Brian Sims is an unknown hero of the Formula 1 world.
He secured multi-million-pound sponsorship deals as the Commercial Director of Benetton F1, he was the Marketing Director of the Lola F1 team and a racing driver in his own right.
Discover the secret to Brian’s highly successful “cold call” approach and the advice he would give his younger self, in this exciting interview with the founder of The Motorsport Industry Association.
How did you identify the best sponsorship opportunities, and what can businesses do to implement such techniques?
“You’ve got to be really innovative.
“A lot of people just do financial research; like, is the company capable of paying big money? What are their profits? How many people work there? And so forth.
“I do it a different way. I look more at the people I’ve read in magazines, like campaign magazines, who are on the move?
“If I can give you a very quick example…
“I spent a year as Head of Marketing, and I noticed a [magazine] story about Nescafe launching a new product with their new Sales Director. This product was a can of coffee that was cold, but when you pulled the ring to open it, it heated up.
“I was standing in my office looking out on a cold, wet, miserable day and I thought, ‘oh, my goodness gracious’. Can you imagine doing an advert or product promotion on a cold day, giving people cans of cold coffee, telling them to pull the ring off the top and they get a hot coffee, right in front of them?
“And so, I contacted Nescafe. We didn’t do the deal for several reasons, but they loved the concept, and they loved the fact that I contacted them.
“So, you’ve got to be different, you’ve got to be innovative. You’ve got to think all the time about different ways of doing things that your competitors probably won’t do.”
You are recognised for your “cold-call” approach, which had a 65% success rate, why do you believe this technique was so successful?
“The 65% success rate relates to the number of meetings I got from the calls that I made.
“I think the key to it is, I was very lucky. I learned as a Xerox salesman how to do a lot of cold calling, and selling expensive photocopying equipment around Great Britain; but also, I was lucky that I developed a key skill, and that was the art of written and oral communication.
“It’s something that, in the years I’ve been working in the academic sector, I’ve been appalled at some of the very, very poor communication skills of students who are incredibly bright. Their subject matter is tremendous, but they don’t have that ability to make a cold phone call and enter a conversation.
“I think that is probably what people can work on – you’ve got to work on the phone. It’s no good saying ‘I’m not a salesperson’, you’ve got to learn to work on the phone and you’ve got to be able to write persuasive, short, punchy emails.”
What are your top tips for businesses struggling to motivate their sales team?
“That’s a tough question, motivating salespeople.
“Having been a salesman all my life – and that’s all I’ve ever been, a professional salesman. I worked in a very, very exciting business sector, which is not easy because it’s a lonely job. You get a lot of rejection, by definition.
“The only thing I can say is that you’ve got to have a very, very good incentive program for your sales team, and I don’t just mean the money. Keep them interested, get them involved in events, take them to meet people at sporting events, get behind the scenes, things like that.
“And also, teach them conversational selling. If you approach a company thinking you’re trying to sell something, you’ve got a problem because it puts pressure on you, straight away.
“I approach a company thinking, ‘I am going to try and find out the issues this company has got and how can I help solve them with my particular sports package’.
“And that actually does make a big difference.”
Having thrived in a highly competitive environment, how can professionals remain calm in the face of pressure?
“There is only one way I found I can do that – rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again.
“Instead of just practicing through the notes that you’re going to deliver for the particular presentation, actually imagine yourself arriving at the company. See yourself walking into the room; what are you going to say when the person comes up to you? How are you going to introduce yourself?
“It’s amazing how that starts to stick in your mind – it really, really does work, I promise you.”
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
“For one thing, never, ever forget the magic little words that will make such a difference in your life: ‘thank you’.
“I’ve been approached so many times by youngsters who think that sponsorships are their right, so they don’t bother to say, ‘thank you’. They take things for granted. And I found over the years, it goes such a long way to thank people for helping you, whether you agree with what they’ve done for you or not.
“Also, you’ve got to remember, there’s only one thing more contagious than enthusiasm, and that’s a lack of it. Enthusiasm will get you through so many mistakes in meetings, if you’re enthusiastic and you can laugh about it a little bit, then you’ll get through it. But, if you are boring, dull, and uninteresting and just go through life like that, then you’re going to have a problem.
“So that’s the two things I would say if I could give myself advice.”
- Blogger and Educator by Passion | Senior Online Media & PR Strategist at ClickDo Ltd. | Contributor to many Education, Business & Lifestyle Blogs in the United Kingdom & Germany | Summer Course Student at the London School of Journalism and Course Instructor at the SeekaHost University.