Getting past the gatekeeper.

“Get me in the room with the right person and I can close the deal”, a common belief amongst the naturally outgoing and confident people tasked with selling sponsorship for major rights holders.

Whatever about closing the deal (we’ll address this in a later article), the ‘getting in the room’ part is a challenge which stumps many, even when you know there is an enthusiastic buyer who loves your sport or your club sitting behind those closed doors.

You have the passion, the following, the data, and the war stories, but all these count for nothing if you can’t get in the room in the first place. Consider also that there are professional blockers who exist to keep you OUT of the room. 

There isn’t a single answer to the challenge of getting through to the decision-maker, but here are five things to think about that can help you get through, over or around the gatekeeper.


So, let’s start with what doesn’t work.

The deck, the pdf, the proposal, the one-pager, the five-pager… we slave over these documents for weeks, driving ourselves and our designers demented, only for them to be completely ignored. Every single time.

Bin them all right now!

A proposal means you’re selling something, if you lead with a proposal you will be marked down as a salesperson and the gatekeeper will get busy.

(Note: If a speculative pdf that you have sent to a potential sponsor has ever led to a meaningful sponsorship deal, please let me know right away.)


You yourself are a gatekeeper to content and experiences that money can’t buy.

Think about pre-selling using your players, stadium, equipment… let your sales target get a sense of your sport and your people before pushing them for cash.

If you’re working for a major rights holder, there will already be awareness about your sport or your team, but think about finding a way to show potential sponsors behind the curtain, give them a sense of what it might be like to stride the corridors of a high-performance sports organisation.


In the corporate environment, we are all surrounded by influencers, advocates and blockers. All of those people will have personal and professional agendas, and most are senior people who want to make the decisions. They do not want to be sold to… and they do not want to be seen to be sold to. 

They need to be influenced, the best influence is internal… who is ‘the fan’ in the organisation, which of their agency partners would have a vested interested in their sponsorship programme. Find that person and work with them to get in front of the decision maker.


Dissent is an under-valued sales tool. It’s easy to get sucked into constantly promoting the virtues of your property, but it can be tiring for a potential buyer.

The earlier in the process you find the reason for dissent, the earlier you can start addressing it. A brands problem with a sponsorship property might reflect an internal problem that they are trying to fix themselves – reputation, staff engagement, poor use of social media.

Finding the dissent can help you identify the problem you could help a brand fix – the perfect starting point for a consultative sales process.


Think about your own purchasing decisions around big-ticket items… cars, houses, holidays.

You don’t buy a BMW because of the sales guy – you consider buying a BMW because of your own perception of the brand, what you think it says about you, how you expect it will make you feel.

Once you tick those boxes you start considering the practical issues, boot space, reputation of your local dealer, warranty.

The purchasing decision for a brand to invest a lot of money into your sponsorship property needs to be considered in the same way.

Before you sit down with the decision-maker or even try to get past the gatekeeper, think about the touchpoints that can warm up a potential buyer;

Trade Press – promotion of you and your team as an innovative marketing partner to brands.

Local press – spotlight on the people behind sponsorship at your organisation

Business Insight – examples of how sponsorship (at your organisation) has solved business or brand problems

Sponsorship – sponsor events that gather business people in your area (there are plenty)

Motivation – your management or players can offer a lot to a companies workforce… find a way to give a little and it will come back.

Gifting – a simple gift can brighten up an otherwise stressful day – easy, quick and cheap.

CSR – a compelling CSR strategy at a sports organisation can compel a brand and deliver sponsor affinity.

Private Events – use your existing partners to bring potential partners into your world with match day hospitality or private club events.


The above suggestions are based on simple, age-old approaches to b2b sales, combine these with the magic and passion that lives within your sport, your team or your athlete and you will find ways to get past those pesky gatekeepers.

Once the deck is in the bin, get real and start thinking about, and planning, what content, assets and tactics you can deploy over a period of time that can influence the senior decision-makers you need to talk to.

You’re a naturally outgoing and confident sales person, if you plan, create and deliver content, experiences and advocates, not only do I guarantee that you will get past the gatekeeper, I guarantee you will deliver bigger, better deals for your organisation.


‘The Rights Holder Manifesto’ outlines a new way forward for rights holders when it comes to positioning themselves for, planning for, and acquiring major sponsorship deals.

Available to download and read here.