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EPISODE 171: Best-Selling Author Lance Tyson Offers Insights He’s Learned from Training Some of the Most Successful Sales Teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB
LANCE’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If my job 10 hours a day was to cut down trees, I’d spend 8 hours sharpening my axe. I think that’s where you should be thinking sales-wise because sales is hard today and you’ve got to be on your game.”
Lance Tyson is the founder and president of the Tyson Group.
He also is the author of Selling is an Away Game.
He is an expert on helping sales teams improve their sales game and help sales professionals take their skills and their profession to the next level.
Find Lance on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Tell us some of the sports teams you’ve worked with and some of the things you do for them.
Lance Tyson: I think it’s an interesting question. Sports are sexy, right? People love to talk about sports, that’s what they talk about on the weekends, that’s what they do on the weekends like you and I were talking about. Earlier before we started the podcast, our sons both play hockey so we were both very immersed in that standing behind a net watching our kids perform. Anytime you bring sports up, people’s ears are up. You’ve had Ryan Bringger on the podcast before and he’s a customer of ours, he worked at the Tampa Bay Lightning, he now works at the Nats, the Nationals here, very, very competent and skillful sales leader. You would think a person that’s been in the industry as long as he has, I think he’s also worked for the Florida Panthers, he’s been around the block, he’s always looking for a cutting edge.
People always ask, “Why do you have to sell sports?” Like anything else, sports is actually something you don’t need. You got to sell suites that could be six figure deals year to year, you sell sponsorship deals that could be a multi-million dollar stadium deal, it’s complex. People don’t need it, it’s something you don’t need so you actually have to figure out who could use it and sell that value.
Fred Diamond: I want to ask you one quick question to get started here. People are wondering, the NBA Championships are going on so we’re doing this interview in June of 2019. What is a harder gig, selling for the Golden State Warriors or selling for the Cleveland Browns?
Lance Tyson: Interesting enough, both are customers. The Golden State Warriors, for instance, they’re building a brand new stadium in the bay area. The Oakland A’s are our customer and the San Francisco 49ers are our customer, the asking price for their new stadium as good as they are, it’s pretty high and you might say, “Who needs to sell that?”
You’ve got to think about it, companies are looking to entertain and suites and premium seating, it is a tough sale when you look at the numbers they’re asking for. Money doesn’t grow on trees, so I think bottom line is they’re a victim of their own success a little bit. People expect them to ask for higher prices so they take it on the face for some of their constituency, some of their customers. The Browns, ironically enough because we talked about this before, Fred I have a 216 area code number, the Browns are one of our best customers. They’re the most talked about 7 to 9 team in history so at the end of the day I would say if you look at the Cleveland Browns as compared to a lot of other pro sports teams, on the business side of things they’re probably one of the best run sports teams. People measure sports teams by how well they do on the field, I actually measure them in how well they do in terms of B to B practices and they are extremely all one as are the Golden State Warriors.
Fred Diamond: From a general perspective, is it better if you’re a young sales professional who wants to sell sports to be selling for a very successful team or is it better to be selling for a team that maybe hasn’t been in the playouts for 10, 15 years in a lower, smaller market?
Lance Tyson: It’s interesting about pro sports and it’s like probably any buddies that work in the pharmaceutical industry, Cisco, I actually come out of Dale Carnegie training. I would say if I’m going to build my career, I would work for a team that’s not as good because you’ve got to hang your hat on that. If you’re working in pro sports and you’re working for the Golden State Warriors or you’re working for the New England Patriots I might say, “Yeah, you should sell, that’s pretty easy.”
Tampa Bay Lightning are a good customer of ours and they’re pretty successful but all of a sudden you go down and work for the Miami Dolphins a little, it might be a little harder to sell. If I’m going to move my career, I’d prefer to have sold something that’s not as popular because I’ve got a different story to sell but I think that’s like anything in sales right now, you’ve got to tell your story. What’s your own personal brand?
Fred Diamond: If I’m a sales guy working for any team, you mentioned suites, you mentioned tickets. Give us a little insight into what things you sell.
Lance Tyson: If you’re selling sports, if anybody listening has been to a sporting event whether it’s been your favorite college, like you said, you had a relative that was going to Ohio State, if you’re going to go to Ohio State you’re going to sit in the cheap seats, you’re going to sit in club sits or you’re going to sit in a suite. You would sell those things and there are various pricing that you have to look at. You could have a suite for a pro-sporting event in the NFL could be anywhere from $100-$140 thousand dollars a year, they’re sold on multi-year contracts.
If you and I had a business and we were going to go buy a suite to the Nationals or to someone at Monumental with the Wizards or the Caps, we’re going to be spending about $100-$120 thousand dollars a year on a suite for 18 people to be entertained. Your club seats could be $40 thousand dollars, so you’ve got to think about it if you’re on the phone. You’re either selling to a private wealthy individual or a company that’s going to be able to afford to do that or needs to or wants to do that kind of entertaining.
When you look at that stuff, that’s not everybody, that’s a very select group. Then on the other side what you’re selling on pro sports is you’re actually selling what you would call sponsorship that would be any kind of media, any kind of naming rights, any kind of signage. If you go in the outfield at Yankee Stadium and you see the Delta Club that’s being sold, they’re all multi-million dollar deals and those things have to be sold. They’re actually very complex deals, too so in pro-sports there’s a lot of things you’re selling. People think it’s just more tickets, I think where pro-sports teams really make their way is in some of this higher and premium items.
Fred Diamond: If you’re selling suite you’re talking 6-figure type deals, if you will. Talk about the customer for a little bit. If I’m selling 6-figure suite deals, what’s the customer looking for? Why would a customer choose to invest in a team? What are they hoping to achieve, what are they looking for, why are they going to write that big check?
Lance Tyson: I think it’s a few things. If you look at the Tampa Bay Lightning, they call it important relationships to a business. That would be things like vendors and people they’re trying to do business with or prospects, relationships they already have or prospects they’re trying to do business with actually to entertain employees. If you’re thinking about it, they’re trying to save customers or win customers, you’re trying to take care of people that are important to your business. They’re probably employees or vendors, board members, stuff like that, there’s all kinds of reasons to entertain.
I would say this to you: there are certain types of businesses that can afford that so the targets are very specific. Meaning like we’re sitting in a Marriott Hotel here today, I don’t know if this specific Marriott would be a great customer for the Nationals or Monumental when you look at their margins, they’re probably not great because you’re looking at occupancy and stuff like that. If all of a sudden you look at something like a tech company or a financial company, their margins are held a little higher. You’re looking at companies that can afford to do certain things. Interesting enough, a pro-sport selling B to B is a nice to have, not a need to have.
Our business for instance, we entertain the memorial tournaments going on in Columbus, Ohio right now so every once in a while we’ll buy a table and we’ll spend anywhere from $10 to $15 thousand dollars or that. We have tickets to the Columbus Blue Jackets, I don’t have customers that I usually send to pro-sports events but my employees use it, they have tickets to the Brown, stuff like that. That’s the target we’re looking at, beyond people, fans just buying seats. That has to be sold and it takes a lot to be sold, it’s a multi-step process. We do a lot of work in employee benefit insurance business, that’s a multi-step process too, so is selling a couple hundred thousand dollar sponsorship.
Fred Diamond: People like sports, we did the interview with Patrick Duffy of the Monumental, we took a walk around the sales floor and there were tons of young people just out of school. It’s sexy, it’s interesting, you’re going to go watch games, then it becomes hard. What is some of the advice that you work with for sales leaders as they manage a lot of young people fresh out of school as their first job?
Lance Tyson: I think it’s interesting. This is a personal opinion backed up with loose research. We as an organization don’t buy the millennial sales job that watching Good Morning America sells or CNN sells or Fox News where Millennials are soft, they like to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. We think that’s garbage and we see that a lot with salespeople. Last night I played Fortnite with my 21 year old and 18 year old, I can tell you they’re about as competitive as my generation where they chirp each other, they nick each other. I think too, with Millennials is you’re looking at the biggest group of narcissists that probably has walked this planet.
Any group of people that would actually sit in a dark car and take pictures of themselves… Bottom line, I’m not knocking that group because I’m saying our generation probably would have done it, too but all of us on this podcast know that sales is like Doctor Seuss. I think Doctor Seuss said “All the places you’ll go, you’ll play lonely games too, lonely games you can’t win because they’ll be against you.” I think in sales you’ve got to play the lonely game a little bit, you’ve got to compete against yourself. When you’re hiring a salesperson or you’re going to be in pro-sports, you’re going to play a little bit of lonely game. You’re going to compete against yourself a lot and the person next to you and it seems great.
I’ll give you for instance my nephew, Kristoffer Boyd, he works with the Philadelphia Flyers and he worked for me for a summer and he goes, “Hey uncle Lance, I want to go pro-sports” and I go, “Why do you want to go pro-sports?” and he goes, “Well, I went to the Browns with you a couple times and I thought it was cool, I played college Lacrosse and Gwynedd Mercy up in Philly.” I was like, “Alright, you’re willing to move?” He goes, “No, I kind of want to stay in Philly.” I said, “So you’re not fully committed yet” and he goes, “Right. I want to work for the 76ers.”
I go, “They’ve got a really big sales class, why don’t you go work for the Flyers a little bit? Smaller, maybe you can compete a little bit, spread your wings” and he’s done really well but he’s starting to realize he’s competing against folks that want to be in pro-sports. There’s a lot of kids that go get pro-sports degrees, they get sports management degrees. I call them sometimes underwater basket weaving degrees. Sales people are built, they’re not born, we can build a salesperson, we can take a person that’s good impromptu, good with people skills. You’ve got to look for is somebody that’s competitive, I think millennials are competitive, I think they take care of themselves a little but I think that’s great for sales, I think they’re going to get rejection, they’re going to be praised when they do well and when they do well they’re probably going to get some feedback. That’s the gamification effect of this generation, gamification says, “Tell me if I did well or tell me if I didn’t do well, just don’t tell me that I did great.” I think that’s what salespeople look for, so I think that’s important.
Fred Diamond: I got a couple questions. Again, we have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe to today’s podcast. You were just talking about your nephew, you suggested he go to the Flyers. Would you suggest that they go into the professional, try to get a job with the Flyers or Warriors or something like that? Or maybe they go sell for a double-A baseball team where they’re doing everything.
Lance Tyson: That’s a great question. My favorite exec in pro-sports – and I’m going to make sure everybody listens, I’m not going to botch his name up – his name is Kerry Bubolz. Kerry was the former president of Business Operations, business for the Cleveland Cavaliers, now he’s the president of the Vegas Golden Knights. Kerry, Oklahoma kid, grows up selling double-A baseball and stuff, grinds in, gets a ring at the Caroline Hurricanes in the 90’s. The young professionals I see that come up through a smaller team, they’re the ones that have worked the hot dog stands, sold some concessions, took the trash out, stuff like that, they’re entrepreneurial.
Fred Diamond: Wear the mascot uniform.
Lance Tyson: It’s kind of hustle, right? When they come up into the bigs, they appreciate it. I was just on the Miami Dolphins last week and there’s this one young sales rep that I just loved, just had a lot of elbows. This pushed back on me a little bit, wasn’t afraid but after talking to him I knew that he had hustled at the minor leagues, loved them because I think they get it and they appreciate it. I tell people in pro-sports all the time, “We can send a dog out with a pencil in its mouth and an application tied around its neck and find people that want to work in pro-sports so get over yourself at some level.” How many people, if they knew they could work in a pro-sports team would say, “Yeah, I’m in”?
Because I think again, it does have that sex appeal to it. I do like the grinder and pro-sports sales is like a lot of sales we’re doing right now, you’re going to have to grind. People are not picking up the phone these days, we have the cliché that you’ve got to work harder, you’ve got to work smarter, you’ve got to have that connectivity, all kinds of different ways in.
Fred Diamond: Lance, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, again you’re a finalist for an Institute for Excellence in Sales award for some work you had done with the Houston Rockets. Can you tell us a little bit about that and that story and what got you here?
Lance Tyson: The Houston market obviously is one of the top 5 markets of the country and it’s the biggest 3 team market in the country because they don’t have hockey, they just brought MLS down there, just hired an awesome VP of sales. I think that’s her title, Diana would kill me if I didn’t know it but she came from the Caps and now MLS has become a top 4, top 5. You’ve got the Rockets, you have the Astros and you have the Texans. The Rockets and the Texans are both customers so you look at that arena, the Toyota Center, it is an older arena.
They’ve pumped some money into it but you’re in a day and age right now, just go in the DC area, you’ve got newer ball parks, you’re competing with that all over the place so you’ve got a dinosaur if it’s 15, 20 years old. They had to do a lot with it and there’s a gentleman named Jason McGuinness who worked for the Cowboys, worked for the Phoenix Suns and he just left the Rockets after we wrote a white paper on it just recently.
He was really looking for a way to sell these premium products and they hadn’t done a ton of updates and they had to hit that market. They had suffered years when the gas and oil industry was down, that was their bread and butter. We started to work with them, we did a strong analysis on their salespeople and we said, “Here’s what you have in terms on sales professionals” and we’re pretty big on saying if you have a duck, you have a duck. If you have a duck and you’re trying to make the duck an eagle, you’re just going to piss the duck off.
That doesn’t mean the person’s not good, but you may be dealing with somebody that doesn’t have the skill set to negotiate without parameters, or you may have somebody that doesn’t do a good job of questioning with a swift level of interest and we measure that stuff going in. We’re able to assess where they are, look at their business practices, make some changes and then add some other process that helps them with the folks that maybe weren’t as most skilled. That’s the initial work we did with them.
Fred Diamond: Lance, I want to ask you one quick question before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors. When we come back, we’re going to ask you for some of your tips. Do you have to be an athlete to be good at selling sports? If I was a good high school pitcher or a college pitcher or even someone from the pros, is that going to be a good transition, have you seen?
Lance Tyson: I think only from an attitudinal standpoint. I don’t know if I’d necessarily like the star athlete, I might like the person that had a little chip, the person that didn’t make the team, the person that had to come back from a torn labrum or a knee reconstruction, the person that maybe had to work that way. In the first chapter of our book we talk about grit and there’s a great book out there on grit. We believe that there’s a level of grit that you need in sales because let’s face it, if you’re going to be the best of your game in any kind of sale today, you’re 25% maybe 35% closing ratio, the rest of the time you’re a complete failure. You better be okay with that.
Fred Diamond: I worked for a company called Compuware in the late 90’s and Compuware was founded by Pete Karmanos who of course owned the Caroline Hurricanes. He would bring in hockey players, Kris Manery was guy who was a VP of sales when I was there, smart dude, went to the University of Michigan I believe, I’m not quite sure. Pete’s thought was, “If you played hockey, you’re out there at war, you know what it’s like and you’re going to be fighting for the team.”
Lance, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the junior selling professionals listening to today’s podcast to help them take their career to the next level?
Lance Tyson: #1, you’re going to have to get some really direct feedback on how good you really are. I think what’s happening right now is there are very simplistic sales and there’s complex sales and not everybody’s built for the same. I think when we were talking about some folks that you and I were elated for, there are some people that were just built for a transactional sale and there’s people that are more built for a complex sale.
Sandy, my Senior Director of Business Development is sitting here close by and we were talking about a person at dinner. She grew up in the training business selling against who is just completely a process-oriented salesperson, if this than this, her name is Chris. I don’t think everybody’s built for that but I think there’s another group of people that are really good at rapport. They’re good at kissing babies and shaking hands, that doesn’t necessarily get it done but that can be part of it. I think it’s a perfect blend of a junior salesperson looking at, “What am I good at as it relates to dealing with people?” and read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. You want to get good at that? Just read Dale Carnegie’s book and figure it out. If you think you’re good at dealing with people you probably should actually read the book, right?
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about a habit or two that you thinks sales professionals should take to be successful?
Lance Tyson: I think habit #1 is salespeople are unbelievably bad planners. They’re just bad and the reason why we know that is when somebody gets promoted into sales management and she was the top salesperson, the #1 they struggle with is planning and your ability to sit down and look at your week and where you’re going to spend your time. I think the one habit I’d recommend to all the salespeople that worked for us – and I manage about 5 different salespeople in my team, they’re called Pomodoro’s.
It was a concept built in the 80’s that says you can focus your time for about 25 minutes. I think salespeople today need to be very focused in certain amount of periods of time, hyper focused, put the phone down, social media down, you’ve got to get good at that because you’ve got to do certain things. That’s one thing I’d be really good at.
I think the second thing – this is going to be a little cliché – they don’t sell listening aids, they sell hearing aids. I think it’s a hell of a big difference between listening and hearing. I just had a coach, one of my young social media guys on my team today, his name is Daniel. Him and his boss and I sat down and he was a little frustrated and I said, “Daniel, I struggle with how coachable you are” and he goes, “I’m a great listener.” I said, “That has nothing to do with being coached. You are a great listener, you’ve been taking notes the whole time we sat down and had breakfast here this morning.”
He goes, “Why do you say I’m not coachable?” It was a rough, sharp snap right back and I appreciate it. I said, “Because we’ve coached you on the same things multiple times and you’ve never been able to execute on it. You’re a great listener, you’re just not coachable.” I think it’s a difference and I think everybody on this call has to make a couple decisions there.
Fred Diamond: Before we ask you for your final thought, you brought this up a couple times, sales is hard. People don’t return your phone calls or your emails, why should someone continue? What is it about selling sports as a career that you’d recommend people look into?
Lance Tyson: This is what I say: if you can’t keep playing it, why don’t you just jump into it? People ask me all the time, “Why are you in sports?” Well, sports is fun, I say to sports salespeople all the time, “Look, here’s the alternative, you could be selling funeral homes.” At the end of the day, how cool is it to go out there every day and show for a game and take it in, drink it out of the cup?
I don’t think sports is something that a lot of people are going to spend their whole careers in, you take a Ryan Bringger who’s been on here, he’s risen to the top of his craft. That’s why he’s moved on from great organization to great organization and he’s the Vice President of Sales, he was slinging tickets at one time. One out of three make it in sports, two out of three fail and they’ll be out of pro-sports in two to three years. I think it is a shot and they are always looking for good salespeople.
Fred Diamond: It’s a grind, man.
Lance Tyson: It is.
Fred Diamond: Let me make sure I ask this next question the right way, you have to sell a certain number of tickets, a certain number of suites, there’s a number you have to reach. Do you think you’ll be more successful if you’re a relationship builder or a problem solver? A lot of times on the Sales Game Changers podcast I’ll say, “What’s your tip?” “Be a problem solver” or, “Be a relationship builder.” “Be solving problems for your customer.” Is that a successful strategy to take if you’re selling sports or is it really about you’ve got to sell five suites this week, crank away and figure out a way to get those suites sold?
Lance Tyson: I’m going to answer it probably a little differently because I’m not a big believer in the word “relationship builder.” I think relationship is an outcome, it’s not something you can do, it’s actually something you get. I think in some circles when you say somebody’s had relations with somebody that’s actually a dirty word, I think we should all think about that. I think there’s three things if you’re selling sports but I think if you’re listening to this and you’re selling financial services, there are three things that have to happen to you and how you have to view yourself: your ability to build rapport. I can go through a Wendy’s drive-through window and have rapport.
Two, are you credible? Rapport yields influence, credibility yields trust and the last thing at some level and it’s an equal hour triangle, you have to show that you understand who you’re talking to. I think when you have those three things and equal out or balance, you’re going to win. I think that’s anybody listening here, that’s what we tell anybody in pro-sports. That would be my advice.
Fred Diamond: Give us one final thought to inspire our listeners today.
Lance Tyson: When I was at dinner prior to this podcast, if you’re listening Fred and I were trying to get our time set today. I was at dinner and my 18 year old texted me and said, “Hey, the Springfield Junior Blues asked me to come to their main camp.” My son’s a junior hockey player, he’s 18, just graduated school and he goes, “What do you think?” and I said, “What did you tell them?” He goes, “I called them and they invited me and I told them my plans.” I said, “Your older brother played Springfield, there’s nothing Springfield.” He goes, “I know.” I think about my time that I spent in Springfield visiting my son Zack, my wife and I would go to Lincoln Presidential Museum. If you ever get a chance, go. I’m a history guy at the end of the day, I remember walking out of that presidential museum and there’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln that said, “If my job 10 hours a day was to cut down trees, I’d spend 8 hours sharpening my axe.” I think that’s where you should be thinking sales-wise because sales is hard today and you’ve got to be on your game.