Posted by - Whitestone International

The start-point is recognising that professionalism is a fundamental point of positioning and differentiation that creates Brand Pull within today’s commercial landscape”.

In-house commercial teams seeking and converting business to business (B2B) agreements themselves is a significant shift in sports business and is growing in line with an increasingly commercially focused industry.

Manchester United Football Club is one such rights holder to have seen the benefits and uses its investor relations website to communicate its success: in 2006 commercial revenues accounted for 28% of its overall business and in 2016 it accounted for 52%.

Forecasted growth in global sponsorship spend comes alongside predictions that the competition to grow and maintain partnerships will increase. Whatever size a business is, successful in-house teams (to date and in the future) will share a number of common traits; at the heart of which is how they develop and promote their competitive edge.


The start-point is recognising that professionalism is a fundamental point of positioning and differentiation that creates Brand Pull within today’s commercial landscape.

Leading with ‘why’ before ‘what’ is one such example of professionalism and is crucial to structuring, marketing and closing B2B deals. So too is a genuine confidence in the product, its value and pricing, based on a clear commercial strategy and the process to market. The tools and collateral used in prospecting, meetings and negotiations, project and build confidence in the minds of audiences. Two important tools used – before reaching for the list of rights and audience data – are the ‘brand’ and a specific B2B tone of voice.

The role of Brand Pull

A ‘brand’ (meaning a promise delivered, or a reputation – not a logo) is often thought of as just consumer / fan facing. However, with B2B representing an increasingly significant part of the business for many in sports, and a genuine growth area, Brand Pull has just as much value and a key role to play in business to business sales.

Brand to brand is a higher level of conversation and changes discussion dynamics in two important ways: firstly it demonstrates a mutual understanding and leadership; and secondly, with ‘brand association’ often being a specific partner goal and driver of business, it demonstrates the shared values and brand overlaps. These highlight not only the connections between the rights holder and rights owner, but also with the fans / participants / customers and how they can transfer to a partner’s business as well as being a commercial platform.

Also attributed to the role of the ‘brand’, is its ability to bridge the rational and emotional decision making processes that apply equally to B2B and B2C (and B2B2C) sales. In business, rational assessment is top of the agenda. However, because the future cannot be predicted absolutely, the strength and value of a brand builds confidence in the decision making process and the leap of faith taken when signing an agreement – particularly in the unscripted world of sports.[/tw-column]

Tone of voice

From prospecting to closing, how something is said is as important as what is said; both set the tone for the subsequent relationship.

A good product and a business mindset are prerequisites. The specific tone of voice through which these are communicated originates from the ‘brand’ and determines the specific language, narrative, collateral, channels and experience delivered during the process – all of which define the positioning and differentiate the proposition.

Positioning through tone of voice can elevate an offer from a commodity and signify who is and who is not right for the business, i.e. reducing the cost of sales. “Meeting your goals” and providing sponsorship “opportunities” are broad claims of undifferentiated generalist offers. However, if the objective goes beyond this, the language, collateral and process need to reflect the value and leadership that form part of the relationship going forward.

Audience focussed

Perhaps obvious, but often forgotten, is being audience focussed. In business and with a mutual passion for sports, it can become common practice to view prospects as peers and therefore assume they do not need to be understood in-depth. Those who are successful frame the proposition in the language of their investors, clients and prospective partners and in the context of the quality of the team that they will be working with once the deal is signed. A good offer being received as one involves a deep understanding of a prospect’s business and brand combined with targeted industry language – deliver the right message in the right language and the chemistry will come easier.

From vendor to business partner

The entire B2B process reflects the overall quality and value of the proposition. Moving from a vendor mentality and commodity positioning to a partnership and strategic approach requires promoting the experience and value prospects can expect from the deal and ongoing relationship. Planning the journey from prospecting to closure is crucial. So too is producing the right communications, marketing and collateral, in the right media, at the appropriate time and being highly professional in delivering them at each stage.

If you would like to know how we have supported in-house teams sell over $1.2B in sponsorship, get in touch.