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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on July 21, 2021. It featured St. Louis City SC Ticket Sales and Service Vice President Edmound Elzy.]
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EDMOUND’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Think about the margins. That’s something that’s not really a step but an example of what I’m talking about, if you’re making cold calls, what time of day are you calling? What’s the time that people are going to typically pick up the phone versus times that they don’t? Make sure you push calls into that time.
If it’s a 5% difference and that increases your chances that you’re going to get somebody 5% in the long run and it increases your sales, there’s margins like that all across the board throughout the sales process. Whether it’s email, whether it’s social, whether it’s how you present, how you frame things, how you say things. There’s all kinds of things that you can take advantage of. Just think about little areas like that where you can get better.”
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Fred Diamond: The frequent listeners of the Sales Game Changers podcast know that I always get excited when I have somebody from the sports world. Today, we have Edmound and he’s the VP of Ticket Sales and Service for the new professional soccer team in St. Louis City SC. Edmound, it’s great to have you here. The team is going to start playing in March 2023. You were going to start playing in March 2022 but of course, with COVID and the pandemic, you pushed things back a year.
We’ve had VPs of Sales from basketball teams, from the Washington Wizards and the Capitals. I’m excited to talk to you, first of all, because I really enjoy the whole process of selling sports, especially to a new city. As we talked about, I just recently completed a road trip and I went through Saint Louis, so I actually drove past the area of downtown where your stadium is going to be. First off, it’s great to see you.
Thank you so much for being on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do and then tell us a little bit about the team and some of the key dates? Then we’ll get specific on how you’re leading sales.
Edmound Elzy: Thank you for having me, it’s great to be here. For me, I’m the Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service. What that means is obviously I run every revenue line item for the ticket sales team for Saint Louis City SC. For us, being an expansion team and I was the first guy on the ground, we’re just building from scratch. We’re building up our staff, we’re building up all our processes, we’re seeding people selling any way we can and trying to figure things out. That’s where we’re at.
Some of the key dates for us is March ‘23 is going to be our first season. We expect our stadium to be done next year, next summer sometime. Hopefully, we’ll have some events there. Another big date for us is actually going to be March ’22, well have our MLS 2 team that will start play and we’re not sure on location and dates and all that stuff. That will be the first actual professional team that will represent Saint Louis City SC in the marketplace. Really excited about that, we’re going through our seat selection process right now so I know we’re going to get into that, but that’s the gist of it right now.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about Saint Louis for a second here. Saint Louis, of course, has a rich history of sports and great baseball team and obviously a great hockey team with the Blues. Why is a professional soccer team coming to Saint Louis?
Edmound Elzy: Saint Louis is a pretty unique city with soccer. We say SC means Soccer Club but we also say it means Soccer Capital because it was one of the first cities in the United States that really have soccer in the community brought in from the European immigrants that were here back in the ‘40s. In 1950, a USA team was actually the team that beat England and they had 6 or 7 people from Saint Louis on that team. Then Saint Louis University and Southwestern Illinois are the two close schools, they were loaded with all-time soccer players during that period.
What’s unique about Saint Louis, you talk to people about soccer and it’s not like I think in a lot of cities, a lot of folks are like, “My kids play soccer and they play for the Youth Team” or things like that. All age groups, they grew up playing soccer so from 1 to 70, they have this relationship with it and it’s pretty amazing. It’s in the foundation of the city already, it’s in the culture so it made perfect sense that the MLS would come to the city. Honestly, it took too long. They’ve been trying to get a team for a long time and this is a city that should have had a soccer team 20 years ago.
Fred Diamond: A lot of your background, you worked for the Orange Bowl, you also spent about 8 years with the Indiana Pacers in basketball. What prompted you to take advantage of this opportunity? Again, you were a basketball guy, you played basketball in college, we were talking about before. What is it about this opportunity that drove you to Saint Louis?
Edmound Elzy: It’s a slam dunk opportunity. It starts with ownership, we have ownership here with the Taylor family, Jim Kavanaugh, minority owner. They’re doing it for the right reasons, a privately funded project. They’re doing it for the city to try to bring the city together, revitalizing area downtown that definitely needs it. That was #1. Just the way Enterprise Rent-A-Car does their business and the way that whole culture is really helped me think that this might be a good move.
Then just knowing some of the things about soccer, about MLS and just the way it’s growing. It’s really tough to be involved in an expansion team, you just don’t get those kinds of opportunities. It really just made sense. I was living in Florida and I said, look, the only downside for me is I’m losing out on some weather, but other than that, it’s a slam dunk. That’s the reason why I was super interested and I came out here.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about it from a sales perspective. How are things going? What are some of the key priorities right now? We’re doing today’s interview in the summer of 2021 so you’re not going to start playing for about 17, 18 months here, maybe a little bit longer. What are some of the key priorities from a sales perspective?
Edmound Elzy: For us, we’re interesting because we have a lot of demand, we’re blessed. We did our first deposit campaign on September 16th, last year and we set an MLS record with the amount of seats reserved for 50,000 in a single day. We had a nice demand of tickets which is unique in my career, I’ve never really worked for a team with demand or a product that people want, I always joke about that. This is the first thing, that people are really interested.
A big part of us is like, okay, people understood, but we do have some products that are pretty pricy when you talk about suites and you talk about lodges and we’re asking for long-term commitments and things like that. A priority for us is making sure that we can explain that value and why you want to be in with the team right now and why that price makes sense for what you’re trying to do. If you have a business, how it can be an asset to your business. If you’re a soccer fan, why do you want to do this right now? Just really making sure that the fan base and prospects understand that and going from there.
Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about that. We talk about value on almost every Sales Game Changers podcast and webcast that we do. What would be the value for a corporation to want to invest in the soccer team?
Edmound Elzy: You’re a sports fan. As you know, when you get a ticket, it’s more than just a ticket. It’s access to something and it invokes feelings, it gives you opportunities with relationships to build relationships, things like that. Some of the things that we always hit are some of those key stakeholders and the business’ perspective.
Whether it’s your customer, whether it’s your prospect, whether it’s your employees or whatever. Things that you can use them for to really improve those relationships. Or even potentially, if it’s a sales process, it maybe can shrink that sales process because it makes it a little bit easier to spend time with people and be in touch with people. Maybe they’ll think about you first because you brought them to a game or an event that they enjoy. That’s the very nature of sports, so that’s the #1 sales pitch.
Then we try to build little things around it where we think we can add additional value. For example, with our suites, we allow our suite holders to use their suites on off-days. If they want to do a meeting in a suite, we’ll do that. Imagine having a really good prospect that’s a big soccer fan, really cool thing to do a lunch in a suite, maybe we can do a tour, maybe we can walk around some really VIP spots. That can help and be a business development tool for your company. That’s the way we’re trying to think about it.
Obviously, it’s a new team. People are excited, soccer’s going to be hot but we want to make sure of the fact that this product is useful for you and that you’re going to get a lot of value, so it doesn’t matter how good the team is, how bad the team is, how new the team is. You’ll look at our product and be like, this is going to give me a lot of value, and that’s what we’re going for.
Fred Diamond: Congratulations. Selling something brand-new, and you said you had all this demand. One question I always ask the sports guys who sell ticket sales is, is it easier to sell when the team’s doing well or is it easier to sell when the team’s not doing well? I’m just curious on your perspective on that. We’re doing today’s interview, last night the Milwaukee Bucks won the MBA Championship, so it’s probably a decent time to be a sales rep for the Milwaukee Bucks right now. But just curious, you were with the Pacers for a long time. What is your perspective on that?
Edmound Elzy: There’s a lot of variables, obviously. It depends on what phase your team is in, if your team is always doing well, eventually the market may get used to that and they may not be as excited about it anymore. If maybe you have a good rookie but your team is not very good, maybe people are really excited about that.
When I started with the Indiana Pacers, one of the things that I laugh about now is I was just so excited to get a job in MBA selling tickets, but we were last place in the MBA and probably the least interesting team in the MBA as well. That was hard, that was a grind and that was during the 2008 recession [laughs]. I can’t imagine a tougher sales environment than that one. I’ll always say that’s going to be the toughest it gets, is to have a team that people just don’t care about, they’re not passionate about.
Whether they’re good or bad, just the apathy is the thing you don’t want. If your team is bad and people have an opinion, that’s not the worst thing in the world. If you’re good, they’re into it, that’s not the worst thing in the world. But the apathy is the toughest thing.
Fred Diamond: You’ve been in sports tickets sales for your whole career, we’ve got a lot of people who listen to the Sales Game Changers podcast, who watch the show live. What would be some of the characteristics of someone who would be successful selling sports tickets, either corporate or individual box and the whole thing?
Edmound Elzy: It’s definitely evolved, just like everybody. This is nothing that anybody who’s been selling doesn’t know, but when I started 10, 12 years ago, there was a lot more cold calling and people weren’t carrying their emails with them all the time. They weren’t on social like they are, they were maybe calling people back on voicemail. Whatever the case may be, it was just a different sales process.
Now, the successful sales folks that I’ve seen, they do a really good job of mastering each skill set in all those different verticals. There’s different ways that people like to be contacted and people respond differently to different ways. You have to be good at that and you also have to understand that you’re a marketer, you have to get people’s attention so that’s the first step. The other part of this is obviously the educational part of this and closing.
Folks who can really master each step of the sales process and focus in on that, those are the people that are the best to me. They’re conscious of it and they’re constantly investing on it, they’re working on it. Those are the folks that have had the most success in my time.
Fred Diamond: We have a question that’s coming in from Martin, and Martin wants to know who you sell to on the corporate side. That’s interesting, the Sales Game Changers podcast is really complex selling, B2B is what we typically handle here. Usually in B2B and corporate sales there’s not just one person, there might be multiple people. As you start going out there into Saint Louis on the corporate side, who are you selling to? Is it the sales leader, is it marketing, is it HR? I’m just curious who you’re directing your team to focus on.
Edmound Elzy: We start at the top. We’re starting at the C-level if we can. Luckily for us and our product, because sports is something that any industry can use sports tickets in my mind. There are sports fans in any company, any type of business or whatever but we’re thinking about decision-makers and who can really say yes to these expensive line items, and that’s always the C-suite. Depending on the company, you may not start at the CEO of a $20 billion company because you’re not going to get them. But we’re trying to figure out who’s the best person, the highest person that we can potentially get a meeting with.
Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Rich. The question is, “I’m not really a big soccer fan but I love sports. Is this an opportunity for me?” What are your thoughts on that? Again, you played college basketball. You told us before and you also were with the Pacers for 8 years and now you’re talking about soccer which you told us why, you’re excited about that. But do you need to be passionate about the sport to be successful? What’s your understanding of that and how have you seen that play out over the years?
Edmound Elzy: The answer is no, you don’t have to be passionate about the sport. I wasn’t a soccer person, I’m learning a lot about the game right now as I’m working with the team. I started watching the English Premier League a little bit a couple years ago, just something to do in the morning and it was interesting. I like soccer in general, but I couldn’t tell you any of the strategy, why any team’s good, I don’t know that.
But when it comes to the crux of the business with ticket sales, all that stuff, it’s no different than regular selling. There’s some variety in maybe how you pitch it or how you present or prosecting or whatever, but there’s no difference there. Once you can understand that portion of the business, you can work for any sport you want. You don’t have to necessarily be really passionate about soccer, basketball, whatever. I was blessed that my first sports job was in basketball and I’m a big MBA fan, but other than that, it didn’t really make any difference.
Fred Diamond: A question comes in here about coaching people. You had to build the team and you’re going to be obviously building a larger team as you get closer. How are you coaching people? It’s also an interesting time too. We’re doing today’s show in the middle of the summer of 2021, a lot of people listening today are still working from home. Not a lot of people in the B2B world have gone back to the office yet, we’re still in the pandemic side. How are you coaching junior people? It doesn’t have to be your team right now, maybe it’s in general. How would you coach junior people right now to be successful? It could be in sports or B2B in general, and how you’re coaching senior people right now if they were to ask you, Edmound, give us some of your advice on how we can be more successful right now.
Edmound Elzy: It’s an interesting time. We were blessed because of us being so far ahead that we got to pretend like we were a normal team and just sell tickets. We didn’t have to deal with a lot of the COVID stuff where we’ve been in offices February and we pushed it because we were a new team and nobody really knew each other. We made a point to get back in the office. A lot of the coaching, luckily for me, I’ve had a chance to do one-on-one with our team and work with them, and things like that.
For junior people, my advice to them and really anybody is get an understanding of what the sales process really means. I think when you first start out and you don’t really understand how selling works, it just feels like revenue just falls out of thin air for some people and for others it doesn’t, but it’s not like that. It’s obviously a process and everything that you do affects the odds of you getting a sale. You want to do the things that increase the odds that you can get a sale.
Certain things like being better at email and doing emails that get a 25% answer rate versus something that has a 10% rate. Let’s figure those margins out, there are margins all over the board that can help you increase your revenue and increase your close rate and all that stuff. Getting people thinking like that and that analytical mind state of certain things that do have effects on me getting a sale, certain energy output and all that stuff. That’s the #1 thing.
When I was at the Orange Bowl, one of my big jobs was to hire and retrain an inside sales team every year and I only had them for 6 to 8 months. It was a short burst of we’ve got to get you going, we’ve got to get you trained. The biggest thing I focused there was good habits, let’s get your right intentions, your energy, your phone calls, your emails, let’s just build good habits. Then obviously, you’re not going to become an amazing salesperson in 6 months, but if you start building that foundational habit that you can take with you anywhere, that’s a good start. That’s the #1 thing with the younger people.
For anybody that’s a senior, obviously it’s just learning that skill set and keep investing in yourself, reading more, trying to figure out ways to get better. In this ever-changing landscape of new technologies and new ways to get people to buy stuff, we just have to continue to figure it out.
Fred Diamond: I want to talk to you about urgency. Again, you’re going to be starting play in March, 2023. You talked about the great demand there is right now and Saint Louis is obviously an amazing sports town. I told you I drove through Saint Louis last week as part of a longer trip and love the energy, people are itching now as we come hopefully towards the end of the pandemic to get out there. Talk about urgency in your sales process right now because there’s a good chance you’re going to be selling everything out, hopefully, for your sake, you’ve still got 17 months before the season starts, for play to begin. Talk about urgency and the message and how you’re directing your people to get that across as well.
Edmound Elzy: For us, even though we’re so far away from playing a single game, the urgency of the deposit campaign really helps us. We advertise, we have so many deposits and a lot of people that are interested in this, that really helps us leverage things where if somebody doesn’t buy this, if you don’t buy this now, there’s a chance this may never come across again.
Another way we build urgency is by being aggressive in our terms, in our pricing. A lot of our suites, they’re long-term, they’re 6, 8, 10, 12 years so if you don’t take this opportunity now, it won’t open up for 6, 8, 10, 12 years. You won’t get it again until then and in this case, because we don’t play for 2 years, that’s 8 years from now that you’re looking at the nearest opportunity to get the seat or suite or whatever the case may be.
We leverage those two things pretty heavily as far as pushing people to make decisions. Obviously, we’re blessed where we have a lot of demand and people understand that, so they’ve been really effective in helping us close business that way.
Fred Diamond: You’ve done a lot of work during the pandemic working from home. What are some of the positive things that have come out of the last year? Again, you’ve only been there for a relatively short amount of time, it’s a brand-new opportunity. I like your answer, by the way, that from your perspective and from your team’s perspective, this is a brand-new, fresh opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. There aren’t too many expansion teams starting, especially in a great city like Saint Louis and a sport for the first time.
But at the same time for your customers as well, it’s an opportunity to get in early with something. It’s interesting, we talk to a lot of tech sales professionals and selling tech that’s brand-new, customers aren’t always that interested in getting in early. There’s a big risk with being an early adopter, but for something like what you’re selling, to get great seats and big, beautiful, fresh, new stadium, that’s got to be a great selling point right there.
What are some of the positive things that have come out of the pandemic side of sales for you and your team?
Edmound Elzy: One interesting thing is typically you build a sale center, you build a display of what a suite’s going to look like, what a luxury box is going to look like and you build it in this central location. Typically, we’ll have appointments and bring people down and all that stuff and that’s what would have happened. If we didn’t have the pandemic, we wouldn’t have invested a lot of money in something like that. With the pandemic, it made us a little bit more flexible where we just did everything virtually, and the thing that helped us is that a lot of people were used to doing this already.
We’ve hand-held people through the process because we’ve had so much time, we’ve gone really slow as far as seating people, seat selection. We’ll do one-on-one’s and here are all the seats, you pick the best one that’s available, and all that stuff. That’s something that we couldn’t have done if we didn’t have the pandemic, and that’s changed the whole sales process.
That’s for everybody where there’s going to be a big mix of virtual appointments along with once we start doing a little more face-to-face which will come around. But the virtual aspect of this has been great and we’ve invested in that in some of our tech stack where we’ve got a 3D digital venue that we use, that’s pretty standard but it’s a big help for us. We use Digideck as a presentation software and just started building our whole sales operation around that.
Fred Diamond: You’ve worked with a lot of sales professionals in your career. What are they doing wrong? If you could give a general perspective on what you see people doing wrong, what might be some of those things?
Edmound Elzy: Number one thing I think – and this is speaking specifically for my industry – is that our product can be transactional in the fact that going to a Blues game, going to a Cardinals game, going to our game, it’s unique in that specific experience but you can also make it a commodity as well with sports tickets and things like that. The way you frame it all depends on how the customer’s going to receive it and I do think that sometimes, reps in our industry tend to fall into the, it’s tickets, it’s like going to the game, versus speaking going back to the value point.
What specifically can our organization, our experience do for your company, for you personally and all that stuff? Really make it relate to that customer a little bit more. That’s one thing I catch reps and myself even sometimes thinking about, okay, this is more than just a ticket. This isn’t transactional, this isn’t me just signing you up for tickets. This is a different thing, this is time with your customer, time with your prospect and it’s soccer. The best soccer city in the country, this is what you’re getting. Really framing it that way so it is that one-of-a-kind purchase that people would really enjoy.
Fred Diamond: I have a question for you about that as well, and that’s a great answer. This isn’t, “I’m selling 10 tickets.” It’s, “I’m building a relationship with a company.” The team’s going to be around, sports teams are around, it’s very rare that a sports team is only around for a year, two or three or something. Especially with a city like Saint Louis with such a huge tradition with the Blues and of course, the baseball Cardinals.
The whole concept that if you’re committed to your career, you’re developing a long-term relationship here. If you get a couple great customers that really get the value and you show them that, I love what you said before that the suite is good not just on game days. There’s nothing better than going into a sports venue and seeing the field, no matter what the sports venue is. Basketball stadium, baseball, football, a horse racing track.
The ability to be in that environment, customers don’t get that opportunity all the time. If they’re at the C-level and they’re people we talked about, they’re probably sports fans. Especially some of the people you’re going after and especially if they’re deep into the city culture. But there’s still a thrill every time you walk into a stadium, especially on an off-day.
Edmound Elzy: I agree, and it’s something that you can get calloused to when you work in sports but I always get reminded any time you do a tour or something like that and they’re like, “This is cool” because you’ve never been in there any other way, you’ve never seen it any other way. Just being able to walk around, maybe walk on the field.
One of my favorite appointments, just a quick story, is that when I was working with the Pacers and I was taking somebody through a suite appointment and we were walking through a suite, people just love being there on an off-day. We get on an elevator to go down to the court to take a shot and Larry Bird steps in the elevator and he’s riding down.
This is a one-of-a-kind thing, you’ll never have this experience in any other aspect where you’re going to go shoot a basket on a professional NBA court and Larry Bird, one of the top five best players of all time just happens to be right there in the elevator with you. You just can’t take that for granted. Those are the cool things that you get with sports, some of the things that we definitely try to communicate.
Fred Diamond: I have one quick question on that. Again, I presume you don’t have a lot of your players lined up yet. A lot of times, like you just said, if it’s a big customer, maybe you bring in Larry Bird when you bring the customer into the stadium. Maybe you ensure that Larry Bird happens to walk in or one of your star players happens to come in, say hello, sign a ball or something like that.
I went to a sales call once with a company for the Washington Nats and we had a tour and it was a lot of fun. At the end, Jayson Werth, who was a player at the time happens to pop into the meeting. We were all like, wow, and he signed a couple balls and that pushed us over the edge. Not having the players right now, the personalities, that’s a big part of the team. There’s the coach, of course, but even like the 25th ball on a baseball team or the 12th man on the basketball team. Is that hurting you or has that not really been an issue yet and you know it’s going to be something that’s going to play to your favor once you get to that stage?
Edmound Elzy: It’s not an issue yet because we’re still so far ahead and people understand that. The players in the community are like the front office staff, it’s our president all the way down. When we’re in the community, we’re representing the team. Obviously, that’s going to switch as we get closer to actual playing games and the players will be the stars. But right now, just because we’re so far out, people understand but they’re excited.
I think part of that too with the MLS is that the players aren’t huge stars like an MBA or something like that, so it’s not as much of a deal as like, you have to have LeBron on the team for me to buy tickets. People aren’t thinking about it that way, they’re just excited to see the soccer and whoever we bring out there, I think people are going to be really receptive to. Saint Louis, they support their teams so I’m really excited to see how they’re going to respond to anybody that we bring out.
Fred Diamond: Edmound, I want to thank you so much. It’s a great opportunity, you’ve spelled it out very clearly what the opportunity looks like and Saint Louis is such an important city in the country, such a vibrant city with such an amazing culture, history and citizenry. I applaud you for making the move and I wish you well as you begin this new part of your journey. Congratulations to you and everybody involved. Thank you again for the insights you shared with us today. Give us one final action step. You’ve given us a lot of great ideas, give us one more action step for our listeners to take today to ensure their continued sales success.
Edmound Elzy: My action step would be to think about the margins. That’s something that’s not really a step but an example of what I’m talking about, if you’re making cold calls, what time of day are you calling? What’s the time that people are going to typically pick up the phone versus times that they don’t? Make sure you push calls into that time.
If it’s a 5% difference and that increases your chances that you’re going to get somebody 5% in the long run and it increases your sales, there’s margins like that all across the board throughout the sales process. Whether it’s email, whether it’s social, whether it’s how you present, how you frame things, how you say things. There’s all kinds of things that you can take advantage of. Just think about little areas like that where you can get better.
Fred Diamond: Edmound Elzy, thank you so much for being on the show. Best of luck to you. To all of our listeners today, thank you all so much as well.
Edmound Elzy: Thank you, it’s great being here.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo