Just about one year ago I personally “discovered” the WNBA—the Women’s National Basketball Association—as embodied by my local team the Indiana Fever. I say “discovered” tongue in cheek, because the Fever celebrate their tenth season this year, so I can’t claim to have been out in front on noticing them or attending to the powerfully good sports entertainment they provide.
Here’s the thing. Once I went to a game, I was literally amazed by the quality of the performance by the Fever and their opponent. I promptly signed up for courtside season tickets for the upcoming season that kicks off in June. Because I’ve become a big evangelist for women’s professional basketball, they’ve named me to their community advisory board and given me lots of opportunities to be involved. That’s all good.
But it’s not my point. My point is, why was I amazed? Why was I surprised? Why didn’t I assume that the WNBA would put high quality athletic talent on the basketball court?
I think the answer is that because I had no experience, I was influenced by sterotypical thinking that I never had any reason to challenge or change. Seriously, I have been a vocal advocate for equal opportunities for women since the beginning of my adulthood and through several careers. I have become a friend of Lyn St. James, the first female winner of Rookie of the Year award and nine-time Indy 500 race car driver. Through Lyn, I learned a lot about how much harder it is for women to gain sponsorships for their sports pursuits than for men. But I still wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t make the connection between what I know intellectually and what I would discover “in person” until they got me into the stands to watch a Fever game.
Once they did, the WNBA and my local Fever team have had my attention. They make it easy for me to invite my friends to a game. They allow me to be a guest at NBA games featuring the Indiana Pacers. They communicate through word and I deed that my interest is important to them, and they intend to earn and keep my loyalty.
I have thought a lot about the business development and sales lessons embodied in my personal story here. And here are a few things I’ve learned:
· Provide a first-class experience. If your product or service is not truly world-class, then inviting people to experience it first hand is not likely to influence them positively. It only works when what you have to offer is truly undiscovered and of unexpected high quality. Be certain you are ready before you take the next steps.
· Give your prospects a chance to experience your product or service. The leaders of WNBA franchises know that they have an outstanding product in women’s professional basketball. It gets better each and every year. Yet it’s not until someone actually goes to a game that she or he decides it’s a great spots entertainment venue. Their sales teams are tireless in offering free tickets in order to get people to understand the experience.
· Overcome negative perceptions with positive experiences. I wasn’t “negative” about women’s basketball; I was simply indifferent. But lots of people are negative, and no amount of talking or salesmanship is going to change their minds. They know how men play basketball, and they do not believe that watching women play could be nearly as interesting. The only way to influence that negative or neutral mindset if to offer an experience that challenges the past impression. So the sale is all about getting people to experience the product first-hand.
· Understand that people are “entitled” to their uninformed opinions. There is no future in becoming bitter about those people who “don’t get it” about your product or service. It is far more promising to view them as people who simply have not had the chance to experience what you have to offer. Your positive and inviting attitude is crucial to your ability to bring people to the table.
These are good sales lessons reinforced for me by my involvement with the WNBA. I thank them for the case study. And I want to close on one more important note. America’s business women ought to be supporting this league, for our communities, for our daughters, for our businesses. The women who play are remarkable role models, and the teams are positive forces in our home towns. WNBA has teams in Atlanta, Chicago, Connecticut, Detroit, Indiana, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonia, Seattle, and Washington D. C. If you’re already a fan, take a friend to your upcoming preseason game. If you’re not a fan yet, check out your team’s website and get a ticket. It will only take one time!