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Pittsburgh Pirates Rebrand Their Entry Level Sales Program

The Pittsburgh Pirates have announced a rebrand of their entry-level sales program into B.U.C.S. (Building Ultimate Careers in Sports) Academy.

The nine-month-long program will consist of 18 men and women, serving as full menu consultants, selling season ticket memberships, partial plans, group tickets, on-field experiences, suite rentals and leases.

Alan Aldwell, Sales Manager for B.U.C.S. Academy, said that anything starts with the culture.

“Internally it gives our reps a sense of pride, a sense of being a part of something, we want to develop young men and women in this industry, at the same time it’s a great recruiting tool to go out to some of the top programs in all of America and show them what they can be a part of,” he said. “It’s a brand that is going to last. If you look at the groups of reps who have come through the program prior its re-branding, since 2008 or 2009, the list of executives who have being through that process is pretty impressive. And we only hope to see that expand.”

Drew Cloud, Executive Vice President at the Pirates, said that he put Aldwell through the ringer when developing the B.U.C.S. program and website.

“The goal of this is trying to make sales people, especially those in sports sales, as well-rounded as possible,” Cloud said. “I think you can probably do well if you’re just a person who just does well on the phone or face-to-face, but the more well-rounded you are the better.”

Credible Sales Expectations For Each Academy Member

Each B.U.C.S. Academy member will have daily expectations to make 100 minimum cold calls to businesses, individuals and past ticket buyers with the expectation of setting appointments.

While Cloud doesn’t feel the phone call is going away as a sales tactic, he also doesn’t see it as the end-all for the entire sales process either.

“The phone is still the entry point. You can still be good at e-mail, social selling and a wide-variety of selling methods, but ultimately the phone is going to beat face-to-face, the phone is going to beat e-mail interaction, the phone is going to lead you to back to Linkedin so you can learn who your prospect is in a lot more detail,” Cloud said. “It’s about making our sales staff as well-rounded as possible versus ‘okay, we just need two social sellers, we need two face-to-face sellers, and five people who are going to bang the phones.’ We want the best available sales people; we want people who can come in, be coached, want to learn and we think are going to develop in all of those areas.”

Getting the face-to-face appointment is something that Aldwell considers the bread-and-butter of the entire B.U.C.S. program.

“Whether that’s a VIP tour of one of the best ballparks in baseball at PNC or it’s an in-game visit, getting in front of people, it’s important,” Aldwell said.

Part of the development through the B.U.C.S. Academy will be re-enforcing traits such as interpersonal skills in face-to-face selling. “You look at a group of young people these days, they’re all looking down at their cell phones instead of conversing with each other,” he said.

Cultivating The Best Talent From Academic Programs

The B.U.C.S. Academy also broke through the norms in how they market the program, by targeting some of the top sports management programs in the nation, but also developing a comprehensive website. Aldwell felt that the website addition was key to providing information to prospect sales staff.

“Anytime you put a new brand out there, you want to be extremely thorough and confident in it,” Aldwell said. “It comes across as a well-finished product, young people always want websites. They want to learn, they want to see it, and they want to touch it. We’re able to give them a 365-degree idea of what they are going to get themselves into if they are a B.U.C.S. academy student.”

Cloud agrees, saying that the B.U.C.S. group will be running full menu in order to build their sales acumen.

“That’s part of the beauty of it. Is that they are going to learn full season tickets, 6-games, suite rentals, and group sales,” Cloud said. “As a whole, and it’s not just the people we’re hiring, we have a generation that’s developing and they lack some interpersonal skills.”

To Cloud, this means that the ways that people are engaging generationally are changing, and that the Pirates need to adapt when selling to those new audiences.

“Whether that’s face-to-face or on the phone, a lot of people are used to engaging now just through a text message or just through e-mail, and while we have to embrace that as a form of selling,” Cloud said. “I had a very interesting conversation with the guy who runs sales at LinkedIn, and he asked ‘when’s the last time that you bought something over the phone?’ And I couldn’t think of something that cost me $10, let alone something that cost me $10,000, that I had purchased over the phone. So if you’re going to make an investment in something that you’re going to come and do 81 or 40 times per year, something that costs thousands of dollars for something that you buy or rent, you’re certainly going to want to meet face-to-face to close that deal. You just need a broader skill set.”

Cloud said that the traditional form of inside sales is gone, especially in terms of sports tickets.

“It used to be let’s hire a bunch of ambitious, young, hungry people to work for a little bit of money and pump the phone all day,” Cloud said. “And the sales skill set that we are developing is really an academy that – we want to develop sales people in more than just phone skills – it’s face-to-face, it’s interpersonal, it’s relationship development, it’s social selling, we’re trying to help people learn how to be better sellers specifically for the sports industry. ”

Expansive Alumni Network

The B.U.C.S. Academy has an incredible alumni list who are now working in the field today with various teams throughout the nation, and not just with the Pirates. Several of these industry leaders have VP or EVP level titles in their current roles with major and minor league teams.

Aldwell said that he considers the B.U.C.S. Academy concept to be a minor league for the Pirates’ senior level sales staff.

“When the next great senior level account executive is ready to serve in a management role, we don’t skip a beat with having the best prospects from the academy fill that positions,” Aldwell said. “B.U.C.S. Academy will give us one of the best recruiting home field advantages for a senior level sales staff in all of professional sports.”

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