Forward Thinking

The Sponsorship Whisperer: 3 Ways to Grow Sponsorship Revenues

Horse whisperers move carefully, listen intently, and earn trust through each encounter, with even the most unruly of horses. And there’s a lot they can teach us about sponsorship sales.

Many conferences struggle with flat or declining revenue from exhibits and sponsors. For some, it’s because their attendees don’t have enough buying influence or authority. If your event attracts the right attendees, on the other hand, you have an opportunity to strategically grow sponsorship revenue.

But you might need to change some old habits, including:

  • Leading with a one-size-fits-all sponsorship menu or proposal before understanding the brand or company’s marketing objectives and target market.
  • Selling lots of low-priced visibility options instead of embracing a strategy of fewer, bigger sponsorships.
  • Trying to sell the sponsorship to the budget spender instead of the budget owner.
  • Organizing your sales effort around your own offerings rather than what your customers would value most.

Here are three ways to grow sponsorship revenues and cultivate deeper partnerships:


Just as the horse whisperer strives to understand how a particular horse thinks, figure out each sponsor’s marketing objectives, new customer segments they need to reach, and what creative ideas they might have to help improve the attendee experience. This conversation must be about discovery — not selling — in order for you to recommend sponsorship opportunities that align with each individual buyer’s goals, not yours.


Often, sponsorship sales teams get pushed to the budget spender, when it’s the budget maker who wields the power to approve bigger and more strategic deals. Budget spenders tend to stick to their checklist, spending the same (or fewer) dollars on the same opportunities. Pitch something innovative, and all they’ll see is more work and higher risk.

Gaining access to the budget maker is easier if you tap the leaders within your organization. Look at your top 10 to 20 sponsor targets and find out who on your leadership team has high-level relationships with these companies. Have that person accompany the salesperson on the first discovery call and on the second, when you present premium sponsorship alternatives that map back to their marketing objectives.


Typically the sponsorship deal gets signed and every encounter after that is about logistics. We’re so hyper-focused on sponsor acquisition that we fail to deliver on the most important thing: sponsorship activation (or leverage). The most successful organizations have a deep understanding of the sponsor’s leverage plan and are able to help them integrate the conference sponsorship into other marketing efforts. Every member of your team should be coached to “whisper” activation tips to help sponsors generate more return on their investment.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.