Structuring corporate partnership departments to serve and sell

Structuring corporate partnership departments to serve and sell
by Tyler Epp – February 2013

Service or new sales first?

Every franchise experiencing a significant internal leadership change or external threat like the recent recession sees an immediate focus on new revenue.

Understandably, new corporate partners are often expected in order to reconcile revenue projections made during the sales process of a franchise or to deal with a down economy.  A short-term push to add partners can be successful, but must be balanced with providing long-term service and performance. In an informal poll across counterparts in the NFL, MLB,  & NBA, approximately 80% of corporate partnership annual revenue comes from current partners and renewals.

Wendy Morris, Vice President, Team Sponsorship Development for the NBA, shares,

“We see the biggest growth come from companies already working with our teams.  As a result, we’re seeing teams move to a more sophisticated approach to activation and investing in activation staff with brand and agency backgrounds.  Partners are looking to our teams to serve as an extension of their marketing team and expect us to be proactive in providing creative activation ideas, insights to drive their business and measurement to show success.”

In short, our first priority must be to take care of the companies already invested in our franchises.  The revenue from up-selling a current partner counts the same as revenue from a new partner.

Pier Bar at Petco Park
Pier Bar at Petco Park

Renewals: Service or sales?

The people who (a) build the relationship with partner, (b) take the time to understand the company’s objectives, and (c) solve  fulfillment problems should be involved in renewals. Since our role is to produce revenue, all members, with few exceptions, should have revenue goals.

If we trust Cindy or Carl to manage a $1M, 5-year relationship with Ford, do we not trust Cindy or Carl enough to renew the business?   If the job is done properly, Ford would certainly prefer to work through the renewal with Cindy or Carl than someone who sold the deal through 5 years ago.  New Business people should be focused on New Business – not on keeping the relationship with a current partner “warm” until they need to be hit up for a renewal.

Know Your Personnel

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”curled” width=”200px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Every Sunday afternoon NFL fans yell at the coach for obvious mistakes: “Why would we pass on 3rd and 1?” “Why is he returning punts?” Chants of “Te-bow” ring out after a mistake from Mark Sanchez. As fans, poor personnel management drives us crazy. But, are our sponsorship departments around the leagues managed properly?[/dropshadowbox]

Do we have the right people in the right places?

If you are dealing with a company based in Dallas for three generations and your staff has a Dallas native who sets his body clock on the Red River Rivalry, should you think about that person to manage this business?  Buck the trend of separating beer partners to avoid conflict.  Instead, assign the right person to truly understand the business and know everything there is to know about beer.  MillerCoors and Budweiser will quickly forget about any potential conflict once they realize they are working with someone who knows their business as well as they do.


It is probably good to remember the words  my high school prom date was clearly not familiar with:  “Dance with the one who brung you.”

Current partners invested in our franchises.  Take care of them.  Learn about their business.  Help measure their investment.  Be a good partner.

Chances are your franchise doesn’t get 100% of their advertising or marketing spend, so there’s upside with nearly all current partners. If they spend so much that the upside isn’t significant, then you certainly owe them a fully integrated and fantastic program.

Corporate partnership departments should not be built on sales people creating “books of business.” The mission should be to build a team of people to collectively sell and service a partner’s investment.  Potential partners will appreciate that you spend more time on the partners you have than chasing new business. In a funny way, your investment in your current partners is the best way to grow new business.

Opening Day, Petco Park
Opening Day, Petco Park