8 tips to getting more sales referrals in sports

by Bob Hamer | October 13, 2017

Of all the sales training I do in sports, the most common request I get from teams and managers, is to help their reps get more sales referrals. The request isn’t surprising. In any sales job, referrals are always one of the top sources of sales and in sports it’s no different. As the VP of Ticket Sales at the Suns, when I looked at our top sales sources, referrals was always 1 or 2 (self-prospecting was the other).There are two primary reasons referrals are valuable. First, someone is recommending a contact as a prospect so chances are that contact will be a warmer lead. Second, they usually have a relationship with the person they’re referring. So when you reach out on that person’s behalf you inherently have trust and credibility with the new prospect. It makes for a much better conversation and increases your chances for a sale.Although it isn’t surprising that I get this request from teams, what is surprising is that some of these sales leaders are worried their reps may not be asking for referrals enough, or worse, not at all. Whether there is a fear of doing it, or we’re unsure how to do it, I wanted to provide some tips on getting referrals in hopes that it helps you get more.

Tip #1 – Ask it open ended – Many sellers ask it this way “Do you know of anyone who’d be interested in buying season tickets?” It’s a close ended question and is easy for someone to just say “no”. Also, it’s too specific, people hear season tickets and immediately think too many games and too much money. Instead, try asking it this way “Who are the 2-3 biggest fans you know?” Or “sports fans, or business contacts you know who entertain customers through sports”. Try and avoid yes/no, be more general and it’ll increase your chances of getting a name.

Tip #2 – Ask when you get a “no” on your initial call – Some of us are making 80-100 calls a day, hopefully connecting with 20-30 people on the phone. We don’t convert them all, so if someone says no and you’ve exhausted all your rebuttal options, ask for a referral. Couldn’t hurt, right? Something like “It’s crystal clear that this isn’t going to be a fit for you right now, but maybe you can help me out…” Sometimes it’s disarming to let them know your pitch is over. They may not be a fit, but maybe their friends are.

Tip #3 – Ask when you make a sale – This is always good practice. They’re excited to have just joined the team and may be more likely to help get other people involved too. You can ask it like this “Welcome to the team! Excited to have you here this season… Our fans enjoy the games that much more when their friends, family, and work colleagues are here with them. Who do you know in your personal and professional network that I can reach out to, that may also be interested in something like this?” Birds of a feather, right?

Tip #4 – Make it organic & lead with the “coolness” of the opportunity – I think the best referrals are the ones that are based on what you’ve learned about someone. If the family has kids, ask about that! How old, what do they like to do? What sports are they involved with? Maybe the family mentions the kid plays sports. Reference that later “I remember you mentioning your kid plays sports, I wanted to reach out because we just created this new program that gives youth sports teams the opportunity to come out to the game as a team and then potentially high five the players or play on the court… how open would the team be to something like that? If you reference a past conversation and lead with the experience, and show value, it comes across less salesy and that you’re looking out for them. You should be! You’re doing them a disservice if you don’t bring it up to them.

Tip #5 – Ask for a warm intro and/or to use their name – Names and numbers are great, warm introductions are even better! Don’t overthink this one, if they give you a name, thank them and ask “Would you be willing to introduce me to them via email/phone”? Position it as a benefit to them, “I want to be sure I make this super easy for you and answer any questions they may have.” That should always be our goal.

Tip #6 – Be more proactive – Ask for the person’s name and cellphone number if possible. Try and avoid the: “Let me talk to them and see if they’d be interested.” Position it as you want to make it easier for them and less time consuming, and assure them you aren’t going to hammer that person with a sales pitch (please don’t). Explain you just want to introduce yourself and have a quick conversation to see if we can ever help them out with anything. Don’t come across too salesy or they’ll be scared to pass the name along.

Tip #7 – Follow up on a great experience or on a past favor – These conversations are a little easier to have too. It’s the law of reciprocity. If we do something nice for someone, they’re a little more likely to do something nice for us. I used to follow up with my group buyers after their game to ensure they had a great experience. I’d ask if they’d do it again, they usually said yes, and then I’d ask for the referral, “Who are some other groups you know that’d be interested in this experience as well?” Or sometimes we give additional tickets to clients, or bonus them an extra gift. We’re always helping people. Of course, we do that because we care about them, but it’s ok to reference some of those things and ask them for help sometimes too. “I know I’ve helped you out in the past and could use your help today: I’m always trying to get connected to more <FANS, COLLEGUES, etc.> in this community, who are some people in your personal and professional network that you think I should reach out to?”

Tip #8 – The secret to referrals… Ask for them – I apologize if much of this is review. I sometimes feel bad when I’m training and I go over all these things, and I look at the room and I can tell the note taking has slowed and everyone is nodding like We’ve heard this before.... So I write the final key to getting referrals on the board and it’s always “Ask for them”. Then everyone nods in unison. Everyone acknowledges referrals are valuable and important, they generally know how to ask for them, but 90% or so agree that they don’t do it enough. So if you take one thing from this post, set a goal, set some reminders and hold yourself accountable to asking for referrals. If you do, I’m confident you’ll get more and it’ll grow your business exponentially. Good luck!

Bob Hamer

Founder & President
Sports Business Solutions