4 Keys To Successful Communication

4 Keys To Successful Communication
by Briggs Webster – March 2015

NRG, the parent company of Reliant Energy, based in Houston sponsors eight NFL teams, as well as the Texas Rangers, Houston Rockets, and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. As a part of sponsoring 8 of the 9 most valuable NFL franchises, we vie to be a relevant part of the football experience while leveraging assets to create an authentic connection for fans.

An ongoing task for brands with such corporate partnerships is to leverage hospitality assets. With NFL teams stretching from San Francisco to New York, our 8-person Houston-based team must balance the hospitality (aka ticket request) needs of executives and upper management. With over 10,000 tickets to distribute and allocate over the course of a year, you might think it’s an easy job that makes plenty of friends.

But, please don’t call me. Because, frankly, it is tough to keep everyone happy. In fact, we keep a motto front of mind to help keep everyone happy, from the highest executives, to the smallest entry level associates. The easy 1-step process to keeping everyone happy:

  • Understand that you cannot and will not keep everyone happy.

If you are in this role, it is your job to try to keep folks happy. But, when you can’t meet everyone’s request, what should you do?

Taking an active role in communication

Instead of passively reacting to requests, take an active role in communicating. Explain what assets you do have available and what you can do with what you have. How can you improve the way you communicate? Through my experiences with NRG, I have learned four techniques to effectively communicate with colleagues, bosses, clients, or executives.

#1. Listen.

It’s that simple. Focus fully on whoever is talking and simply show interest. If you are attentive, it’s going to be a lot easier to clarify information and avoid conflicts. Since so much communication is done via e-mail, you may need to make a call so listen. But, first, read carefully so that you have all of the details.

#2. Be aware of nonverbal communication.

How body language influences outcomes
How body language influences outcomes

The way you look, listen, and react to another person through your body language tells others more about how you feel and what you think than words ever can. You can improve effective communication by using open body language—arms not crossed, sitting on the edge of your seat, and maintaining eye contact.

#3. Manage stress.

It’s easier to communicate, respond to email, or pick up the phone to call someone when you have nothing on your plate on a slow workday. But, for most of us, those days are few and far between. So how can you manage stress? First, recognize it. When you’re becoming stressed, immediately capture that moment by taking a deep breath to calm down. You may not be able to go on a midday run to de-stress, but you can take deep breaths and re-evaluate. Before reacting in a stressful situation, take a deep breath and a few seconds to imagine the issue from the other person’s perspective.

#4. Follow up.

radio silenceOne of the best pieces of advice I have received at NRG was from our Director of Sponsorships, Christine Brown. She said that “Radio silence is your enemy.”

Even if you don’t have an answer to a question, inquiry, or problem, you should proactively update people on progress and steps you are taking. Christine used an analogy that stuck with me. Avoiding radio silence is, “kind of like a waitress coming by your table to say that the food is coming and the kitchen is a little backed up. You might still be hungry, but you aren’t annoyed and you aren’t wondering if the waitress forgot about you.” Following up, even if there is really nothing to be updated, is better than “radio silence.”

Conclusion

Effective communication enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.

Effective communication combines a set of skills including attentive listening, nonverbal communication, the ability to manage stress in the moment, and the simple recognition of following up. While effective communication is a learned skill set, it is more effective when spontaneous rather than robotic. The goal is to incorporate these skills into habit, so that is a part of who you are. Just like a speech read from notes has less of an impact than speech delivered from the heart, spontaneous communication is the same way. You can start by writing these four tips on a card by your phone or PC. Eventually, you’ll lose the card, but keep the practice and instinctively and spontaneously communicate with others.

Why the NFL is Lifting the Blackout Rule

Why the NFL is Lifting the Blackout Rule
by Eric Fernandez – March 2015

The NFL announced yesterday (3-23-15) that for 2015 they will lift the 30+ year blackout rule.  The blackout rule has been in effect to “protect” season ticket holders.  Teams that couldn’t technically sell out the game 72 hours before kick-off would have the game blacked out in their local markets.  The change for 2015 is driven by two simple reasons:

  1. Pressure from the TV Networks, in particular CBS and FOX, to remove blackouts
  2. Teams no longer have an incentive to sell out games

#1. Pressure From TV Networks

The current TV agreements, that kicked in before the 2014 season, increase each teams annual TV money to between $200 – $220M.  Or said another way, before each team plays a down, TV money pays for salary cap and team operating expenses and leaves each team $10+ million dollars in the black.  That’s a nice business model – do nothing and make millions.

Make no mistake, TV drove this decision.  Local market viewers are 50% – 75% of the local market TV rating.The NFL can’t justify crippling their largest revenue source, which is now the overwhelming majority to revenue for each team.  Expect the TV viewing experience to innovate and improve as networks seek ways to recoup their investment.

#2. No Incentive to Sell Out

Read point #1, read it again and then read it a third time.  This is no different than a pro athlete who ups his game in a contract year, makes a financial windfall, then gets a bit fat and happy with a large contract.  Teams have no incentive to sell the last 10% of tickets.  If anything you’ll see a shrinking of future stadiums with a model that’s focused purely on premium seating and season-tickets, sold well in advance on long-term contracts.  We’ll witness the conversion of stadiums to “sound stages” with made-for-TV experiences.

As journalists are taught in J-School, the secret to uncovering a story’s truth is to “follow the money.”  The same can be said for the NFL’s blackout lift.

How national brands can market to the military

How national brands can market to the military
by Derek Blake – March 2015

Establish credibility

Have you ever thought about marketing to the military to drive transactions with your brand and expand your customer base?

We began with this idea at La Quinta Inns & Suites three years ago.  We started creating a marketing plan, but fortunately decided to first gain some insight from a few companies who best knew the military. Among others, we reached out to USAA to seek input.  What we learned changed our plans and ultimately helped us build a strategy that would change our company’s culture.

Our simple idea to market to the military shifted to the creation of a holistic, enterprise-wide strategy built upon six pillars.  Marketing became one of the last pillars.  What we learned is that we first needed to build credibility with the military.  And, the quickest way to do that was to start hiring veterans, military spouses and military caregivers.  That became our first pillar and key driver in our strategy.  Over the last few years, La Quinta has hired over 500 veterans and military spouses.

Deciding to hire members of the military community was an easy decision.  Lieutenant Colonel Justin Constantine (@Constantine_Jus), US Marine Corps, Retired, a wounded warrior, inspirational speaker and leadership expert, provided us with this insight:  “Hiring a veteran or military spouse gets your company a trained and proven leader, an exceptional team player, and someone quick to solve problems with innovative solutions.”

Build an enterprise-wide strategy

An enterprise-wide strategy requires a strong foundation.

A Community Outreach program was one of the first pillars established to build meaningful partnerships with the military.  La Quinta selected a handful of military non-profits to support – including the Fisher House Foundation, Armed Services YMCA and Operation Homefront – by donating time and in-kind support.  The idea was to give back at the local level – having our 10,000+ employee base volunteer with these (and other military) non-profits.

Tish Stropes, Director of the Fisher House “Hotels for Heroes” program, stated “La Quinta figured it out right off the bat – getting employees to volunteer and support the military in various communities.  It helped them build credibility with the military community which in turn benefited them in countless ways.”

Additional pillars were created including sourcing from small veteran-owned and military spouse-owned businesses.  And, La Quinta worked with a Department of Defense program called Vet Fran, to create pathways for veterans to become La Quinta franchisees.

After building out these pillars, La Quinta implemented their military marketing efforts.  We created a unique tier within our loyalty program called “Military Rewards” offering veterans, active duty service members and military spouses a variety of benefits including a 12% discount.  The final pillar is a recognition program whereby every hotel-level employee is expected to say, “Thank you for your service,” to the military members that stay with us.

Credibility equates to brand loyalty

So, here’s a quick recap about embracing the military:

  • Get senior level buy-in at your company and create an enterprise-wide approach giving every employee the opportunity to participate in the effort.
  • Start off with hiring veterans, military spouses and caregivers. Their talent is unparalleled.
  • Find ways to give back to military non-profits or veteran service organizations in your local communities.
  • Expand your initiative to include other parts of your business –including the marketing team.

So, the question may be – why the military?  The simply answer is:  it’s not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.

Redefining the sports fan

Redefining the sports fan
by Alan Seymour – March 2015

The sports fan redefined?

Are sports fans changing? Recent history and experience suggests they are, for two key reasons:

  1. The power of social media enables the fan experience to enhance the future prosperity of sports brands and properties against competing pursuits. The integration of social media with sporting events makes it unlike any other leisure activity.
  2. The growing importance of fan input on sports properties amidst social media dialogue continues to increase fan identification and engagement with all fan tribes & participants.

The premise that fans create fandoms and tribal associations can be considered a main attribute of sports patronage. Recent surveys & interviews I’ve conducted indicate strong emotional connections, as well as strongly evocative commentaries, among fan tribes.

Social media create distinct and meaningful platforms for fan tribes to flourish. The distinctive nature of immediacy, impact & personalisation enable teams and players to engage in direct dialogue with fans and supporters unlike ever before. The intermingling of Experts, Tribes, and Celebrities via social media exchanges may be referred to as the ETC Phenomenon.

The increasing prevalence of fan tribes

Research suggests fans exhibit characteristics of a cult. [ref]Moutinho et al (2007), “Surf tribal behaviour: a sports marketing application,” Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 25 Iss: 7, pp.668 – 690. [/ref] There are four distinct types of adherent to this cult of sport, characterized by:

  1. affiliation
  2. social recognition
  3. socialization
  4. symbolism

Football (soccer) is a classic example. Football‐devoted supporters form a kind of cult with a club. We can distinguish distinct fan typologies varying with the level of fan commitment. Members of the cult (or tribe) affiliate through the need for social recognition, socialization and symbolism. Devoted fans gain a knowledge of club association with sponsoring brands, but may not manifest an effective preference towards the brands. [ref] Dionisio et al, (2008), “Fandom affiliation and tribal behaviour: a sports marketing application,” Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 11 (1), 17 – 39.[/ref]

My recent research suggests that fan behaviours and associations with new media and technologies reflect their strong patronage and allegiance supporting sports club marketing with corporate partners. Social media involvement within the fan tribe enables new processes for teams to engage with fans. This changing sports media landscape and digital culture now permeates how fans view the team and its associations with corporate partners. How these may lead fans to increase (decrease) loyalty and patronage is open to future research.

Create microfame for fans

Fans are clearly the oxygen of sports business, integral to all strategies from every perspective. Teams should consider the notion of creating “microfame,” where the fan is the true star. Digital campaigns can focus on fostering the growth and community of the fan tribe by generating social recognition for individual fans. Such strategies build a strong socialization within fan communities. A good commercial example is the ‘We Believe’ culture with Harley Davidson followers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k0wb6ZK1GM

 

Leading the tribe

To capture the changing fan, teams will need to be loyal, engaged & above all, digitally savvy. [ref]See, Sport Marketing 4th edit. Mullin, Hardy & Sutton (2014); also, see Rein et al (2006).[/ref]  Sports fans are driving new initiatives as key movers & shakers within the industry, rather than acting merely as spectators. The alignment with fans concentrates on involving them as brand advocates, as much or more so than as consumers of the sporting experience. In the new sports business landscape, what happens off the field is becoming as important as what happens on it. What is your team doing to lead the tribe?

Getting in the game: Removing and replacing the fear of rejection

Getting in the game: Removing and replacing the fear of rejection
by Carson Heady – March 2015

Those moments prior to dialing, pulling that door or entering the board room are like stepping in the batter’s box or breaking the huddle.

You formulated a semblance of a strategy, thought (or over-thought!) and now you have to execute the play. But what if I whiff? What if the pass is intercepted? What if they say no?

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]I have found that rejection is a natural human reaction to changing status quo. Most people don’t like change, and most of the time your product or service is asking them to do just that, change for a perceived value. Overcoming this obstacle is purely a numbers game. By knowing exactly how many contacts, calls, demos, presentations, it takes to close a deal, you effectively establish a process. The numbers dehumanize rejection by making it all part of the end game. Celebrate the losses along with the wins, they are all part of the process. ~David Woodbury,  Venture Builder/Rev7.co [/dropshadowbox] A fear of rejection can prevent us from playing the game effectively, if at all, spelling D-E-F-E-A-T from the start. We may be confident in our knowledge of the product or service we represent. We may have prior success or failure we’ve learned from. But, facts are facts: no one enjoys being told “no.”

So, how does one eradicate the trepidation surrounding rejection?

Overcoming “No”

1. Be Prepared.

The more ready you are to confidently present your product, service and yourself, the less likely you can be deterred from that path. Knowledge and the ability to delicately drive through the selling process are what lay the foundation for the successful sale. Preparation builds confidence because it’s one less thing to worry or think about. Arm yourself with as much as you can in the situation. Go in with your intended qualifying questions, plans for rebuttals and confidence to close.

2. Name the fear.

Recognize the fear and work to dismiss it. You have more control over it than you think. If you have a fear of rejection, acknowledge its presence and contemplate why it exists. Are you afraid of not selling because you fear repercussion? Do you feel unsure of yourself or your pitch? Similar to the “release the mechanism” scenes from the Kevin Costner baseball flick For Love of the Game, you hone in on your directive and drown out everything else. If you allow yourself to deviate from the game plan because of desperation or fear, you certainly will hear “no;” so it’s all the more reason to ensure you remain undeterred.

3. Focus on process.

The real “fear” you should have, if any, is that you leave out a crucial step or do not give customers a clear picture of why they need what you have. Replace the fear you have of being told “no” with a focus on simply sticking to steps. You cannot control what your contact will do, but you certainly can control what and how you deliver. When you leave the conversation, your goal is to have a signature or a clear-cut reason as to why the customer decided against buying with a specific plan to follow up or move on.

4. Learn from the rejection.

Customers may decide against buying for reasons completely out of your control. That said, what worked during your presentation? What did you say that you may want to omit next time? Are there ways to tweak your product offerings or strategy based on the reason for opting out? It is very possible to lose the business today only to regroup, retool and revisit with a better solution that your customer will choose to use.

5. No isn’t forever.

The customer who decides against change today may feel differently given some time or change of circumstances. Leave a solid, lasting impression: Stand apart from those simply trying to get a sale at any cost. Earn the relationship. Stay in touch. Offer to help in any way you can. Find a way to be valuable, even if it brings no immediate monetary gain. When they have a need you can fill, you’ll get the call.

Bottom line

Never even think about the “no.” Your focus should be to control what you can in the selling process. We spend too much time worrying about what never comes to fruition. You control truly learning your customer’s needs, formulating a plan to address those needs, and addressing any concerns. You won’t win them all, but if you leave each conversation knowing the specific reasons your customer did not purchase, you did your job and can learn, grow and get ready for the next “yes.”

Making CRM What Your Sales Staff Wants

Making CRM What Your Sales Staff Wants
by Brooke Gaddie – March 2015

Get to know your staff

No two sales staffs are going to be exactly the same. No two reps on your staff may be the same. In order to achieve the level of acceptance that you want, you have to make the system do what they want. That means getting to know your salespeople.

My job is to make sure that 60 reps across three franchises in both sales and service utilize CRM. Roughly four months into our CRM implementation I would by no means say that we have it all figured out, but we’ve made some huge strides.

Get help. Get Ready.

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”300px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Excel can sometimes be the frenemy of CRM. It provides a great blueprint on what is important to the rep (if a sales rep is going to take the time to make an excel sheet, it must be pretty important stuff for them to track). However, Excel is that safe, familiar security blanket that reps coming running back to at the first moment of indecision or doubt with CRM. If you can convince the reps that organizing in CRM is better than their own Excel sheet, you’ve won. ~Chris Zeppenfeld, Charlotte Hornets[/dropshadowbox]We are fortunate to work with some extremely smart people at KORE Software to help make our system the best it can be. They offer a sounding board to bounce off ideas to see if what one rep wants is feasible and will help others achieve goals. We talk frequently with the Charlotte Hornets (Chris Zeppenfeld) and Utah Jazz (Adam Grow),  who have plenty of experience and offer great ideas.

If you’re just starting to implement a new CRM solution, don’t expect to be done when launch day arrives. We spent months thoroughly preparing and thought we were in pretty good shape, but since Day 1 have adapted almost daily to tweak things to work the way the reps want. Some days it is as simple as adding a box for favorite player. Other days it’s sitting down with a rep to figure out how to put everything they once had in Excel in CRM.

Train, Train, Train Again

If I have learned anything in the last four months it is this:

You can’t tell a room full of people something one time and expect them to remember it.

Train, train often, train one topic at a time. When we began training we did it in each department’s weekly meeting. That can quickly turn into a conversation with one person about one really weird situation while the rest of the room tunes out. What does work?

  1. Pick one topic.
  2. Go to the area where that teams sits.
  3. Walk them through what they need to do.
  4. Explain how it helps reach their goals.
  5. Send a follow-up email with the links to screenshots for reference.

While this takes more time on the front end, it gets results. The reps retain the information much better. Once we began these 30 minute sessions in the department’s area, reps started to buy-in and become more productive.

Conclusion

Changing the way someone operates is never going to be easy. It will take work; a lot of work. But when you find the way to train and motivate employees to do something that helps them reach their goals, we all enjoy the outcome. The thing to remember is that not everyone, or maybe anyone, will want to look at something the same way or to complete the task the same way. You have to learn and adapt with them.


Cover photo courtesy of Andrzej.

 

Selling vs. Telling

Selling vs. Telling
by Ben Milsom – March 2015

Making the pitch

Recently I attended a recruiting meeting with a local college football coach where the goal was to get the high school senior to commit to attend his school.  I agreed to attend the meeting after I was sure that I wasn’t breaking any rules and also because I knew I was going to learn something.  I met the coach before the meeting and we discussed the goal and the best practices when it came to this type of meeting.  The college had a great history of success as well as a fine reputation of placing students into great jobs once they graduated.  Needless to say the coach really had a great product to sell.

Info Dumping

Most new salespeople come into sports sales really excited about many things:  a new city, an exciting player, a winning record or just the fact that they are working in professional sports.  This leads many times to what is called “info dumping.”  The excitement leads the salesperson to do more telling than consultative selling.  Many times in meetings the salesperson has done most of the talking without gaining information from their prospect.  This is exactly how this meeting went.  The coach introduced us and began discussing team record, school history, alumni and the city where the school was located.  The whole time the student was eating his lunch with a somewhat glazed look on this face.  I kept thinking about how many times this occurs in sports sales.  This “pitch” only really works when your product is winning.  There was still so much information to be learned from the student.  What are some of the questions that could have been asked?

  • What is important to you in your college selection?
  • How important is education vs. football?
  • How comfortable are you with the location of the school?
  • Tell me about what you would like to study?Why?
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY after all the information is gathered: What is it going to take for you to commit to X college?

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”600px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Pitching in sales works in the same way it works in baseball. It’s one direction and irreversible. To be an effective sales professional you need to engage in strategic listening to understand your customers preferences, priorities, level of interest and more before you propose, pitch, tell and sell. – Gregg Baron, President, Success Sciences[/dropshadowbox]

Selling not Telling

Matt Smith
Matt Smith

Matt Smith,  Regional Manager, IMG Learfield, shares, “When I think of this mindset of selling not telling, I think of a Doctor and a Pharmacist. Old-school salespeople were pharmacists, while we must be Doctors. A good doctor must know everything about the problems of the patient, everything about the possible treatments, then they must have an idea of how to tie the problem to the right solution…and they must do it all with the right heart and mindset. Pharmacists simply must know about drugs and prescriptions.”  As a salesperson, offering a solution before learning all you can about the customer is like a doctor prescribing treatment without first knowing the ailment.

Conclusion

So many times we miss the opportunity to let our prospect tell us what they want and how they want it.  This also misses a chance for us to ask for referrals, build a stronger relationship and ultimately up sell our product.  The difference between a good and great salesperson in my mind is their ability to ask effective and productive questions and use those questions to make a consultative and productive sale.  The telling approach usually leads to buyer remorse and ultimately money left on the table.

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