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The Cold, Hard Math of Sponsor Acquisition

Published By Kristin DirtyMouth Communications     May 3, 2016    


Sponsorship, in particular finding marketing partners, is one of the most popular topics on this blog and with my coaching clients, so it’s only natural that I get questions on that process frequently.

Today, I’d like to talk about the sponsorship outreach process, and the questions that I get on that, including some variation of:

  • How many emails do I need to send to get a sponsor?
  • I’ve sent emails and haven’t gotten a response. What do I do?
  • Should I follow-up from those I haven’t heard back from?

These are great questions. I’m all about actually taking action, and all of these questions imply that you’re already doing that.

My hat is off to you.

Unfortunately for anyone who doesn’t share my love of calculus, I’m going to answer this question with math. #NotSorry

If you have a goal, whether that’s a dollar amount you need to reach or a number of partners you’d like to work with, that’s obviously the number you want to work backwards from, whether that’s in initial outreach (Question #1) or follow-up (Questions #2 and #3).

For this exercise, let’s assume it’s one. Yep, just one, fantastic, voracious, enthusiastic partner that you can knock it out of the park for. Who will tell all of their business friends about. And love you forever. (Doesn’t sound bad, does it?)

So, the real question is: how do you get to that one?

Conversion Rates

In order to get to your one, you have to understand the concept of conversion rates. A conversion rate is the percentage of actions taken on an offer or another action.

For example, if 10 customers enter a store and see an offer and one person buys that product, the conversion rate is 10%.

Conversion rates are generally used to describe the buying process because you are converting a non-customer into a customer, but we can use it here to refer to a number of buy-ins. Just remember, it’s the number of actions taken in response to another action or offer.

Outreach Process

So, how do we apply that to our outreach process? Each action that we take is going to be met with a conversion rate.

Let’s talk about what that looks like for us in the sponsorship search:

  • For each initial email sent, only a certain percentage of recipients will even open it. That’s your ‘open rate’. You won’t know what your open rate is until you start sending emails. Lots of them. And tracking that. (There are a number of ways to do that, including using a service like MailChimp or a GMail plugin.) For example, MailChimp says that the sports industry gets an average open rate of 26.03%. So, if you send out 100 emails, 26 people will open them.
  • Of the people who open those emails, a certain percent will take the next action you ask of them. Is it to email you back? Call you? Click on a link for more information? Whatever you want them to do next, only a certain percentage will actually do that. As the ask gets bigger (for example, it’s easier to click a link than pick up the phone and call you), the percentage will go down. MailChimp says that the sports industry sees a 3.5% click rate. So, of those 100 initial emails, only roughly four people will click on a link.
  • Every step beyond this has a conversion rate, so you need to consider it. Are you requesting a meeting? Are you asking for more information to submit a proposal? Only a certain percentage of the people will jump through that hoop and do the work you’re asking them to do, whether that’s giving you time, information, attention or money.
So, how many do you need to reach out to to get your one? That all depends on your conversion rates. Those are different for everyone, and you really won’t know until you start trying.

Let’s say your conversion rate drops by 5% per action for very rough illustration purposes:

  1. Initial email: 1,000 sends – 26% open rate – 260 opens
  2. Email response: 260 opens – 21% response rate – 60 responses
  3. Response converts to meeting/proposal presentation: 60 responses – 16% meeting schedule rate – 10 meetings
  4. Buys from presentation: 10 meetings – 11% conversion rate – 1 new marketing partner
Terrifying to think about sending 1,000 emails to get to your one? Fingers hurting in anticipation? Already scheduling your Lasik appointment?

Fret not. There’s one other thing we’re not talking about:

Conversion Optimization

If you’re already thinking that there ought to be a big difference in open rate between the intelligently crafted emails you’re sending to perfectly aligned potential partners and the spammy cartoon chain letters Aunt Marge sends your entire DNA pool (seven years of bad luck! *forwards*), then you’re bang on, my friend.

That’s called ‘conversion optimization’.

See, well-crafted emails are going to get a better response rate than poorly-crafted ones. Easy calls-to-action get a better response rate than emails that ask someone to jump through a flaming hoop with a suitcase of the money you’re requesting in all quarters while avoiding the hungry lion on the other side.

So, if that 1,000 potential partners scares you, or if you want to work with more than one marketing partner, you can focus on one of two things:

  • Increasing the number of people you reach out to, or
  • Doing better outreach.
Which is also known as ‘increasing your conversion rate’.

If your conversion rate was 30% on email opens, then you’d have 40 more prospects who will potentially call you back. Increasing any one of those conversion rates will make a big difference in your overall sponsor acquisition process.

So how do you increase your conversion rate?

Here are ten things you can do to increase your conversions at any point in the process:

  1. Reaching out to relevant marketing partners
  2. Testing email subject lines
  3. Finding the right person in the company to reach out to
  4. Using an email address like [email protected] instead of a GMail or Hotmail address <- more professional = more responses. And spell check. I could grammar and professional image you for DAYS.
  5. Keeping it short, and easy for them to understand what you’re asking them to do
  6. Testing the actual calls-to-action
  7. Customizing your email with research and details about them instead of you
  8. Relating your offer to what they actually need for their business (Need help with this? You might like our premium Crafting and Valuing Offerings Workshop.)
  9. Cohesive branding across your channels, from email to social media, your website and car design
  10. Presenting better, more professional proposals (Need help with this? You might want our premium Creating Effective Proposal Training.)
And, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, if you’re doing outreach and not getting any responses, there are two things you can consider:

  • You need to reach more people, and/or
  • You can improve your outreach.
And, by all means, if you have reached out to someone who you feel is the PERFECT fit for your team and haven’t heard back? Follow-up with them in a polite, non-invasive way. Once. You have no idea how many emails people get every single day, and most people don’t have the intention of just ignoring you. A friendly reminder can help them respond to an email that they meant to hit reply on, but just didn’t have the time.

Do you like math now? Still no? Don’t fault an engineer for trying, but as long as you still like racing, that’s fine with me.


About the author
Kristin Swartzlander is passionate about applying business sense to racing 'nonsense' in hopes of growing the sport of dirt track racing. She is a business strategist who works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them learn how to use public relations, marketing and social media to achieve their goals. Learn more about social media, marketing and racing sponsorship on the DirtyMouth blog.

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