By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
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We were thrilled this last time, in an episode called, Baseball and B2B: Sales Lessons from the Seattle Mariners, to talk to Frances Traisman, Senior VP of Sales for the Seattle Mariners who joined me as we uncovered some great B2B lessons from baseball that apply to all businesses.
Here’s just a taste of Frances’ insights:
So as far as a strategy when it comes to sales, first and foremost if we’re talking from a B2B standpoint we’re listening to them about what’s important to them. So for instance, if employees are important and they want employee engagement, we have opportunities for them to come and create a fun experience out at the ballpark that they couldn’t necessarily get at a park… when else can you sit with your prospective client or even your best client and have an opportunity at a leisurely pace while being entertained, to talk business. So we really do have opportunities for anyone that we’re talking with. That can be a blessing and a curse. So trying to stay focused on what our overall goals are can be challenging. It’s a little overwhelming actually how many options we have to offer and so that’s where we come in as leaders on the sales team to really help our sales team focus on where we need to have those opportunities go.
Follow Frances on Twitter @FrancesTraisman
Matt: So welcome everyone to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Very excited to have everyone here today. Without further ado I want to get going right away. We are very excited, very privileged to have with us today Frances Traisman. She is the senior vice president of sales for the Seattle Mariners. A very opportune time to be having this conversation as we record this. There is still plenty of snow here on the ground here in Seattle, but there is spring training games being played in Arizona and in Florida, and that includes our hometown team, the Seattle Mariners, and excited to have you on Frances to talk a little sports and baseball sales.
Frances: Great. Thanks so much Matt for having me. I’m excited to talk with you. We are excited for spring.
Matt: Well I imagine this is a crazy time for you guys. I think just having been involved a little bit in sports marketing in the past, especially baseball, it’s such a long season. There really isn’t an off season. Every month and every season brings a different part of the process and you’ve been with the Mariners for what, over 23 years now I believe, and I imagine you’ve seen quite a bit of change in that time, obviously in the industry, but also in how you approach selling. What are some things that maybe are headlines of what you’ve noticed over the year that are really change in the way that you’ve approached managing sales for the organization?
Frances: Well I mean the biggest change over time, I have been here over 20 years. So it’s hard to imagine, but I remember email coming. So that might shock some of your listeners, but as far as changes go, that’s really the biggest change is just having access to information. The technology that we have available to us, the information at our fingertips, the information at our prospect’s fingertips is a huge change and a differentiator. In the past they haven’t had as much information, so we’re going into our sales process they’re as informed many times as our sales people are. So it really has changed just how we’ve approached our prospecting, especially on the B2B side. B2C side as well. The access to information it’s 24/7 you have to be on your toes. The long news cycle no longer exists and the fundamentals of sales remain the same. You need to be organized. You need to be a strategic thinker. You need to learn about your prospects, connect with people. But the changes really are from a technology standpoint and access to information.
Matt: For sure. And as a product that you don’t have a lot of control over as well, right. In the sales environment, just like in any sports team, some years there are good teams, some year there are bad teams. Does your sales strategy change at all when you’ve got a contender versus when you’re in a rebuilding time, whether it’s the beginning of the season or the middle of the season once you see what kind of team you have? Is there a change in approach at that point?
Frances: I don’t know that we necessarily change our approach. The way we talk about it internally, you’re right, we can only control what we can control. So our focus internally is always on, for us, our fan experience, customer experience, and that applies throughout our sales process as well. Ideally, if we have a good product on the field that certainly enhances it and we will probably talk more baseball, but it’s mainly our fans and customers want to talk more baseball at that point. Fundamentally our job every day is, as you said, we have no off season, we are responsible for bringing people out to the ballpark, and whether or not we have a good product on the field. So we’ll take advantage certainly from a marketing standpoint of taking advantage of a good team, but that doesn’t necessarily change our overall strategy on how we approach our business.
Matt: Well, and I may be biased because I’m a big baseball fan, but I think one of the advantages of going to a game is you have the opportunity to not just experience what hopefully is a good, competitive, entertaining game, but baseball provides an experience. It provides cadences where you can have a conversation. A summer afternoon at a ballpark in the sun is like a day just at a park with a picnic and you just happen to have some great professional athletes in front of you as well. So I think there are a lot of different things you can sell. And I imagine that that overall experience, including and beyond the game on the field, isn’t just something you’re doing for individual tickets, but I imagine it has an impact on group sales and corporate sales and suite sales as well. How do you incorporate that overall experience as part of the pitch, especially on the B2B and the group sale side?
Frances: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the advantages of what we have to offer here at the ballpark. You hit right all of our value proposition. We do feel like we have something for everyone. So as far as a strategy when it comes to sales, first and foremost is if we’re talking from a B2B standpoint we’re listening to them about what’s important to them. So for instance, if it is employees are important and they want employee engagement, we have opportunities for them to come and create a fun experience out at the ballpark that they couldn’t necessarily get at a park, like you were saying.
But we also offer the opportunity, as you mentioned, when else can you sit with your prospective client or even your best client and have an opportunity at a leisurely pace while being entertained, to talk business. So we really do have opportunities for anyone that we’re talking with. That can be a blessing and a curse. So trying to stay focused on what our overall goals are can be challenging. It’s a little overwhelming actually how many options we have to offer and so that’s where we come in as leaders on the sales team to really help our sales team focus on where we need to have those opportunities go.
Matt: And I think being able to customize something to a particular audience, saying, not just going and saying, “Here’s all the things you can buy from us. Here’s all the different experiences you can have at the ballpark and with the Mariners,” but customizing that to what people care about. I mean in a lot of complex B2B environments we work with it’s the same thing. You’ve got a consistent set of products, the product on the field is a baseball game. The reason why people want to be there, the objective they have may be different. And it expands beyond just the ballpark.
I imagine that when you’re talking to people, whether they’re talking about season tickets or talking about sponsorships, they have other options. I mean even just in the sports hoping you look across, you’ve got popular Sounders soccer team here in Seattle. You’ve got the Seahawks. Even on the baseball side you’ve got multiple minor league teams that are within driving distance. How do you think about competition for the dollars with similar experiences, and what’s the strategy you employ to try to create differentiation and preference for an experience with the Mariners?
Frances: Well I think the most important piece to all of this is just understanding that the biggest competitor for us, aside from dollars, is time. People have only a limited amount of time. They have limited dollars. They could potentially find more dollars, but you can’t find more time. And that’s on us to explain and educate. I often call our sales team educators because people don’t necessarily have time to really sit down and think, “Ah, how can I use baseball to help me grow my business or develop a better relationship with my family.” There are lots of opportunities for us to do that. So as far as how we position ourselves in the market there’s always going to be competition. And it’s really just understanding and listening to our customers and understanding what are their needs and then we also need to adapt. We’ve made a lot of changes over the years, not necessarily in the sales process, but through the ballpark to take advantage of what our fans and what our customers are looking for. And we’ll continue to do that. Really listening is important.
Matt: Listening is really important in any sales or marketing context. We’re really excited to have Frances Traisman today on Sales Pipeline Radio, senior vice president of sales with the Seattle Mariners. And I think a lot of context when we talk about B2B sales and marketing we talk about the importance of those teams working together. Sales may be responsible ultimately for hitting the number, but they often can’t do it alone. There’s a partnership with marketing, with the communications team, to help do that as well. And when you’re talking about explaining and educating, that’s not just an outbound sales effort as well. Talk about how you partner with your counterparts on the marketing and communication side and what you do to try and create some consensus and some coordination of the message to make it a little easier to sell.
Frances: Well and we have a great marketing team. I think they are the best in the business. I’m partial, but I’ve been in this business for a while and I think they’re just terrific. They have been really wonderful to work with. You know, we have an outside agency that we’ve worked with for many years as well on the brand side. So we have the Mariners brand that clearly is established in this market, but when it comes to translating that to revenue generation, that’s where we’ve come in to try to help plant the seed of how can we get that message out to the general fan that it’s not just about baseball. So a common objection, “Well, I don’t like baseball.” Well that’s not actually what we sell here at T-Mobile park. We sell hope and fun and opportunity to engage with your family or customers, your prospects. So we’ve had a great relationship with our market team and have modified our marketing messages at times depending on what the focus is on our sales team.
A few years ago we created some messages that were featured on radio that talked specifically to the various opportunities you could do with, for instance, a season ticket. Could be that like you, Matt, a family man and you have opportunities to bring your children to the ballpark, or come to the ballpark with friends and family. Or as a business leader you could bring prospects, all using one season ticket package. And our marketing team took that information and created that. They also created one that was little bit more business focused. And so we’ve been testing that, and I think that’s, when we look at some of the changes over time in general with marketing and sales and the relationships over time, that has evolved as well.
Matt: Yeah, I’m curious to hear also what you are able to learn and share with some of your counterparts in other teams. I can’t imagine that Microsoft and Apple and Google are sharing marketing and sales ideas very often, but I mean the other teams in other markets you don’t necessarily compete with for at least ticket sales. How much sharing is there between yourself and your counterparts at some of the other teams in major league baseball and perhaps teams, so your counterparts in other sports?
Frances: Well you’re right. We compete on the field but we don’t necessarily compete in the market. So I would say across MLB there’s quite a bit of sharing, both on the marketing side but also the sales side. And we meet regularly. We have regular calls, sharing best practices. Each market is unique, so that can be challenging, but we are often talking to each other about how really to raise the profile of the industry in general. And then certainly outside of MLB there are other leagues that we consult with on a regular basis. I am not above ever picking up the phone and calling someone that I saw a great idea, “Hoe did you do it? How did it work?” And I think that that’s something that we encourage. I mean, we encourage our team to do that across the board, in this market as well as outside the market.
Matt: Awesome. Just a couple more minutes here with Frances Traisman the senior vice president of sales at the Seattle Mariners, and I’m curious as you build your sales team and as you look to hire new sales reps I think a lot of people probably think it’d be a lot of fun to work for a professional sports organization, but at the end of the day it is a job. It is a sales job. You have to hit your number there, just like anywhere else. What are some of the attributes of good sales reps and good new hires you look for. Are they different for ticket sales versus corporate sales and what kind of experience or attributes are you looking for some of your ideal next sales reps.
Frances: Well that’s a really good question. I mean I think fundamentally people need to have just a general, first of all, a desire to work. I think you’d said it best, when people say, “Oh I’ve always wanted to work in sports.” Or, “I’ve always wanted to work for the Mariners.” I say, “Well the key to that is work.” That was the key to that phrase. So I think there’s just an overarching fundamental caring about doing a good job. That is a fundamental trait that we’re looking for, is that in your past, that’s something that you’ve been striving for is excellence in some area. And overarching for me, I think, in order to be good at sales is really a general curiosity and interest.
There are a lot of people that can talk to prospects and consumers, but really if you are curious you are going to make the most of that conversation. You’re going to lead that conversation into the next level. So that to me is a trait that is perhaps a little undervalued in general. And certainly you need to be organized. You need to have perseverance. It would be helpful to have some strategic thinking. But those are some things we can help you with. In general, I really believe that just a good solid person who wants to do the best job. We can teach you how to sell if you are a good person who has the desire to be the best.
Matt: That’s great. Well last question as we wrap up here in just a couple more minutes. You’ve been with the organization for over 20 years. It’s impressive to me how many senior leaders with the Mariners have similar tenures. You know, Kevin Martinez has been with the organization almost as long as you have. Tim Hevly who was back in the day, he was my boss when I was an intern with the PR department with the Mariners when I was in school, and he’s now the vice president of communications. What are some of the advantages of having a core sales and marketing leadership team that has such longevity in the organization, but what are also some of the pitfalls that might come along with that in terms of having the same four walls and the same perspective for such a long period of time that you have to watch out for.
Frances: Yeah. I mean you’ve said it best. I can’t say enough about the organization. Why we’ve all been here for so long is that while it’s the same baseball played every year, it’s always something different. I mean it’s a very exciting industry to work in. It’s constantly changing. There are new opportunities and challenges each year. So I think that speaks to why I’m here, why Kevin’s here, Tim’s here. we also are very fortunate to have an extremely stable ownership group and a very supportive ownership group that wants to be successful here in Seattle. So we’re fortunate to have that. And so with not having the changes day-to-day that some other organizations have, and any kind of change in leadership can be challenging for an organization.
It can be invigorating or it can be challenging. We do try to challenge ourselves. I think that’s just inherent in our organization that it’s not just time to make the donuts every day. We are always looking at how can we do this better? How can we do this differently? And it all comes back to our main focus is on our fan. We know that we have a baseball side that is focused on trying to have our baseball team win on the field, but in the end what the things that we can control are the fan experience and how you feel when you’re in contact with someone from out of our organization. So I would say we do a fairly good job internally of challenging ourselves and trying to get outside of just this is how we always do it.
Matt: Love it. Well we are unfortunately out of time. Want to thank again our guest Frances Traisman, senior vice president of sales for the Seattle Mariners. Like I said, a lot of people listening to this it’s the end of February or beginning of March depending on when you’re getting this episode, and it may still be cold, but baseball’s right around the corner and exciting new season. This is the best time of the year for every team. Every team is tied for first place and you never know what’s going to happen on the field. So thank you Frances for joining us. Thanks everyone for listening to one another episode. We’ll see you next time on Sales Pipeline Radio.
Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel. I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing. If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to: sheena@Heinzmarketing.com.