The "Suite-Tooth": 5 challenges to pitching suites and how to overcome them
As a sales manager with the New York Mets, I was having a one-on-one with one of my top performers, named Jake. Jake was just about two months into his Inside Sales tenure with us and doing all of the right things. He led us in hustle, setting appointments, following processes, etc. Inspired by his hot start, I wanted to shift the conversation toward long-term goals. You can learn a lot from your team by regularly surveying the vision we maintain for their career.
So, I asked Jake, “What are your big goals in this role and for your career?” I fully expected him to say something like, “I want to hit my revenue goal.”, “I want to get promoted to a senior level sales role.”, “I want to climb the ladder and run a sales department myself.” I myself said all of these things during my time in Inside Sales. That is what made Jake’s response so surprising.
He looked at me square in the eyes and said, “I want to sell a suite lease. It is all I can think about!”
In that moment, I nearly fell out of my chair. Of course, this was not the first time a young seller on my team had a goal of selling a suite lease. Most sport sales professionals focused on new business have this goal on their sales career bucket list. This instance sticks with me because it was ‘THE GOAL.’ Jake could have responded with anything, yet the only thought on his mind was SUITES. A few months later, Jake was promoted to New Business Development as an Account Executive. Shortly after that, he sold his first suite lease to a construction company in Long Island.
Lo and behold the power of the suite-- the crème-de-la-crème, the Rolls Royce, the Ritz Carlton, the Wegmans of ticket sales. For many sales professionals in the industry, clipping off your first suite or suite lease is a rite of passage and rightfully so. In regards to sellable inventory, it’s traditionally the highest dollar and highest complexity sale one can accomplish.
While there’s certainly an undeniable thrill in selling a suite, often times sport and entertainment sellers are too nervous to bring suites up as an option because we’ve been conditioned to sell through the path of least resistance. Below are five common anxieties young sales professionals face when looking to move suites, as well as the antidotes to get past them.
1. Suites are complicated: There are a lot of layers in moving your average suite. Food and beverage, parking, rental fees, dynamic pricing, service fees and terms/conditions are all important elements that must be explained to the prospect and understood prior to finalizing your sale. These truths can intimidate the sport sales professionals that are afraid of making a mistake.
Antidote: Bring up the idea of a suite every chance you have. Prospect wants to entertain clients, suite; non-profit is looking to raise funds through high-level donors, suite; local high school wants to reward teachers achieving tenure, suite; little Suzy is turning five, suite; it’s Thursday, suite. The more you immerse yourself in the product, the more comfortable you will inherently become with it. Take note and reflect on how you positioned the suite, the talking points you felt most comfortable with and the areas that still feel foreign to you. For the latter, ask a peer or a leader for guidance and add to your next presentation.
2. Long sales cycle: Higher price tags, the added complexities of suites (see above) and a higher quantity of tickets required in the space are all factors in lengthening the decision-making. This can be problematic for the impatient sales professional.
Antidote: Simplify your recommendation and affirm the decision date. Some sales professionals tend to talk too much. Not because we have a lot to say, but because we are surprised we don’t have more to say…so we just keep talking. Focus on what the space will do for your client (sell the idea of the suite) first and address the logistics of the investment second (either when the client asks for details or after a verbal commitment is made).
When establishing a decision date, you should lead with a recommended date, not the prospect.
Avoid: “So Darryl, when do you expect to have a decision on this?”
Try: “So Denise, due to the nature of demand, most energy companies we work with are turning around decisions to invest with us in within a week. Is that a good timeline for us here as well?”
Once this date is affirmed, we take control back in getting to a decision. Our follow through becomes an expectation, not an exasperation.
3. Context: While many sport sales professionals have been exposed to the concept of suites as an industry professional, familiarity of the product from the perspective of consumer or business executive can be limited to non-existent. As ticket sales professionals, we tend to focus on what we are familiar with and understand. Though we may have never owned a season ticket or put together a group outing of our own, sitting in the general bowl at a sporting event is much more of a relatable experience than experiencing a luxury suite.
Antidote: Shadow peers in leadership, premium sales and/or corporate partnerships. Take advantage of your game/event days to learn. Link up with a colleague that frequents the suite level and build a plan for spectating their interactions with existing and prospective clients. Observe how those in the suite interact, while also practicing your professional presence. Continue this activity until you are making trips up to the suite level to visit your own clientele. In my role as an Account Executive with the Pittsburgh Pirates my “suite role model” was Joe in Corporate Partnership Sales. In taking me to his client’s suite to observe his process, he taught me the art of making a client look heroic in front of their business associates. A critical component of winning recurring business. Thanks Joe!
4. Expensive: The high price tag on suites and suite leases can keep a seller’s ambition to promote suites at a minimum. In my travels as a sales trainer, I’ve experienced firsthand the regular misconception that, “If I pitch too high or stretch the prospect too much, I will turn them off from investing in anything at all, permanently damaging my relationship with them.” It is easy to put ourselves in the prospect’s shoes and look at our personal bank account as if we were the one purchasing the suite ourselves. We would much rather avoid the product entirely than come across as “tone deaf” to the prospect.
Antidote: Make price as obsolete as possible and educate your client how to use the suite. The price tag is only a factor when perceived value is missing. On sales calls, we often say our products are “an investment,” but do we truly believe that? If so, we must teach the commercial real estate company how to leverage our suites with the top prospects in their pipeline consistently. We must explain to our partners in the tech sector (an industry that struggles most with employee turnover) how a red-carpet experience can positively impact company loyalty and ultimately performance output. We need to remind the mom and dad to consider the suite experience from little Jimmy’s and his buddy’s perspective when considering birthday options. Most importantly we must maintain the notion that we are not here to decide what the client can/cannot afford. Instead, we must show the value of the suite unique to the client, allowing them the autonomy to decide for themselves.
5. Fear: Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of the unknown, fear of criticism, fear of rejection…pick your poison sport sellers. All of these self-manufactured fears put a ceiling on our potential to dream big and think bold when making recommendations. The tendency to play out the “worst case scenario” in our mind during the sales process ironically results in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy time and time again.
Antidote: Accept that we are all failures. A few months ago, I was at a festival in New Jersey where a collection of festival folk were country line dancing in a barn. I decided to give it a try. About 45 seconds in to the first dance, I walked off the floor a failure. On the way home that day, I felt so embarrassed. Not because of how awful I was, (I was very terrible) but because I had quit. I vowed to myself that was an unacceptable action moving forward. Last month vacationing in the Bahamas, I was granted with the opportunity of redemption. This time the dance was the salsa. Equally as awful, maybe even more so, I refused to quit. My end result, growth. The point here is when selling something new, advanced or beyond your comfort zone (like a luxury suite), you will fail. You will mess up. You may even deal with some unwarranted criticism. That’s okay! Rest easy knowing that we’ve all been there. If a peer is making you feel like they haven’t endured failure themselves, they are simply lying or they have never sold a suite either.
To many of the senior-level sellers in sport/entertainment, this article may have felt like a walk down memory lane (either nice or painful). For others, this piece may not have applied to you whatsoever (because you were born a sales guru or the suite sales process just clicked for you). Regardless of which category you belong, unbeknownst to you there is likely a teammate right now on your sales floor who doubts their ability to move a suite/ suite lease and do so consistently. The next time you walk the sales floor, look out for this individual. Lend some encouragement. Share a piece of advice. Tell a story of your own. Together we can all find our “suite-tooth”.
Adam Vogel is the Senior Director of Training and Development with Sports Business Solutions. Since joining SBS in April 2018, Adam has led training sessions for 30+ different partners across the professional and collegiate sport landscape. Prior to SBS, Adam led successful Inside Sales programs for over five campaigns with the New York Mets and Miami Dolphins; directly over-seeing the promotion of 68 sales representatives in to Senior Sales or Services roles in the sport industry. Adam also spent time in new business development with the Pittsburgh Pirates.