Succeeding in Sales: What You Need to Know

An Interview with Sports Sales Professional Ken Lipsky

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A sales role is often described as a great way to start a career in sports.

Often the emphasis is on ticket sales, but there are other roles, too.

This interview with long time sports sales professional Ken Lipsky highlights business to business sales as another career option.  Mr. Lipsky also shares some advice for aspiring sales professionals.

Tell me about your current role.  What does it entail?

Lipsky: I am a sales professional for BSN Sports. We sell apparel (Nike, UA, Wilson, Rawlings, Alleson Badger, etc.) and sporting goods equipment (bleachers, batting cages, basketball backboards, etc.). I work on a draw based salary plus commissions earned. It is a relationship built business, so the more people you know in athletics the better opportunity you have to sell to them. I am responsible for establishing new accounts either at Youth, Junior High, High School or College while maintaining my current book of business. I spend most of my days either on the phone or speaking to customers face to face about different apparel and equipment products. It is important to have good communication skills and consistently follow up in my current job, otherwise, you will not be able to maintain your business. You also need to be able to deliver bad news to customers when things are done incorrectly or late and I have to be able to have solutions to these types of problems in a timely manner.

You worked for Marriott previously, which sounds like hospitality industry.  How was the role related to sports?

Lipsky:  I was hired by Marriott to sell leisure business on the weekends and a big part of that business is sports teams that travel on the weekends for tournaments and events. To be hired, I sold Marriott on the concept that because I had experience as a basketball coach that I was able to call on these people and convince them to stay at our hotels when they traveled.

It seemed to be a good fit for both myself and the company and as time went on I was promoted to sell leisure business for four hotels instead of the two I was originally hired to represent. It was my ability to communicate with coaches and athletes that helped me have success in that role, so there was definitely still a sports component to that sales role. 

You have Master's degree in Sport Management.  What are the benefits you experienced from that kind of program?

Lipsky: This kind of program gives you a Master's degree on your resume, which will aid anyone who is looking for a job in athletics. In my opinion, it says you are committed to the field and you are trainable. I think it opens doors for internships in different sports fields so you can decide what you would really like to do in athletics. I was able to do multiple internships at the San Jose Sharks, KNBR radio, and the San Jose Clash while attending the Sport Management Master's program at the University of San Francisco.

For me, it is all about creating and taking advantage of opportunities and the program opened some doors and allowed me to experience some different aspects of the sports business. Once I completed these types of internships, it was up to me to be focused on what I wanted to do in sports in the long term.

You have worked in numerous sales roles.  Based on your experience, what characteristics do successful sales people have?

Lipsky: They are dedicated. They have good relationships and are trustworthy. It is important to be persistent but not pushy. They have great time management skills. They are problem solvers that provide solutions. It is important that they follow up with customers in a timely manner because customers want to be able to depend on you. Good salespeople have the ability to listen to others and figure out what is important to the customer (i.e. pricing, delivery, quality of product, customer service, etc.). Sales people must have good communication skills and the ability to learn software computer programs for sales tracking and data entry.

To reverse the question, what - in your opinion - makes a sales professional leave a career in sales?

Lipsky: The grind of dealing with the public on a daily basis. Lack of success selling a given product in their field. Lack of dedication to wanting to provide customer service to clients. 

For aspiring sales professionals who are still in college, what should they be doing while still in school to prepare to enter the field?  Particular to sports sales?

Lipsky: I would do internships for different organizations to figure out what types of sales I like doing. It is different selling season tickets for the San Jose Sharks than selling sponsorships for UC Davis Athletics. There are so many different types of sports sales now, the more experience you get in college before you have to begin working the better. I believe that success in sports sales is dictated by passion and without that the day to day grind of selling can become very difficult. Sports is a passionate business, so you have to figure out as a young aspiring sales professional what gets you fired up so you can commit to it and be successful.

Thanks to Ken Lipsky for taking the time for this interview.

A few key takeaways

  • Get experience in sales.  Doing so will allow you to become familiar with different sales roles in sports.  As an added advantage, experience selling makes it easier to land that next sales job.
  • Sales is hard work.  As Mr. Lipsky pointed out it can be a grind.  While the autonomy of sales is appealing, in some ways you are always working for your clients.
  • Customer service is a key to success.  Lipsky mentioned the importance of listening to customers and providing excellent customer service several times in a short interview.
  • Graduate school can open opportunities.  The internships Lipsky completed as a graduate student were a key to his discovering that business to business sales is where he wants to work.

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