Changing the Revolving Door of Sports Sales


Last week I wrote a blog on why we are losing quality people in sports.  Little did I realize the impact it would have…from students to employees to former employees to leadership to CEO’s to owners.  One thing is certain.  We need to fix it. Soon. People’s buying habits have changed.  Work / life balance has changed. Needs have changed. But most importantly, the world has changed and we have not changed with it.

I was very saddened to read so many of your stories as to why you left.  Even more, I was overwhelmed with the more than 350 emails I received the first 3 days from former, current and leadership members telling a story and asking for help.  The great thing is, that’s more than 350 people in a few days that recognize we need to break the mold and create a new work environment.  It’s a start!

So many asked for suggestions on how to begin to make the changes. Although a workshop would be best, I feel it’s most important to start to give some points to make changes.  This week I am going to start with 2 areas:  Leadership and Growth and Development.  This does not encompass everything, but rather some starting tips to get us out of our 1980’s mentality and see what running a business in today’s world is like.


  • Hiring:  Interviewing and hiring practices need to change.  We can’t continue to look for people like us.  In sales, we need to look for people who are relationship builders, who can influence, who can strategize their day/sales and can execute. This means we have to start interviewing by asking questions in a much different way.  Just like sales, you need to create a connection and then find needs. Here, we need to create a connection and see what’s in the heart of the candidate. What we ask is crucial.  How we ask them to think for an answer is crucial. And how we find them or what we expect is very important. I would rather hire someone who has worked their way through college, has a strong work ethic, is open to learning and has a creative mind.  I don’t necessarily need a profile of an Ivy League college only, or a sports major only.  If applying for sales, I want someone who wants to grow in sales. This is not, nor should it be, a foot in the door type position.  Sales is far too important to view it this way.  We should want people who want to be stellar sales people.
  • Stop  the Panic and Build the Strategic:  Leaders need to build a strategic plan and make it a living, breathing thing.  The strategic plan you  build as a leader is based off the strategic plan and ideas your staff should be building.  This leads to strategic sales vs panic selling (game to game).  It also teaches the sales rep what it’s like to build a strategy. It enables them to think through the process for the year and create a plan vs calling from random lists and ‘selling’ for the moment.  This leads to long term sales instead of for the moment sales that often won’t renew.  This ties directly into empowerment…
  • Empowering your staff:  As leaders, think about it.  A great business empowers their staff. They ask for their staff’s input. They don’t just put a product out…they ask what the people want, different ways they can sell it, different ways to market it. Why do we, in sports, tell our staff what they are selling? Here are our season plans, here is our corproate plan, here is our parameters for groups, here is the plan for suites.  The best ideas come from those ‘in the trenches’ working directly with the clients. Ask. Listen. Use some of the ideas. We all will go through walls to make an idea of our own work. Empower your staff. Everyone should have tools in their ‘toolkit’ to think on their feet and help a client. My thought is:  if we aren’t empowering them, you are sending the message you don’t trust them and need to be a micromanager.  Who wants to work in that environment?
  • Develop relationships with your staff instead of talking to your staff.  Once you start doing this as leaders, you will understand why building a relationship in sales is far greater than pounding out a million calls a week.  You will find, as you build a relationship, that your staff has friends, and families, and lives just as you do.  You will find what motivates them and what’s key to them.  You will find that relationship building leads to trust which leads to respect and also to more sales. And, in the case of your employees, it leads to your staff wanting to go above and beyond sometimes instead of expecting them to be their 18 hours a day.  It’s amazing and refreshing when you find a leadership staff at all levels that know everyone including the cleaning and maintenance staff by name and know about their families, their dreams, etc.  This is a team you want to work for. They care about you as a person, not as a ‘caller’ to get to goal. Speaking of goals….
  • Goals:  How many times as a Director were you given a goal for your staff that is totally unrealistic, and yet you swallowed and said ‘of course.’  Unrealistic goals set us all up for failure.   And the stretch goals…here’s your goal, but we don’t celebrate till you hit the stretch goal.  So why not just say that’s the goal to start?  Unrealistic goals that don’t get hit but keeps the staff there says ‘these goals aren’t real anyway.’  So what is the message we are really trying to send? It’s important? Not important? Realistic? Not realistic?  Set goals but give your staff the leeway to hit those goals according to their strengths.  For some, that’s more in person appointments.  For others, it’s calling and sending emails or social media.  What does each do best? As long as they are hitting their goals, the framework of expected number of calls isn’t so important.  If they’re not hitting them, then either look at the realism or do they need to try a different way that caters to their strengths? It’s not about the way we’ve always done it. It’s about the way they can do it best. 
  • Evaluations:   Number evaluations? Letter evaluations? At the end of the day, a “I don’t give anyone a 5” mentality can kill momentum.  Instead, why not offer evalutions that go over the critical areas of the business, and writing a statement as to what they do best in this area.  At the end of each evaluation should come the section:  To Continue to Grow:  and this is where you give them 3 or 4 solid points to work on in their growth for the next 3 months or 6 months till their next evaluation along with pointed ideas to make this happen.  We WANT to grow. We WANT to get better. But showing us how to continue to grow gives us a more positive way to approach it than being beat over the head with an evaluation that doesn’t give above a ‘2’ because that is how you feel it should be rated.

Growth and Development: 

  • Continued training.  If I had a nickel for every rep that has asked for more training, I would have quit working years ago and been eating bon bons on a beach near my villa somewhere. Todays’ graduates want more knowledge. They want to know how the business works.  They want to know how they can improve their own ‘small business.’ And the fact is, there is NO ONE WAY. Which is why you can’t simply do one training a year and check it off your list.  Great leaders will continually train their staff as well as know how to train them.   How does each individual learn best? How do you communicate in a way they can understand? Are sales meetings a ‘beat em up and hit your goals rah rah’ or are they educational? If someone is new, do they have at the least a solid  2 week onboarding? Or are they ‘trained’ in a morning or a day and told to hit the ground running?
  • Growth from within:  Are we educating them for that next level? Or do we simply want them to sell then hire from outside to fill the next role?  What message does that send?Are we encouraging them to keep a book…and write down daily the things they see in leadership that they like and don’t like?  Have you done this as you moved up?  Do you ever check it?  Did you not get upset when someone from outside was hired when you applied, only to be told that you ‘weren’t ready’ but wasn’t given the guidance, empowerment and true development to be ready?
  • Put in a leadership role expecting to lead….and no training…or worse, a class on ‘here’s how to lead.’:  How many world leaders are there out there? How many leaders out there who lead companies? Are they clones? Of course not.  We all lead differently.  The key is how do we get people to follow. And that comes from within and has to be developed and nurtured.  So do we help our leaders attend various workshops in which they learn how their staff individually learns? How their staff individually hears their message? How they can build the relationship to find what motivates their individual members? How there is no ‘one size fits all?”  It’s as if we give them a title, wind them up, and say ‘go to it.’ Only they’re not sure what it is they are doing.  Generally they end up managing the way they are being managed or try to be a best bud to everyone. We need to give  a title with a commitment to continue training. We should ALL still be learning, no matter the title.   

At the end of the day, we, as leaders, once were in their shoes. Remember what it was like.  Remember what you hated. Remember how they measured your success…are you still doing that today?  It’s different now.  We are running a business.  There are various ways to measure how we get results.  It’s our jobs as leaders to break the mold, and redesign how we do our business.

Next week, we will talk about breaking the mold for Lifestyle: work/life balance, Diverse Disparity and Pay.  Feel free to join my blog at so you don’t miss it! Together, we can make the changes that need to be made and lead successful sports franchises into the 2020’s.

Kathy Burrows, SOS…Sold Out Seating

For leadership training and/or sales training: or 440-655-9436. 

Currently filling up fall and winter in person or skype workshops…contact me now if you want yours this fall/winter, as I am already booking for next spring.  Limited space. 

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