Sébastien Sasseville raised over three million dollars in sponsorship sales — three million! — to fund his climb to the summit of Mount Everest, his run across Canada, and their supporting global marketing campaigns. So, how did he do it? How did he manage to convince big corporations and organizations to sign multi-million-dollar sponsorship campaigns in support of one man’s dream?
It’s not because his projects were anything special, “a lot of people do crazy things,” he said. It’s because he focused on making his sponsors feel special instead.
Sébastien shared some of his top strategies with us to help everyone reach the next level of their sponsorship game.
It’s Not About The Money
The best way to not get money, Sébastien said, is to ask for money. When people get too focused on the end game upfront, they can quickly turn off potential sponsors. Instead, Sébastien says that your main goal when first reaching out to new sponsors should be to generate curiosity and secure a face-to-face meeting.
“Go to them with a dream, a vision, a mission, something that they can be a part of, that speaks to their audience,” he said. “You need to do your research so when they get your email, it speaks directly to them and piques their curiosity.”
It’s important to get creative with that first email’s subject line to make sure it catches their attention and never mention the word “proposal” — all that tells them is that you want money. Keep the email short and to the point and remember that its purpose is to secure a meeting, not ask for money. Money shouldn’t even enter the conversation until the third meeting.
It’s All About Relationships
It takes about 4-6 meetings, Sébastien estimates, to secure and confirm a sponsorship deal with a lot of email and communication in between. Put yourself in the sponsor’s shoes — what would you do if a complete stranger just asked you for money? People need to trust you before they buy from you.
The “Golden Ticket” Meeting
Get yourself a champion! When Sébastien first started looking for sponsorship to support his run across Canada, he started the conversation with a sales representative who worked for his prospective sponsor. He didn’t ask them for money, instead he asked for their advice and used this casual setting to test-drive his idea and learn more about the company.
Finding a champion can also make that initial outreach email far more impactful — it changes it from a random inquiry into an introduction.
If your initial outreach email did its job, you’ve secured your first meeting. Make the company the star of that meeting. Use it to gather as much information as possible about who they are, what they do, and why they do it.
The worst thing you can do at this point is ask them for a “yes” or a “no”. Your only goal is to use this meeting to create a catered proposal that outlines how your sponsorship opportunity helps them achieve their business goals.
“The more details you can get from them,” Sébastien says, “the more it becomes their project.” Get them excited about your vision, get them to start dreaming about the potential opportunities you could bring them, and get them to actually look forward to seeing your proposal. If you achieve that, you’ve just closed your second meeting.
Use intel from that first meeting to develop a compelling proposal. This process will also give them time to get to know you and to build trust. At this point, you are still not asking for a “yes” or a “no”. Trust me, Sébastien says, if it’s a yes, they’ll tell you!
In the second meeting your proposal should be about 50% complete, and its purpose is to ask them how you can make it even better. By the third meeting, the proposal should be 80-90% finalized. This is when you start talking money, but only to get a sense about what they are comfortable spending.
This is when you start talking specific dollar amounts. Your potential sponsors now have everything they need to make a decision, so it’s all business from this point forward — ask them for what you want.
Sébastien said he often went through periods of radio silence in between these meetings, and recommends that you still touch base periodically via email to remind your potential sponsors that you’re here for them if they have any further questions.
Blanket sponsorships are out. Customization is king.
Before contacting a prospective sponsor, ask yourself “how can I solve a problem for them.”
When you’re pitching a sponsor, you’re actually creating work for them and it’s easier on them to say “no”. That’s why your job is to convince them that you have a solution to their business problems or marketing goals. “People pay you to solve their problems,” Sébastien says.
Blanket gold, silver and bronze sponsor levels and opportunities don’t work anymore. You have to get them excited, and general sponsorship benefits and/or 12-page emailed proposals doesn’t cut it anymore. You must customize your proposal to meet their needs, and then attach a dollar amount to it.
Over Deliver Instead of Over Committing
“Don’t over commit, keep it simple,” Sébastien says.
Before you start pitching sponsors, make sure you finalize your logistics plan and budget to determine how much you need and how much you want. This becomes the basis of your sponsorship plan and helps you understand what you can actually promise and deliver to prospective sponsors.
Sébastien only includes items that sponsors specifically ask for in his partnership agreements and then aims to over deliver on them.
One item he urges people to keep off of their proposals is the promise of visibility through mass media. Sponsors generally have media experience and know how difficult it is to actually get media exposure, and will see this as an empty promise. Plus, Sébastien says, don’t mention social media promotion unless you actually have a large and engaged following.
Sponsorship rewards the long game
Big dollars are an investment and it takes time to earn them. You will look sloppy to organizations if you send them a request for sponsorship with a quick deadline — they will question whether or not you have what it takes to plan and follow through on your commitments. Plus, budgets are often set early.
Sébastien says you should plan 12-24 months ahead, depending on the size of your ask, to give you plenty of time to nurture the relationship, build a solid proposal, and become a line item in their budget.
It’s Your Fault — Getting in the Right Mindset
It is your job to convince sponsors to give you money. If you fail, then it’s your fault. “If you have the mindset that ‘everything is my fault,’” Sébastien said, “then you can learn from it for next time.”
This philosophy turns each “no” into an opportunity to re-examine what happened. Sébastien encourages you to ask the sponsor why they aren’t interested or what you could have done differently so you can use this information to strengthen future pitches. The more information you have, the more likely you can build a proposal next time that they can’t refuse.
With these strategies in hand, you too can build a stellar sponsorship network and change fundraising from a daunting task into a success story.
Sébastien Sasseville inspires organizations to create and maintain performance in changing environments. He speaks on change management, sales, teamwork, and leadership.
Interested in learning more about Sébastien and what he can bring to your company? Email us at [email protected].