Meeting with a potential sponsor for the first time
It is a very positive sign when a potential sponsor agrees to meet with you. The situation is usually that you have sent your proposal to a potential sponsor after you have researched their company, and in your proposal document you have shown that you understand them.
They usually don’t like to waste their time meeting people whose proposals are of no interest, so that’s a good start. All the same, don’t expect the meeting to run for much more than half an hour.
Don’t take unnecessary numbers of people to the initial meeting with a potential sponsor. At the most, take another person, and only then if they can add value to the meeting by talking intelligently or, for instance, if they have high-level contacts.
You need to use the meeting time efficiently. When a potential sponsor does agree to meet for the first time, plan carefully for the meeting. This is a basic point, but it is surprising how many people don’t do the basics.
Do your homework first
Firstly, learn beforehand about the company’s products and services and the basic facts of its operations staffing, revenue, and profitability. Their website, annual reports and Google will help. If you do this, you won’t waste the sponsor’s time with dumb questions. Write out a list of questions you wish to ask and think through fallback situations if the sponsor presses you hard to offer concessions. Prepare your key points well by rehearsing what you will say with one of your colleagues or even with a family member. Don’t just repeat chunks of your proposal document; add value by coming up with new information or offering to fine tune your original proposal.
Potential sponsors don’t want you to waste their time by boring them with a PowerPoint presentation that merely repeats your sponsorship proposal document. If you intend to use a visual aid such as a PowerPoint presentation, check beforehand that the appropriate equipment will be available in the meeting room. If you want to use a data projector, arrive early to give yourself time to make sure your presentation works on the equipment.
Don’t assume knowledge. It is likely the sponsor knows nothing about your ‘property’ – so give them a brief verbal overview, but keep it brief and only deal with major points. Again, don’t just regurgitate what the sponsor has already read in your proposal. They have limited time and interest in your organization’s detailed story of accomplishments.
Sponsorship applicants tend to be focused entirely on their own point of view, and they forget to consider the viewpoint of the sponsor company, so listen to the sponsor’s questions and if you can’t answer some, nominate a date by which you will provide them with the information – and stick to the date.
Don’t ask for comments or a commitment at the end of the meeting. It is unlikely the person you are meeting would be able to make any sort of decision without gaining approval from higher up the line, so don’t even try to get a hint, much less a decision.
Just present your information, try to understand what the potential sponsor is mainly interested in, and politely wind up the meeting. You might ask when they are likely to let you know the outcome. If they are vague on this, ask them if they wouldn’t mind you checking in, say, three weeks’ time. This will give you both something specific.
If they say the proposal is off-course, but they could be interested if it is revised, then by all means take the hint and arrange another presentation after you ensure you understand their priorities.
Use similarity and praise to form a positive relationship from the start
As noted in my article, “How to negotiate sponsorship from a weak position,” you can also use two psychological principles to help your cause when approaching potential sponsors: Two things reliably increase liking – (1) similarity and (2) praise.
Similarity literally draws people together. Research in psychology showed that participants stood physically closer to one another after learning that they shared political beliefs and social values. And people are more willing to buy from those who are similar to them in various ways such as age, religion, politics or even cigarette-smoking habits.
See if you can quickly discover at least one common connection with someone you deal with. Don’t spend too much time on this in your first meeting with the prospect. They don’t want you to ramble; instead you should shortcut to find something in common. Do a Google or LinkedIn search to find out a bit more about what the other person and you have in common. When in their office, check quickly around to see if there are any company trophies or photos, or even family photos etc. The important thing is to create the bond early because it paves the way for goodwill and trust in every later encounter. It’s much easier to gain support when the people you are trying to persuade are already inclined in your favor.
We mostly prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. One way for people to like us is to praise them. Praise charms and disarms. Honest, positive remarks about another person’s attitude or performance reliably increase liking in return, as well as willing compliance with your wishes. This works even when flattery is used. Strangers such as sales people get us to comply with their requests as well by applying this rule – they first get us to like them. If you are meeting with sponsor companies, ensure you find ways to praise their role in the marketplace, and perhaps any of their existing sponsorship activities that are done well.
Following up the meeting
After the meeting, write to the sponsor to thank them for taking the time to meet with you. In the letter, briefly reiterate the key benefits of your proposal, especially the ones that the prospect responded positively to during the meeting. Offer to clarify any further information they may want to obtain from you. Depending on the final discussion at the meeting, you might indicate when you are planning to call them to follow up the meeting.
When you do speak to them to follow up the meeting, one of three outcomes is likely:
- The prospect will enthusiastically embrace your proposal and become your latest sponsor. If this is the (rare) case: Well Done! Go straight to contract discussions.
- The prospect will ask for another meeting to discuss amendments to the proposal. If this is the case: Well Done, again! If they are going to the trouble of attending another meeting with you, they almost certainly intend to become involved, or at least interested enough to spend this further time.
- The prospect will politely decline the opportunity. If this is the case, try to keep the proposal alive, but be prepared to gracefully accept rejection. Be polite, thank them for their time and remember, they are still a prospect for next year.
If you are rejected, don’t take it personally. There are various reasons for rejection, many of which may have nothing to do with you, such as internal politics and budget cuts. Try to find out why. In exploring the reasons you may be able to keep the proposal alive. Hear what they say so you could amend the proposal to keep it alive.
For example: If they say, “The cost of your proposal is too big for our budget,” try asking if the payment could be moved to the next financial year or could be split over two years or you could even offer to accept payment after the event.
If they say, “This amount is too high for our budget at the moment”, can you re-work the budget to deliver less value for a lower cost? Could you accept a lower amount this year in return for a full commitment next year (if it is an annual event)? Or, could you re-present a revised proposal to them next year?
If they say, “We’re not really sure this fits into our overall marketing strategy”, can you re-work your proposal to make it fit (after finding out what their marketing strategy is)? This may merely be a way of giving you the brush-off, so it is worth asking further questions to clarify how genuine their comment is.
Where there are grounds for hope, by all means ask them if you can respond with a revised proposal – and you may be in luck!