While I have never purchased a wedding dress, nor have I ever been to a bridal shop, I can still tell you all about the process. Several nights a week, I find myself returning home to find my girlfriend deep into another Say Yes to the Dress marathon on TV. The first few times this happened, I’ll admit I was a bit annoyed that our only television was being occupied by such mindless reality TV. However after a few minutes here and there watching over my girlfriend’s shoulder, I came to understand that wrapped in the dramatic, tear-filled shell, was an expert lesson in giving the perfect sales pitch. It was like watching masters at work, and I soon realized that I could take away some serious pointers. So many in fact, that I vowed the next time I went to pitch a potential sponsor, I’d pitch them like I’d pitch a wedding dress.
I vowed the next time I went to pitch a potential sponsor, I’d pitch them like I’d pitch a wedding dress.
So what makes the men and women on Say Yes to the Dress such incredible pitchmen, and how could it be applied to sponsorship proposals and pitches? Here are some of the key takeaways I’ve discovered:
Qualifying Your Leads
When the bride-to-be walks into the bridal boutique featured on Say Yes to the Dress, the staff immediately begins to qualify the lead. “When is the wedding?” “What are the colors?” “How many people are attending?” “What types of styles do you like and dislike?” “Do you have a budget in mind?” The more information they can glean at the outset, the more likely they are to find the right options to offer their prospect, say the right things, and seal the deal later in the process. And by getting this out of the way early, the salesperson will not be forced to ask difficult questions later, instead leaving them free to focus on their spectacular pitch (more on this later).
When it comes to contacting sponsorship leads, you should already be well down the road of lead qualification. The internet is a beautiful tool: use it to learn everything you can about your leads. What are their revenues streams? What’s their market position and target audience? What is their marketing strategy? And so on. Much like the bridal boutique, the more you can qualify at the start of your courtship process, the more freedom you’ll have later to focus on sealing the deal.
Finding the Decision Maker
Until I saw my first episode of Say Yes to the Dress, I had no idea how much of a communal process the act of buying a wedding dress could be. Moms, Mother-in-Laws, Sisters, Best Friends, Aunts, Cousins and more can all be seen at the shop helping the bride make one of the most important decisions of the wedding: the dress. And while it is certainly nice to have such a strong support group with you, more often than not this large family network ends up complicating the buying decision for the bride. The bride loves one dress but the mom loves another. Mom and bride love the dress, but the older yet-to-be-wed sister makes a snarky comment about the negative effect the dress has on the bride’s backside. Before long, the salesman is left trying to placate not just the bride, but 3, 4, or 5 other individuals as well! Needless to say this can get complicated, and quick.
Always the professional, the sales staff in these shops are excellent at using the brief moments alone with the bride in the dressing room to develop a clear understanding of who is really involved in making the final decision. Does the bride care about what her older sister said? Does she believe the comments from the Aunt? If she had to, could she make a decision that goes against the wishes of Mom? By leveraging these brief moments to their advantage, the strong salesman can determine that, in this particular situation, as long as the bride and Mom are happy, the dress is a good as sold. From that point on, all the attention, suggestions, and concessions are directed towards pleasing just two individuals v. the entire group of eight.
The same goes for sponsor leads as you work your way through the sales cycle. Unless you are dealing with a very small operation, it is quite likely that there are multiple decision makers that will need to sign off on your proposal, even if they are nowhere to be found during your initial conversations with the lead. Once you have sold your vision to your prospect, and you begin moving towards the close, it’s to your advantage to politely and tactfully ask questions that will allow you to determine if anyone else needs to be sold in order for the deal to be signed. As a consultant on a wide variety of sponsorship programs, we’ve found a lot of success framing questions with the word “team”. E.g.: “Are there any additional questions that you or your team have that I can answer?” “Is there additional information you’d like me to provide for your team?” This allows us to open up the conversations about others in the decision making process without implying that our particular lead does not possess the full decision making power.
Side Note: Never, EVER, try to circumvent your main contact at the company you are courting. Even if you come to learn that they do not hold the power to sign off on your proposal, you need them to become an advocate on your behalf. The more you can make them a champion of your cause and opportunity, the more they are going to fight for their bosses/owners to sign off on the deal. While it never hurts to ask your prospect if other individuals want to participate in calls, meetings, email chains, etc., the second you go behind your contact’s back in an effort to reach “the real decision maker,” you run a serious risk of upsetting your original lead, and having them go from advocate to opponent. Always remember: even if Mom needs to be sold on the dress to open up the checkbook, it’s never smart to go against the bride!
Painting a Vision with “The Story”
My favorite part of these wedding dress shows is when the sales staff eventually finds a dress that piques the bride’s interest. Because once they see that glimmer of hope that indicates they’ve found an option that might work for her, they immediately launch into what I call “The Story.”
What is “The Story”? The Story is the beautiful vision the saleswoman paints with her words, a vision that transports the bride to her big day. They start by bringing the bride from the dressing room to the showroom, so that the entire Bride Brigade can take part in the event. And believe you me, The Story is most certainly an event…
The salesman begins:
“Imagine: it’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning in May. You’re with all these wonderful women in your Bridal Suite at the church putting the finishing touches on your outfit. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. You’re a touch nervous, but more so excited that the big day is here. And after a year of planning, it’s finally time. The wedding party begins their walk down the aisle, and you meet your Dad at the back of the church, looking handsome as ever in his grey tuxedo. He kisses you on the cheek and tells you you’ve never looked more beautiful. Then the organ begins to blare, the doors swing open, and two hundred of your closest friends and relatives gasp as they see you in your dress for the very first time. You and your Dad begin your walk down the aisle, and as you reach the halfway point, you are finally able to make out your Fiancée standing at the alter. He looks more stunning than you imagined, and as you reach the front of the church and your dad gives you away, you smile knowing that this is the first day of the rest of your life with this wonderful man…
…Imagine that moment. Imagine that feeling. Now imagine yourself in this dress.”
Boom. Signed, sealed, and delivered.
At this point, the Mom, sisters and friends are crying, the bride is crying, and even the salesman is tearing up at the vision they have just painted. They have transitioned the bride’s mind from making an important and expensive purchasing decision (and all the stress that is part of such a process), and taken them straight to all the benefits and value. To the real reason they are there. After The Story, the bride can see her special day, and can see herself in that dress.
The first time I watched a member of the sales staff on Say Yes to the Dress deliver their version of “The Story”, my jaw about dropped. I had never seen such mastery with a pitch before. By the time they were finished, they had the bride, as well as all the other decision makers, begging them to buy the dress. And what’s even more impressive? They had yet to share the price! Now being the expert sales staff they are, they had already qualified the bride through their initial questioning earlier in the process, and undoubtedly picked options they knew would work within her relative price range. However you better believe that this dress, and most of the other ones I’ve seen play a part in “The Story”, are at the upper end of the range. And why shouldn’t they be? By the time they’ve finished painting their vision for the bride, price is almost a non-issue. That is THE dress now, and the bride will not be leaving without it.
Since watching this mastery unfold on TV, I have developed my own version of “The Story” when pitching sponsorship leads. And let me tell you – it works like magic!
Say for example I am consulting on sponsorships for a new outdoor festival. Most of our clients will have a general sponsorship proposal and pitch put together, one which follows the very standard format of “here’s out event, here are our sponsorship packages (Package #1 gets you x banner here, and Package #2 gets you y logo there), and here is what they cost.” Not a very clear vision painted there. More a trashy beach read than Hemmingway. But armed with my knowledge of the effectiveness of bridal shop sales staff, I work with our clients to develop their own version of “The Story.”
Soon enough, our client’s proposal and pitch is painting a true vision for their sponsor leads. They describe the emotions of their attendees, their backgrounds, their desires, and their pain points. They outline how guests will turn the corner upon entering the event, and will be greeted by the sponsor’s dedicated space on site, complete with the sponsor’s logo proudly displayed across the tent and banners. The team of sponsor brand representatives on site, all dressed in freshly-pressed branded polos, are smiling ear-to-ear as they engage thousands of festival guests throughout the day. They learn more about these individuals, expertly inserting the features and benefits of the sponsor’s product into their conversations. There is excitement and energy in the tent, as folks travel from across the festival grounds to grab one of the sponsor’s branded giveaway items, or trade their email address for a chance to win the killer prize package the sponsor is offering. And when the day is done and the last attendee is gone, the sponsor’s team celebrates their achievements of the day, which include face-to-face interaction with 7,500 guests, and capturing 10,000 emails that they can follow up with at a later date.
Which do you think is more effective, the standard “here are your sponsorship packages and this is what they cost”, or “The Story”? Even if you’re new to sponsorships, you most likely guessed the latter, and you would be correct. Whether painting a vision of a bride in her dress on a wedding day, or a sponsor’s incredibly productive day on-site at a festival, using “The Story” to transport your leads away from the purchasing decision and directly to the benefits of what your offering is an incredibly effective technique that can drastically improve your sales.
While unconventional at times, by now you should be able to see that there is quite a bit you can take away from watching Say Yes to the Dress. From qualifying leads, and finding the real decision makers, to transporting prospects through the use of “The Story,” the salesmen and women in the bridal industry are prime examples of the results that can be achieved through a consistent, well refined pitch strategy.
What do you think? Will you be able to take these strategies and apply them to your next sponsorship pitch?