Dearth of a Salesman?

Posted by in Asia, Commercial, Helen Soulsby, Sales

Forgive the terrible play on words and no gender comments needed, but Dearth of a Sales Person just didn’t have the same ring to it!

With the sports industry still evolving in Asia the pool of home grown talent is still relatively small and no function reflects this more than in sales. Here at SRi in Asia, we estimate that over half of our new assignments are with clients seeking commercial partnerships or sales talent.

Identifying and attracting experienced sponsorship sales or marketing partnerships professionals in the Asian region is and will continue to be a challenge. Sales is not generally seen as a credible career choice, let alone a preferred choice for many Asia educated candidates and this is accentuated where the pressure to work for established brands and have a ‘stable’ career is culturally ingrained. Add to this the fact that the sports market in Asia is so young; candidates who have multiple years of experience selling, by definition, are in short supply.

But is selling in Asia really different to selling anywhere else in the world? And how are we working to grow the pool so our clients can grow their revenues?

The core principles of selling don’t really change from country to country. Successful partnership sales people listen; they find out what the need is or what challenges the company wants to overcome or what opportunity they want to exploit. They create rapport easily; they are someone the client wants to spend time with; they are an expert in their field.

But the sophistication of the sports business and in particular the sports sponsorship area in Asia does affect how the sale progresses and creates very specific challenges.

Adrian Staiti, current Senior VP of Global Partnerships at World Sport Group, now based in Singapore and with 12 years sales experience in the US suggests:

“In Asia, it’s a much slower process, so thorough explanation of the asset is required, and more importantly an extensive outline of the benefits the investment will bring is needed – to the point where the seller has to educate and really ‘bring to life’ how it will help the company achieve something good!”

Often the buyer will have limited knowledge of how sponsorships work and how they can be activated to achieve specific business objectives which mean that educating brands is essential and an integral part of the sales director’s role.

Staiti also suggests that the ‘norm’ is that there tends not to be a specific sponsorship budget which in turn means that you have to pull from other budgets. It is therefore essential to communicate and build relationships with a wide subset of your prospective client’s colleagues, bosses, and other stakeholders.

Finding the true decision maker also appears to be a little more complex. In many Asian countries where companies may have an element of national ownership or government involvement, the decision is often made by committee, “this makes the decision very complex”, adds Staiti, “and not at all linear, so keeping track on the status of the decision is essential and requires patience and keeping a close eye on maintaining momentum in the decision making process.”

So with demand for talent with ‘on the ground’ experience (in Asia) selling sports or entertainment partnerships outstripping supply… what’s the solution?

We have seen a clear trend in clients being open to sourcing proven sales professionals from B2B environments which have structured sales processes, a depth and breadth of contacts and a passion to move into our growing industry. The high profile and perceived “sexiness” of sport combined with a general acceptance that “sport is no longer just a game” helps in attracting new talent to sport.

However, the downside is the relatively long sales cycle can be frustrating for candidates when switching from a more tactical and shorter cycle; this is where we need to drill down on an individuals ability to transfer their skills and to juggle a pipeline of potential partnerships all at differing stages of the ‘sale’. It goes without saying that those with experience selling more intangible solutions rather than physical products tend to be able to make this transfer more easily.

While candidates with a track record in sales in sport are generally preferred by clients, the Asian region does not have the luxury of a deep and broad pool of talent just waiting to be selected. With rights holders and agencies targeting brands to invest in high value long term deals; candidates who have lived and breathed this in whatever industry now have the potential to make it in sport.

The good news is that for those who have successfully made the transition into the sports market have fast and highly rewarding careers. Our contribution to the ever increasing sophistication of sport is to help candidates achieve this transition.

About the Author: Helen Soulsby – Director, Asia

Managing teams in Singapore and Beijing, Helen’s role is to drive performance and growth in the APAC business through partnering with clients to deliver executive search assignments, as well as advising on executive board structures to best lead overall business strategy. The APAC team has built a reputation as the leading business in the region in delivering multi-hire projects that enable sports businesses to launch in the APAC region with maximum impact.