuff they’re doing. Obviously, I’ve got a passion for it, so we can put my thoughts out there, then extend the conversation to the community and see what the dialogue is that people in that space want to have. That’s really the starting point, and we’ll go from there.
Visit the B2B Sales Forum here on ALSD.com to listen to our most recent podcast featuring Brett Zalaski and to watch a video blog outlining Brett's top-three tips for becoming a better B2B sales rep.