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Relationship Status: It’s Complicated…No It’s Not

Darrin Gross's picture

By Darrin Gross
Oakland A's

I am 45 years old, have been a sports fan since birth, and have worked in professional sports and entertainment for 17 years; I feel fortunate. I have achieved great success on and off the field; from a business standpoint, and as a bonus, the teams I have had the distinct honor to work for have prospered greatly in the postseason. In 17 years my teams have made 12 postseason appearances, won 5 championships and received a slew of front office awards. I am truly fortunate, but these types of accolades do not always tell the whole story when it comes to a successful sales career regardless of industry.

Last night was game 5 of the American League Divisional Series between the Detroit Tigers and my Oakland Athletics. We ran into a buzz saw named Justin Verlander for the second time in the series and now wish them well as they prepare for the ALCS. And while I feel like I have a massive hangover, without having a drink last night, I still have the ability to reflect on some special moments that had nothing to do with what went on between the white lines over the last week.

Max is a former ticketing client of mine from my minor league days in Sacramento who also happens to be an A’s fan. More important to this story though, he is the Senior VP for a major health/hospital system in Northern California. While Max is not directly involved in managing the business for the Oakland region he has the ability to help me navigate within the region’s murky waters (marketing department and agency relationships). Additionally, he can act as a champion for me and the A’s as he passes along my name to the region’s marketing team. This relationship is more valuable than any championship or award a team might receive. This relationship means greater opportunity to drive revenue for the A’s. The relationship I built with Max many years ago and have sustained will put our efforts to bring his company in as a corporate partner far ahead of the curve.

I also ran into Paul. Paul runs sales and marketing for our hotdog purveyor at O.co Coliseum. I had the pleasure of working with Paul in Sacramento as his company was a sponsor of ours and we served his product in our park to the delight of our fans. Eventually we went in a different direction (code for more money from another hotdog vendor), but remained friends and continued to chat a few times a year. When I arrived in Oakland and discovered the A’s partnered with and served Paul’s product, I was thrilled to once again work with Paul on a regular basis. The opportunity to renew our friendship as well as business relationship was perfect. We know each other, we trust each other, we truly enjoy working together to help further both of our businesses, and most importantly, we get to spend more time on the golf course together.

As I mentioned earlier, the A’s just got knocked out of the postseason. Few teams (10 out of 30) get to the postseason in any given year in Major League Baseball (2 more this year…thanks Bud) and when this happens we have the unique opportunity, within a very small window, to sell postseason inventory. The postseason allows each team to showcase their partners on a national level which equates to greater exposure for the brands. MLB controls much of our inventory during this time, but we do have the ability to sell radio, print, giveaways and a few other items. One of the assets we were tasked with selling was our Spanish language radio broadcast. This is not an asset that sells particularly well during the regular season thus we were concerned about our ability to sell it for the postseason. Based purely on relationships we have with several of our partners, we reach out to them directly and asked them to support our Spanish broadcast. Everyone agreed. And every one of them told us that this was a straight relationship buy based on history, trust, and belief in our organization. I could not have been more proud of my sales team, not just for the sale, but for the reason behind the sale.

If you expect to be a successful salesperson the concept of “relationship” is key. This is not hyperbole, but rather the honest truth. Of course hard work, research, cold calling, etc. go into the “success formula,” but these all become much easier and almost secondary to the relationships you make, build, nurture and maintain. The ability to have someone standup for you as a “champion” and add legitimacy to who you are based on your relationship with that person is by far the most valuable weapon in your arsenal.

So, as a good friend and wise man (same guy) once told me, when you are sitting at your desk with nothing to do, pick up the phone and call someone you have not spoken with in awhile because you never know where it will lead. And thus, I am putting down my pen (figuratively speaking) and picking up the phone. If you see my number on the other end please pick up!

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