The pandemic created much economic uncertainty for associations. With some sponsorship programs not providing the return on investment that partners sought, associations should take a measured approach when addressing partner concerns.
If your sponsorship program suffered over the last year, you are not alone. Association leaders are asking what to say to their sponsors because of the uncertainties regarding COVID-19. They know that remaining silent is not the answer. Yet, they struggle with the best approach.
A major mistake when communicating with sponsors is to focus on your own organization and what you have to offer. However, if you change your approach and instead focus on the needs, desires, and motivations of your sponsors, you’re more likely to secure funding from them. This means asking your top sponsors questions. I recommend the S.C.O.R.E approach, the acronym I use when coaching association staff on sponsorship outreach. We’ll go through it here.
“Find out how sponsors work with others
by saying, “Please tell me about your most rewarding partnership.” Their response will provide a roadmap of what benefits your association can offer.
No matter how well you know your sponsor, now is a time to check in on their current situation and show that you’re interested. Ask your contact at the company the following questions: Tell me about your role with the company? What are you trying to accomplish now? How does your department interact with other areas at your company?
While COVID-19 has changed for everyone, people are sometimes reluctant to share challenges. Find out how the company changed during this time. Ask how interactions with prospects and customers have changed. Learn how this has affected the sponsor on a business and personal level. This is an opportunity to discuss business and personal experiences. Briefly sharing challenges and issues you have dealt with is likely to strengthen the relationship.
Objectives and Obstacles
A natural next step is to focus in on the sponsor’s objectives, goals, and future ambitions. These include plans for this year and next, how they are targeting and reaching prospects, and what marketing channels they are using.
Once they have shared their objectives, it is far easier to ask about problems or obstacles. Consider these questions:
- In trying to reach your target audience, what are the biggest hurdles? (Yes, lack of live events will be the first one. Probe to find out how they are adapting.)
- What is the impact?
- What is getting in the way?
- How have you responded?
- What happens to you and the company if you are unable to solve them?
When asking these questions, showing curiosity and concern builds trust. The responses can reveal information about the company’s budgeting, staffing, and decision-making process, along with obstacles they are facing. This sets you up to offer relevant sponsorship solutions.
Find out how they work with others by saying, “Please tell me about your most rewarding partnership.” Their response will provide a roadmap of what benefits your association can offer. Questions to consider:
- What stands out about this relationship?
- Why is this relationship valuable?
- What do you view as the key benefit?
- Why did your company establish this partnership?
- Who within your company was involved in the partnership?
If the answers to these questions are unclear, it means that your contact may not be the decision-maker or that the company lacks sponsorship experience and is not a strong prospect. Determine which situation you’re in and then either work toward finding the right person or presenting an introductory offer that’s more in line with this organization’s capability.
In wrapping up your questions, you want to understand what success looks like. How would your contact envision a successful relationship a year or two down the line? Let them describe success and explain how they think, feel, and act.
As your contact is describing success, they will subconsciously or consciously view you and your association as helping them reach their goals. This is exactly where you want to be. At this point, you should have enough information to either present benefits and ask for support or defer the actual request to a second meeting when you’ve had time to create a package that will meet or exceed their needs.
By following this model, you’ll create stronger and deeper bonds with your contact, which will ultimately build additional sponsorship support for your association.