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Sports Abacus: Inside Sales

There are different schools of thought on Inside Sales techniques. The majority of college athletic programs either don’t understand or are barely testing the water with inside sales units. Professional major league teams have used them for years, but several teams at the lower levels of minor league sports don’t implement them. My belief on the merits of inside sales is that they both train entry level sales people on the philosophy of how to develop and tailor a ticket package to a customer as well as can serve as one of the best outreach marketing arms that a team can have.

I built an inside sales unit at Eastern Washington University out of student workers. I use a dreaded “alumni list” of everyone who happened to graduate from the university but had no actual affinity for it. And with my team of six inside sales student workers, we made volumes of calls. Not a lot of sales, averaging around 5-7 percent, but there was a reason for it.

Stage time.

It’s a crucial thing for anyone who has to develop a sales pitch. The idea of letting entry level or student workers jump on the phone with your best customer without training and tons of practice is frightening. Yet, a lot of schools do it, misunderstanding how to properly build stage time for their sellers.

Conversely, I’ve talked to a lot of folks who want to enter the sales component of the sports industry. That’s refreshing, since it’s the best way to get a job in sports, since it is realistically, a sales industry beyond all else.

These folks are comfortable enough with selling, but seem to be leery of the boiler room idea of inside sales as their entry point opportunity into the business. Make 100-150 calls per day with a 3-5 commission off each sale, except that you are talking to prospects who really don’t want your product or have attended it once five years ago during a Tuesday night they can’t remember going to or have generally no interest in your product at all.

That is why inside sales is the right place to start for most entry level folks trying to get into the sports industry.

Inside sales works for the sports organization as well. Imagine having a team of 15-20 people actively making calls about your product to prospects. Even if the prospects aren’t the best – and usually, you don’t dole out your best prospects until the inside sales reps have been chewed out enough by grumpy bad prospects on the phone at least a 1,000 times prior – it builds up your team’s ability to make a sale.

[ws_table id=”7″]
NOTE: 125 calls per rep per day average with a 5 percent conversation rate into sale.

Not only that, but it serves as a better way to outreach your team’s efforts. A lot better branding tool in my mind than giving away free tickets, and may actually garner more fans. Especially if the prospect “likes” talking to the inside rep on the other end. That’s a relationship factor you don’t get with free tickets, the idea that you might do something based on your conversation on the other end of the line.

With my student workers, I always had them mention what year of school they were in and when they were graduating. Especially to alumni, this worked wonders, and I think achieved a few more sales. A lot of cranky alumni turn to softies when they start thinking about their time in college. Not all, there are still some grumpy bears out there no matter what, but some do.

Inside sales should be view as an opportunity to fail without anyone seeing it. No one thinks that you are going to rack up huge numbers off of the bat with the leads you’ve gotten. If they do expect that, then they’re the ones acting silly.

[ws_table id=”8″]
NOTE: 125 calls per rep per day average with a 15 percent conversation rate into sale.

What they want is for you to try and develop your sales craft. Everyone should have to do inside sales, even if they want to go into marketing, because it makes you better.

Too many folks look at joining the group sales department or season ticket retention team right out of the interview process. The NBA does a good job at humbling entry level people, sticking them with the ultimate casual fans, in order to get each inside sales rep to build their routine.

It isn’t just about saying a few words in the right order. It’s about knowing what the hell you are talking about, believing in it, understanding what the customer is saying even when they are not saying it, eliminating objections and tailoring a ticket package to the customer’s wants, needs and desires.

Sounds pretty simple, right? It isn’t. That’s why there is a constant flow of sales trainers coming through front offices, same with the new crop of entry level people as the older reps have either moved on or washed out.

Inside sales is “stage time” – the same thing that standup comedians go through when they start out at open mic nights for years before getting paid. There is a system in place, to ensure that those who do succeed and get up in front of the larger, better audiences are already polished and ready to go. Imagine if a person who did one open mic night was then brought up in front of 10,000 people to do standup comedy – There’s a 99.99999 percent chance of failure, mainly because the practice and development of their skills weren’t in place to handle audience in front of them.

It’s all about “stage time” whether it’s a nightclub act or working in sales, specifically because the finished product has to look polished, ready and effortless.

Especially inside sales in sports where they hand the new reps a bunch of names and phone numbers (it could be out of a phone book its so generic) and put them to work selling. The common consensus is that these “prospects” are not going to bite on a sale, with a conversion rate to sales of probably less than 5 percent. These are the worst calls for a reason, it frankly toughens up the inside sales rep as well as develops their script into where they can say it in their sleep, then improv around it when necessary.

That’s really why sales reps who work inside sales are better at working off the reaction of a prospect’s comments or questions. They’ve heard it all before, they’re used to the interaction being less than involved, and they are able to think on the fly since the script is so ingrained in their system. Frankly, the script is the last thing that they are thinking about, which allows them to separate the two factors from the reality of what the prospect is saying in line with what the script has in terms of information to provide.

Inside sales is the minor leagues of the pro model of any sport. You gotta get good while no one is looking or caring, in order to build up your skills for when it counts.

The issue with today’s world is that we have become a society of skipping steps. Of thinking that the standard rules don’t apply to us, since we can point to one or two outliers as “fact” because they didn’t take as long as normal to mature. The simple fact is, that for every outlier who succeeds at running the table through the system without having to actually put in the time at each lower level, there are millions of others who fail when they attempt this same feat.

That’s why inside sales, the ability to pound out calls, to build up both your inner sales script and not take what is said personally by 50,000 vulgar prospects on the other end of the line who 99.99 percent of the time weren’t going to buy your product anyway, is necessary.

If you don’t get that “toughness” build up, then go in front of a client, whether that be a whale or a mega-buyer for a company, and screw up, the consequences can be drastic.

Enjoy the stage time while no one’s looking. Build your act. Then sell it.

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