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The Mentality of a Great Sports Salesperson

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No matter your field or place in your career, sales is a way of life.

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Get your mind right and your game tight.

To succeed in sports sales, you have to have the right mentality. I’m not talking about a sales only mentality and a numbers quota. I’m talking about a mentality focused on relationships and growth.

The interesting thing about sales is even when you aren’t in sales, you’re in sales. Sales is a way of life and for everything you do, you are selling yourself.

You can’t ever forget that. You are a brand as much as the experience you are selling, so the minute you compromise your integrity, you compromise your ability to sell.

There are a few qualities that stand out to me when I think of a great salesperson. I asked several veterans and young professionals in the sales world about their thoughts on what it takes to be a great salesperson and this is what they had to say.

ATTITUDE

Having a great attitude is a key element to being a salesperson because without the right attitude, you aren’t going to be focused on selling more than a ticket. Ticket sales is about selling an experience that uses a piece of paper in the form of a ticket as the entry cost.

I asked Kathy Burrows, a top saleswoman in sports and CEO of Stop Selling Tickets!, what she thought it takes to succeed in sports sales.

“When I hire, I hire attitude. I can teach skills. But, I can’t teach attitude. You either have a great attitude that makes you want to learn, or you don’t. I don’t care if you went to college for sports; I don’t even care if you went to college. What I do care about is if you have a desire to fill needs and a hunger for learning.”

As you can see, a great salesperson isn’t successful because of their degree or status on paper, they succeed because of their ability to add value and learn.

I followed up my conversation with Kathy with rising star, Patrick Burns who is an Account Executive for the El Paso Chihuahuas. He told me in his first year one of the most important reasons for his success and others is, “hav[ing] a willingness to learn with the ability to have an open mind.”

Patrick understands that he doesn’t know everything and for him to grow in the industry he needs to be a sponge for information and enjoy the process of growth.

In sales, there are going to be rough days where you don’t sell anything or feel as if you aren’t making progress. There are also days where you absolutely crush it and feel invincible.

As Patrick goes through these experiences he says, “Don’t get too high with the highs, and don’t get too low with the lows.”

Just as many athletes trust the process, sales professionals have to do the same. They have to do it with their ears open and mind thirsty for knowledge. When you have the right attitude, you set yourself up for positive growth and advancement.

GRIT

The second characteristic that makes a great salesperson is GRIT. NYT Bestselling author, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as “the perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

To put it plainly, grit is the unwavering desire to persevere in the face of adversity to achieve a goal. An amazing example of the power of grit comes from studying West Point’s seven-week training program called Beast Barracks. After studying these experiences and including a grit scale, Duckworth found that grit was directly correlated with the success rates of the cadets.

This is no different than sales.

Bill Guertin, CEO of Stadium Gorilla Sales Training, feels grit is the quality that drives success in the sales world.

“In my experience training over 100 sports sales teams throughout North America, I believe GRIT is what separates the champions from everyone else. To love what you do, and have the mental toughness to stick it out and keep doing it when things are bleak and unsure, is what mostly every successful sales rep in sports has in common. That’s GRIT.”

When I asked for an example, he went on to say, “When I watch a role play exercise with a rep using a bullet-point style script, I can sense when they’re giving up or whether they’re willing to make a mistake or two and plow through the call. The gritty ones aren’t afraid to fail, especially in training environments where they know learning is taking place.”

When you have grit, you are willing to do what you have to do to succeed. You are willing to try new things even if you might fail.

To sum it up, attitude and grit are two qualities that make for a great salesperson. They aren’t the only qualities that make for successful salespeople, but they definitely are qualities that successful salespeople possess.

It is important to remember you are your greatest salesperson. Whether it’s selling tickets, premium seats, or sponsorships, you are always selling yourself. Sales can be a tough business, but if you are willing to persevere and learn along the journey, then you will be able to succeed in this dog eat dog industry.


If you liked this article and want to receive a free guide on how to break into the sports industry, visit here.


This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations with Michael Taylor

After ten years on the business side of pro basketball, Michael Taylor has learned how valuable persistence and personal branding are in ticket sales.

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Michael Taylor: Director of Team Marketing & Business Operations at the National Basketball Association (NBA). Taylor will be one of the leaders of the huddle “Squad Goals: The Evolution of Group Expectations.”

Taylor played basketball at West Virginia State University, where he graduated in 2004 with a degree in business administration and management. After playing basketball in Europe for a few years, pursuing a career on the business side of basketball simply made sense. It’s also proved to be a natural fit. For example, during his time in Detroit with Palace Sports and Entertainment, the group sales department jumped from 29th in revenue leaguewide to fifth in just over three years.

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

Now, with over a decade in the NBA, Taylor takes great pride in the people he has been able to develop.

“I look at some of the people that I’ve been able to work with and have hired and are thriving in the industry and moving on to different leadership positions, and that is probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he says. “The people and the development pieces are where I like to focus my time.”

The biggest mistake that Taylor sees young reps making in their early years is not having a short memory.

“In this business you have to be able to take the bad days…the days where you make a hundred calls and 50 people hang up on you and you leave 50 voicemails and no one returns,” he says. “You have to be able to maintain the same enthusiasm, the same confidence on that next call. And then, on the flip side, you have a day where maybe you made that big sale. Do you then slack off? Do you get complacent? Do you not focus on your fundamentals anymore because you’re starting to see some success? Don’t focus on what happened yesterday, whether it was good or bad, but approach each day as a chance to be great.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

Taylor’s other piece of advice to young professionals just beginning their career in ticket sales is to constantly be maintaining their reputation online and in real life.

“It’s never too early to think of yourself as a brand,” he say. “The things that you do now, you’re building your reputation before you even realize it. The sports world is small. When you think about applying for internships or applying for jobs, your reputation is what speaks before you even get into the room. Everything that they do either adds to their brand, or it takes away from it.”

Meet Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Inside The Huddle: Premium Sales with Naimah German

German will lend her expertise on premium sales at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland Coliseum on May 10.

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In the buildup to Front Office Sports’ Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on May 10, we’re introducing you to the huddle leaders who will be lending their expertise to the conversation.

Today, meet Naimah German: Premium Sales Consultant with Legends at the Las Vegas Stadium (the future home of the Raiders). German will be one of the leaders of the huddle “The Experience Economy: Navigating Shifting Premium Sales Demands.”

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Group Expectations With Josh Feinberg

German made the move to Nevada in January of 2018 ahead of the Raiders moving to and playing their first season in Las Vegas in 2020. In the months since, German and the rest of the organization have had their hands full in the best possible way.

“It has been a whirlwind to have that many people on the waitlist,” she says, “but we were all committed from the very beginning, and we are making adjustments as we go along. So it’s been a lot of learning as we go through that process of checks and balances and communicating with one another.”

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, German graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2007 and worked in insurance and advertising sales for a number of years before completing her master’s degree through Northeastern University in 2014. German’s breakthrough, and what she describes as one of her proudest professional accomplishments, came in 2015 when she landed a Membership Development Associate role with the Miami Dolphins.

“That was the most rigorous process to get a job that I’ve ever been through,” German says, reflecting on the experience. “I did two separate phone interviews and then I had to fly myself out to Miami. But I knew that if I went down there, I was going to come back with the job. They had a hundred of us participate in a sales combine, and we competed for a job over the course of that whole weekend. They accepted nine people into that inside sales class and I was one of the nine.”

German then joined the Legends crew in 2016 as a Premium Sales Consultant with the Atlanta Falcons, where she stayed for about a year and a half before moving on to her current role in Las Vegas. With her experience on the premium side, German has learned that the ability to build strong relationships with clients go a long way.

“Ask questions and you will be able to build a relationship with someone and know why they want what they want,” she says. “Everyone wants the top-notch experience, so being able to identify potential problems early in the process is going to help alleviate any potential frustration.”

In her experience, German notices that many young sports professionals can define themselves by their work. While careers are important, she urges everyone to maintain a balance. 

READ MORE: Inside The Huddle: Selling A New Team With Ted Glick

“Don’t let the job take over your identity,” she says. “Sometimes people forget who they are with all their motivations and ambitions and what they want to do. Knowing you are more than what you do is a much healthier attitude to have in this business.”

Throughout her career, German has not lost sight of how sports can be a force for good. This is the primary reason she wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and why she continues down this path today.

“Sports is something that brings people together,” she says. “I always come back to that. When you’re at a game, we’re all one. We’re united.”

Meet Naimah and hear more of your thoughts on the current ticketing space at the Front Office Sports Ticketing Huddle at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA on May 10. For tickets and additional info, click here.

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Professional Development

Why Athlete Retirement Transitions Can Be So Devastating

Sports psychologist Scott Goldman discusses the struggles athletes can face in retirement from their professional and amateur careers.

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Ben Hartsock was thinking ahead to avoid difficulties following retirement.

Following a 10-year NFL career, the tight end jumped right into a career as an agent. For Hartsock, it was better than taking time to figure his life out after the structure and rigidity of an NFL career.

“There’s really two schools of thought, and there’s the school of thought you need something waiting when you’re done because idle time is the devil’s playground,” said Hartsock, who ended up realizing agent life wasn’t right after two years and is now pursuing broadcasting.

“Had I not jumped right into working, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I could have downward spiraled.” 

Professional athletes, no matter the sport, leave a life of structure and must transition to a life of relative normalcy. More athletes today are thinking about it, but no matter how well-prepared the transition, it can still cause hiccups, Hartsock said. After 20 years of playing football, Hartsock said it’s almost like being institutionalized.

“I don’t know what other industry or business has a similar experience,” he said. “The shelf life of an athlete is limited in a way I can’t think any other profession is. Think about going to high school getting great marks, going to college and excelling, and after five or 10 years of being the best surgeon in the world, they take it away from you. That’s hard.”

READ MORE: As Retirement Nears, Yankees Star CC Sabathia Experiments With ESPN Deal

Athlete struggles following their athletic career’s end is not an easy topic to address, said Scott Goldman, the president-elect of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. Goldman is a sports psychologist who’s worked for 20 years with collegiate and professional athletes.

Much of the conversation in post-career struggles revolve around professionals, but Goldman said it’s also a serious issue among collegiate athletes as well, as 90 percent don’t go professional. While many sports don’t have a clear path to the pros, Goldman said those that do — like basketball and football — can make inflate aspirations.

Goldman said he’s happy that leagues, like the NFL, are working intently to help create programs and guide players through their career and after to help ease the pain.

When Goldman works with an athlete struggling post-career, he said he likes to follow the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief. Leaving an all-or-nothing career, like professional athletics, can leave athletes in a similar depression as losing a loved one.

“For some of them, it’s as much a shift in identity as dealing with a tragic loss,” Goldman said. “Most of these athletes get up at 6 a.m. and their day is largely accounted for and scheduled. It can be really intense when they leave.”

Goldman said he believes more potential employers are realizing that while athletes mostly don’t have lengthy business resumes, the commitment and dedication to their careers and being successful can often easily translate to the business world.

Often times, careers ended because of injuries are worse because they’re sudden. For careers like Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki, players get a goodbye tour and can ease into their retirement through a grief-like path.

Beyond the personal-identity struggle, Goldman said athletes also often struggle with their financials following retirement. The general public has a perception of multimillionaire contracts, and while some athletes are set for life, those contracts are in reality few and far between. More common are the sub-million dollar contracts with athletes averaging less than three years as a professional athlete. Add on trying to ensure that money and whatever post-retirement career the athlete ends up pursuing to obligations, and the stress can be high.

READ MORE: Missy Franklin Opens Up About Retirement and Life After Swimming

“It’s amazing the demand of the million dollar athlete,” Goldman said.

Former athletes balancing a dwindling bank account with their lack of direction can experience a perfect storm for emotional troubles. That’s where people like Goldman and companies like Priority Sports, Hartsock’s former agency, and its Preparing for Life After the NFL, or P.L.A.N., come in. 

Leaving a professional sports career often doesn’t have a ceremonial ending like other transitions in high school to college; college to the working world; or even a long TV series finale. Goldman said he doesn’t often like to use cliches, but can’t avoid one in this situation.

“It’s more of a transition than a severance,” Goldman said. “When you exit one room, you enter another space. Sometimes we focus on what we’re leaving and other times, it’s what we’re entering.

“It’s important to accept what we leave, and see what’s coming next and find meaning.”

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