6 lessons I wish I learned earlier about selling in sports

by ian tasso - Manager, Premium Sales - NFL On Location, Super Bowl LIV
July 09, 2019

Shortly after graduating college - ages ago it seems - I packed my life up in a Toyota Camry and drove from Boston to Las Vegas to begin my sports career. I had no family or friends there, and really no clue what I was getting myself into – just me, my Camry, and a roll of the dice (bad Vegas pun intended).

I’m sure I’m not alone. I bet many of you have been in that very same spot; or might even be in it right now. Regardless, we all know sometimes to get what you want – especially in an uber-competitive industry like sports – you have to take risks.

For some, that might mean moving to a different state. For others, it might mean doing a job you never thought you’d do; I vividly recall dressing up as Las Vegas’ mascot, a large green bull, more times than I care to share. Regardless of how the journey starts, there are a lot of valuable lessons to be learned – especially in your first few years.

Here are six key lessons I eventually learned, but wish I knew a long time ago.

#1 – Don’t Get Too Emotional

It’s good to have a passion in sales. In fact, truly caring about your job and your product is probably the biggest success driver in the industry.

With that said, there’s an important balance to be struck.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was to never get too high – or too low – when you’re selling. Maintain a constant flight pattern and you’ll be surprised by how much further you’ll get.

I’m not saying don’t celebrate your successes, because you should. But when you’re going great, there’s a tendency to let off the gas a little – sometimes even subconsciously. Then two weeks later your pipeline is dried up, and suddenly, you’re cold for the next month.

Conversely, when you’re going cold, you cannot let yourself get discouraged and pull up – otherwise a two-week slump turns into a two-month slump and then you’re in trouble. In fact, when you’re cold, it’s a great time to reflect, get some new blood in the pipeline, and get after it.

I often see reps put a ton of stock into one or two big pending sales. Then what happens? They don’t come in, and the week is ruined. They spend 2 hours replaying the pitch meeting in their mind, another hour on Facebook, and one more scrolling through pictures of them and their prospect on their phone while Titanic music plays in the background (OK maybe not that last one, but you get the point).

The key is to stay consistent, because at the end of the day, you’re not getting your dream job because you closed that one account. You will, however, turn some heads if you can do it consistently, maintaining a great attitude along the way.

There will be hundreds of sales that you make in your career – and thousands more that fall through even though you thought they were slam-dunks. But no matter what happens today, I promise you will go to bed tonight, wake up tomorrow, strap on your boots and get another chance to prove yourself again.

Don’t ever forget that.

#2 - Work-Life Balance is Crucial

Make no mistake about it: if you’re not working hard, you will not succeed in sports. Period. First one in, last one out, all that good stuff.

But you already know that. So, let me tell you something you may never hear in this industry.

Work-Life balance might be the most important thing in sales.

“Woah. Wait a minute, Ian. I thought the only way to be successful in sports was to make cold calls in my underoos until I pass out at midnight?”

Look - sales is a mindset (and you should never make cold-calls in your underoos). The most successful people I know are happy, confident, and love their lives. It is absolutely, positively, impossible to be any of those things if you’re not enjoying your life outside of work.

Have you ever had a pitch meeting when you’re in a bad mood? I bet it didn’t go well.

It’s very easy in sales to feel like you should always be working – there’s always more companies to call and more emails to send. But I’ve found that when I’m balanced and not overdoing it, I’m much more productive with the time I do spend working.

Be cognizant of how you’re using your time in the office – and even more-so of how you’re using it at home. Sales is not a sprint. If you’re reading this, you’re probably hoping to be in sports for a long time. Getting burnt out in your first few years is not a great way to do that.

Am I telling you not to answer an important email after hours, or stay that extra 45 minutes to crank out a few more calls? Of course not – I built my career on those things. I am simply telling you to stay aware of your schedule.

Go to bed at a decent time. Enjoy your off days. Work your tail off when you’re at the office - but set aside 30 minutes every morning to work out and make your avocado toast (or whatever it is people do nowadays). You will be much more successful – and happy - I promise.

#3 - Team Performance Does Not Matter

I loved rooting for my teams when I first started, and I’m certainly not discouraging against that. It’s probably one of the best perks of working in sports.

But you hear it all the time in sales: “control the controllables.” Wins and losses, as much fun as they are to root for, are the definition of an uncontrollable.

Will they help you sell a few more tickets? Sure. Will they make your calls easier? Sometimes. But is it going to make you a better salesperson and help advance your career?

No, it’s not.

When I worked in Las Vegas, we were the worst team in the league my final year. Historically bad. We only made the playoffs because one team folded a month before postseason, and they needed 8 teams for a full bracket.

Then when I moved on to the Braves, who had made the playoffs 99 years straight (I think), they traded away their whole roster during my first year and started over. The two years I was there they went a combined 135-188.

But at no point can you let that affect you. If anything, see it as an opportunity to make yourself stand out. When everyone else is struggling while the team flounders, you’ll be setting records. When your peers are disappointed the team lost again and can’t convince people to buy because they can’t even convince themselves - you’re too busy to care because you’re making calls.

Enjoy the wins. If you’re lucky enough to be part of a championship team, savor it. But don’t let it affect how you work.

Trust me: if you can learn how to sell a product nobody wants, you’ll succeed wherever you go. Take that from a guy who sold AA Hockey in the desert for 3 years – and sometimes dressed up as a green cow.

#4 Cold Call Like Nobody is Watching

Too often I see reps – especially younger ones – worried about what everyone else will think while they’re on the phone.

Look, you’re going to have some bad calls. I still have them.

Who. Cares.

This job is already hard enough, there’s no need to make it harder by adding unnecessary pressure. The team does not have a tap on your phone, and they won’t be replaying your bad calls on the video board during halftime tonight. I promise.

It’s all part of the business! Take the bad calls in stride, don’t take them personal, and move on to the next one. Ask yourself why that call went so bad, and then adjust. Then pick up the phone and dial again.

#5 Act like a Human Being on the Phone

Here’s the reality of our job: 90% of prospects you call will immediately put up a wall the second they know you’re a salesperson. It is what it is.

The best way to knock that wall down? Don’t act like a salesperson - just be a regular human being. The more natural you are on the phone, the better the calls will be. It’s as simple as that.

Be normal. Be conversational. Be professional of course, but don’t be cheesy and salesy. Your prospects will see right through it, they’ll begin to dread your calls, and your numbers will suffer.

You work in sports, not insurance. Act like it. If robots could sell tickets, we wouldn’t have jobs. But they can’t (not yet anyway….) so be personable, get to know your prospects, and have fun on the phone; it’ll make your calls much easier, and your success rate much higher.

#6 Be Yourself

I know, I know; save the cheesiest for last. But hear me out.

Throughout my career, I’ve come across managers and sales trainers alike who want to bend you into a sales robot because the principles that made them successful are the best ones. But here’s the thing – everybody sells differently.

What works for you might not work for someone else – and what works for them, might not work for you.

Don’t spend your early years trying to morph yourself into somebody else. All you’ll end up doing is spinning your tires and taking the fun out of the job.

Sponge everything up that you possibly can. Learn from your manager. Learn from the trainers they bring in. Learn from the reps sitting next to you – the ones who are better than you, and especially the ones who are not.

Take little tidbits from each-and-every one of them – but don’t use them to reinvent your process. Use them to help refine what you do and make it better.

Nobody knows you better than you do. You know your strengths, and as you progress in this industry, you’ll become very familiar with your weaknesses. Use them both to your advantage, and never stop tweaking things as you learn.

Ultimately, you want to become the best version of yourself - not just another version of someone else.

Remember – they hired you for a reason. Don’t leave that person behind.

  • Ian

Ian Tasso has more than 5 years of successful premium sales experience with teams like Van Wagner Sports and Entertainment, the Atlanta Braves, and now with the NFL on location, where he sells premium inventory for some of the NFL's biggest events, including the Super Bowl. He's very knowledgeable about sports and sales and we're lucky to have him contribute his thoughts to theClubhouse. You can learn more about Ian on his LinkedIN profile here.