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  • Writer's pictureBrett Zalaski

Why National Sales Center Reps Kicked Ass

Early in 2019, with little fanfare, MLS' National Sales Center (NSC) shut its doors. Opening in June of 2010 on the campus of the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN, and the brainchild of current MNUFC CRO Bryant Pfeiffer, the NSC graduated hundreds of #sportsbiz sales reps into the workforce. And they produced.

I was lucky enough to be the first Director for the National Sales Center. Incredibly talented leaders like Jeff Berryhill, Sean Ream, Melanie Seiser, and Stephanie Jacobson followed. I graduated 80 reps in my two years. They outperformed their peers hired at the same time by 74% once they got on the job. 25 of those reps went on to become ticket sales managers, directors, and vice-presidents.

I've tried to be as honest as possible in thinking about why this was the case. The first overall reason is that we were lucky enough to find genuinely incredible talent. I had no doubt that many of the people who walked into that door would far surpass my ceiling if they applied themselves. You can't make a great chicken meal when you start with chicken shit. We had great chickens.

So why were these reps so successful beyond their talent? Talented people enter pro sports all the time. Turns out, I had a lot less to do with it than I would like to think. Here are the top 3 reasons, outside of talent, these reps succeeded:

  1. Urgency: After all that thought, this one was the most surprising. When reps started they sold for teams for a week at a time. That's not the case in real life. In real life we have all the time in the world. Imagine if we didn't. Imagine if we only had a week to sell to someone. How much more urgent would you act? Reps came into the office every day with their feet on fire. And that atmosphere was contagious. And we sold. Every week we sold ticket packages for teams, cresting into almost six figures at times. A buyer doesn't wake up and decide today is the day to buy a season plan, mini-plan, or big group...the energy for purchase comes from the urgency of the sales rep. There's a shot clock on every sales opportunity, the most successful from the NSC took that from Blaine to their team...and sold.

  2. Improv: MY biggest takeaway from the NSC, from a sales standpoint, was trusting myself more. In sales, when we don't trust ourselves, we turn to what we know best. We product dump. We race to the least expensive price point. We undercut ourselves. I know this because I did this...until I started learning and teaching improv comedy. At the NSC, we had a relationship with The Brave New Workshop, an improv comedy theater in Minneapolis. We learned and performed improv comedy every day. Twice a session the actors would come visit the reps and teach, train, and perform. The reps learned to trust themselves. They learned to trust the positive instincts they were learning in the classroom in a sales conversation. You can't perform your best until you trust yourself in sales. When you start at a team, that can take months...even years. Improv allowed some reps to leave, trusting themselves, at 45 days. That's a huge advantage.

  3. Work Ethic & Accountability: The reps at the NSC were fighting for a job every day. So they listened and learned and tried to apply everything we taught. They had a tremendous work ethic to get better at sales. They also made an average of 150 calls a day. They worked on some Saturday's and Sunday's, and often well into the night. They had a tremendous work ethic to produce results. Accountability is a key driver of work ethic. If you feel accountable to be a great salesperson, you'll put time towards developing your skills. If you feel accountable to produce results, you'll put the effort in to produce the results you need...whether for your team or for yourself.

There are more. The curriculum was pretty solid...the reps received a good foundation. We had call recording so reps could evaluate themselves, too. There was a culture of competitiveness that helps. Having Bryant around to mentor was a gigantic plus for their careers. But I believe the three topics covered above were at the very top of the list.

It's sad that the NSC is no longer in existence. But I believe teams all across #sportsbiz are doing an outstanding job finding and developing talent these days. We probably don't need the NSC the way we did. But we'll also have a very hard time replicating the true advantages it gave (gives!) those reps that found their way to Minnesota.

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