Are you looking to start a career or build a business? Tune in to this episode for some success secrets! Jarrod Dillon, the President of Business Operations for the Orlando City Soccer Club, is on the set. He and Lance Tyson touch on several essential processes for sales success, the importance of mentorship, and some important advice for young people just entering the workforce. This episode has something for people at all stages in their careers. Listen to Jarrod talk about his wins and be inspired to experience yours, too.
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Against the Sales Odds and Jarrod Dillon Drill Down into the Elements of Sales Success
I’m excited to have a close friend I have known for years in the industry, Jarrod Dillon, who’s the Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer for Vinik Sports Group in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Welcome, Jarrod.
How are you doing?
I’m doing good. Here we are, quarantined. Jared’s in his house down in Tampa, and I’m up in Columbus, Ohio. For people who don’t know you, could you introduce yourself?
First of all, you look too good to be quarantined. You are freshly groomed and very chipper, so I’m proud of you for keeping your spirits up. That’s the number one takeaway for me through all this time. It’s a positive attitude.
Hands washed, heads up, right?
That’s right. I’m the Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer for Vinik Sports Group. Vinik Sports Group is the parent company for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. We also manage and do everything related to Amalie Arena in Tampa with all the concerts and shows there. We have a strategic partnership with the University of South Florida. We represent the Bulls and their athletics department for multimedia rights, partnership sales, and activation. We also manage the building there on campus, the basketball arena, the Yuengling Center.
We also have a digital network, The Identity Tampa Bay, which focuses on lifestyle and all the great things going on in the Greater Tampa Bay area with a network of 50 plus influencers. We get to put the content, distribute the content, and sell against the content. Those are our major properties that roll into Vinik Sports Group.
That is a ton of responsibility. One of the things people might not know about you is you were a Division 1 athlete. I was telling my sons when I was talking about this interview, and they go, “Really?” They started to look you up. You probably got to a point you played football D-1. Tell everybody where you played.
I represented right here from my University of Oregon Ducks. It has one of the best sports marketing programs in the country, the Warsaw Sports Program. I had an opportunity. A lot of what I’ve learned from a leadership standpoint came from being an athlete and as a young person in high school and through college. I learned a lot. I was a recruited walk-on, so I was not a scholarship athlete. The odds were very much stacked against me.
I did not end up playing a ton, but was on the team and got some mop-up duty here and there over the course of the four years I was there, but more importantly, I had an incredible life experience playing athletics at that level or that level of competition with and against many names people out there would know that are in the NFL or were. I go back to the leadership that I learned from a lot of my coaches that I emulated over the years that I’ve taken into helping me become the leader I am now.
Let’s reverse that. You get out of school, and you break into sports, so you’re not playing anymore. What was your first sales job?
To get good at sales and service, you have to be constantly learning from every call when you get off.
My first sales job was not in sports. While I was going to school at the University of Oregon, through one of my teammates, I was fortunate to meet a couple of senior advisors at Merrill Lynch. I was paid part-time quasi internship for 2 or 3 years. While I was playing football and going to school full-time, I was also working for them.
My job was to bang phones all day and call folks around the Greater Eugene-Springfield, Oregon area and get them to take meetings or to come to the Eugene Country Club and have a luncheon with our senior advisors all around the topics of investing in the new millennium. That dates me a little bit. I graduated from Oregon around 2000, so this was probably 1998 to 2000, in that range. I consider that my first sales job.
We weren’t selling stocks and bonds over the phone, but my job was to sell these people on why they should come and listen to these senior advisors that I worked for. As I learned on one of my very first calls, my pitch was about, “Come and have this free lunch at the Eugene Country Club. There are three different entrees you can choose from. Come and listen for 45 minutes.”
There was one astute gentleman that I was cold calling, and he told me, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch in life. What are you selling me?” I had to change my pitch and approach. I didn’t have a lot of formal training those days. I would come into the office and sit in a boardroom with myself and a phone book and a phone, but that’s where I cut my teeth, at least, because of the sales and talking to people on the phone.
How long did you do that?
It was roughly a couple of years.
I had no clue. Selling time is the hardest thing to sell in all sales. If you can’t sell time and awareness, you are not going to sell a damn thing. From there, go to your next sales job, and then I’m going to double ask this question, how were you as a salesperson? I was talking to Chad. I said, “Where were you on the board?” He goes, “I was a strong 5, 6, or 7.”
Chad was probably out of 100. He’s a top 5%, so give him credit where credit’s due. My path was very different. Shortly thereafter, after that job and going to the University of Oregon, I shifted my focus on wanting to work in the sports business. I knew I wanted to work in a front office for a team ideally, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I didn’t have a lot of mentors at the time that worked in the industry, so it was very much calling people out of the blue, getting informational interviews, sitting with my professors or athletic directors, or whoever that may be at the University of Oregon to help get some guidance.
I was very blessed and fortunate that a connection to the University of Oregon put me in touch with and I was able to speak to somebody at a little Minor League Baseball team back in Sonoma County right outside of Santa Rosa, California, which is about an hour North of San Francisco where I grew up. They had an independent Minor League Baseball team. Independent means there was no parent affiliation with a Major League team, so they didn’t have the players and payroll being provided. It was a mom-and-pop shop.
When I joined them, I was the 4th or 5th full-time employee, but I had an opportunity because of the experience I had established through Merrill Lynch of being able to understand sales and to be able to get on a phone and talk to people. I figured that I could translate that to selling sports. I was fortunate to take an entry-level ticket sales job in Minor League Baseball. I went into selling tickets for that club, the Sonoma County Crushers.
I did not know that. How long was that, and what kind of salesperson were you?
The things I’ve been able to do well in my career are network and get to meet people and establish some rapport. Over time, that becomes trust and friendship. I was reaching out to every professional team and every collegiate property in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time that I took this job. I was establishing relationships. Even though they didn’t have something available, I was meeting with people and having one-to-one relationships. My football coach, Mike Bellotti, at the University of Oregon put in a call to one of my earliest mentors in the business, Tom McDonald, who was a Senior Executive at the San Francisco Giants at the time.
I started a relationship getting to know some of the folks at the San Francisco Giants and the same thing at a couple of the other teams in there. Through that first year of working in Minor League Baseball, I was working full-time. I decided to pursue my MBA at night at Sonoma State University. I was going to graduate school at night, working full-time during the day, and then any opportunity that I had to volunteer on events in the San Francisco Bay Area or go meet people one-on-one, I would do that.
I was working from anything from San Jose State Projects with hosting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Santa Clara to the San Francisco Giants hosting the East-West Shrine football game at the time. That gave me an opportunity to come in and do some volunteer work from a PR perspective. I had no PR experience or desire, but it gave me a foot in the door to start meeting people.
At that point, you’re like, “I want to break into this. I’m going to network myself. I’m going to do whatever needs to be done. I’m going to take as much property as I can get here.” I love it.
At the same time, I had real-life training every single day when I started at the Sonoma County Crushers. You talked about being intense. I know a lot of folks that are reading this probably started in inside sales or what that is being in that room with 10 or 20 people making sales calls. I was in this little trailer with four other employees. There were only four of us running the place year-round and our desks were probably three feet away from me. We were not social distancing. We had no computer systems or CRM. We still had hard stock tickets in the ticket office. We didn’t have Ticketmaster or anything like that.
My crash course had two other gentlemen that had been doing sales for them sitting two feet apart from me and listening to me making cold calls out of the phonebook every day, day in and day out. I’m leaning over to my buddy, Chris or Kevin, and saying, “Who should we call today? Let’s call banks. You start at A and I’ll start at Z, then we’ll meet in the middle.” That’s how we cut our teeth, and we would learn by a lot of conversation.
If you just rely on the phones, you’re going to close less than 1% of those calls versus meeting people face to face and building relationships.
When I look back now, and I think of what I’ve developed without even understanding was the essence of sales. To get good at sales and service, you have to be constantly learning from every call when you get off. I don’t care if it’s 10 seconds or 10 minutes, take time to evaluate how that call went, what went well, maybe what you would have done differently, or how you could have handled the question a little differently, and having a coach. Those coaches were my coworkers, those two gentlemen that were sitting next to me. I talked through some of the things or some of the objections with them, and that led to us roleplaying. By the end of the first week, I was comfortable in my own skin, and I was okay with the objection, which is a big part of the fear in this job.
No doubt, in any sales job. I’ve heard a couple of themes you’re saying consistently. I interviewed John Clark at the Red Sox in Fenway. He said, “I started in Minor League Baseball also. I had to learn everything,” and he was there for almost eleven years. It sounds like you had to wear a lot of hats, which is good. I first met you when you were at the Padres. I’m going to flip over on sponsorship because there was an opportunity there. It doesn’t look like even in your career, you wanted to learn more, and then you look at your trajectory now to Vinik Sports. That’s important. Talk about how that’s translated into your sales leadership.
Two things I’m fortunate for are I’ve been able to work for good people and have some great mentors. I’ve also been fortunate to develop for whatever reason, partially through a lot of practice but also through mentors, is identifying talented people and therefore, hiring good people. You get this top-down approach. You’ve protected both ways when you’re working for and with great people, and you’re hiring great people. You could be quite frankly pretty average, but if you work hard and put it in every day, those two areas that are both pressing down and pressing up are going to help you. That started pretty early for me when I joined the San Francisco Giants.
I did one year with that little Minor League Baseball team. Through those relationships and those networks that I talked about establishing over the course of the year, I was hired to come onto the Giants ticket sales team. I was selling season tickets, groups tickets, suite rentals. I worked with an amazing group of people there that I’m still in touch with to this day. My first real mentor, Rob Sullivan, who’s the Head of Premium Inn Suites for Madison Square Garden now, was my first boss there at the Giants. He assembled an incredible sales staff with a lot of people that were still working in the industry in high-level positions.
We had a great time. We had fun and learned a lot together. You asked a question earlier about how you are as a salesperson. It would be safe to say that I was a high achiever, but that didn’t necessarily always mean I was number 1 or 2. I was pretty consistent about being in that top third, but where I carved out a niche for myself at the Giants along with maybe 1 or 2 other colleagues was new business, and that was reaching out and starting new relationships and cold calling companies.
It wasn’t easy sitting there in your cubicle making 70 or 80 cold calls a day to companies, but it’s also where I learned the power of face-to-face and getting in person with people. Without any analytic strategy help at the time, I quickly learned on my own that if I just rely on the phones, this isn’t fun. You’re going to close less than 1% of those calls.
I also felt like it was void of human connection because it’s just a voice, but when I can get someone face-to-face and I can meet them, and their husband, their wife, their kids, or their business partner and I could get them out at the time was AT&T Park, now Oracle Park, with me and walk around the ballpark and sit and talk about life and how are they going to use these tickets and how can we help them use them for business or creating memories for their family, do some basic comparing and contrasting sales type of tactics while you’re sitting in seats, and most importantly, building a relationship.
I learned pretty quickly that I could get close to half of these people committing and saying yes on the spot. I pretty quickly changed my mindset early on with the coaching of Rob Sullivan and others to getting face-to-face with people. I learned I was better at that. I can speak well in front of a group, connect with people, I could laugh. I could usually figure out a way with whomever the person was with whatever walk of life or whatever business to connect with them somehow some way through some type of commonality. That started jumping off what has become the core of my sales philosophies and what you and I started working on in San Diego.
There are a couple of questions that are loaded up because there’s a sales philosophy question that I’m going to ask about what you see moving forward because the face-to-face is so important, or even how you and I are engaging now is better than a phone call. I’m going to go back to one thing you said. You start to focus on talent, and it sounds like you remember everybody you worked with, so you have this lineage or this connection of network of people. They’ve helped you, so you’ve helped other people.
I always say to you that you reload the gun because I look at some of the people that have worked for you that have moved on as leaders in other organizations, and that is a mark of a true leader. Some people could say, “You’d lost a lot of talent,” but I always knew and looked at it as I’m developing leaders. You have a guy up with legends, you have a guy over at the Florida Panthers, and then you reload the gun and develop more talent. Talk about that philosophy. That’s not a hiring thing. That’s a cultural thing.
That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of in my career so far and probably always will be. I grew up watching football quite a bit with the San Francisco 49ers, and you always hear about the great coaches like Bill Walsh and the coaching tree, like Bill Belichick or whoever it is. The great coaching trees that they’ve established. I always took that as a challenge to help develop and grow great leaders in our industry because when I’m an old retired guy, I want to be able to look back and say, “Look at all these men and women that we’ve developed as leaders throughout our industry.” I take a lot of personal pride in that.
When I first became an “executive” and joined the San Diego Padres, Tom Garfinkel, who’s the CEO of the Miami Dolphins now, hired me. He took a chance or a huge risk. He had multiple people with the vice president or higher experience that wanted that job, and he gave me, someone that was a director at the time, no vice president experience and executive experience, the opportunity to commit. That was in Tom’s DNA. He had done the same thing with another mentor of mine, Brent Stehlik. He had done the same thing in Arizona, working with Brent.
When working on a project, make it the best you can make it and see it through. Don’t stop short or put it away. Finish it and take pride in that.
I’ve been able to learn from great mentors like Tom and Brent on taking a chance on people and helping them grow, and investing that. If we are growing leaders in our industry, we shouldn’t expect nor even necessarily want to keep every one of them. We’re probably selfish and want to have great talent around us, but at the end of the day, if we’re growing people and they can see, “If I joined these men and women, I’m going to have an opportunity to grow,” and that maybe I’m going to grow and stay there or maybe I’m going to grow and move on, but if I truly work for great people that are going to invest in me and develop me and then have my back and help me to accomplish those goals, our company’s going to succeed because of that.
I preach it to my guys and gals all the time that I work with. I’m like, “Any one of us is replaceable at any moment. I’m fortunate to be in the seat that I am in now, but I’m not naive to know that there aren’t other people out there that can do that job. I need to develop all the leaders I can now so that when we leave this place, whenever that may be, it’s in a better situation than we found it,” and I look at people the same way.
I love that coaching tree because I read that Bill Walsh book, and he talks about that and what came out of that philosophy from the 49ers. I even missed a guy, Ryan Bringger, who worked for you, is now up at the National’s doing a great job there. That’s a 5 or 6-year period that you had a generation of leaders that you’ve developed and moved on, and you brought up another. I liked what you said. You’re keeping that in front of them, and you’re not going to stop them from growing themselves. That’s cool. It sounds like that’s what was done with you.
After the Giants, I went to the Oakland Raiders for about three and a half years, then San Diego Padres for about six years.
Go back to the Raiders because it’s one of those storied franchises. You hear so many things about Al Davis, positive and negative, and I’ve always dug into the positive things. There’s loyalty there to Mr. Davis where you got the persona of who he was as an owner, but there’s a whole other misinterpretation for the people that work there. Talk about that from the leadership standpoint.
It was a great experience. I wish I had more time to get to know him personally. Our business ops and our football ops were pretty separate, but even at his age and health at the time, he was the first one in the building and the last one to leave. It was amazing. Drawing back on my experience with the Raiders, that’s where I first started to have the opportunity to hire people. That magnified itself over going to the San Diego Padres and running ticketing and, eventually, partnerships there for 6 years and now, 5 years here in Tampa. That’s a long time that I’ve been able to hire people.
At last count, it’s double digits now of people that I hired and worked with that are now vice president or above in our industry. They’re doing amazing work. These are men and women all over the industry. I go back to that point of whether I was talking to Tom Garfinkel, Rob Sullivan, or Brent Stehlik, I passed on opportunities and stayed at jobs longer because I knew I was working for great people who were investing in me, that cared about me, and that was going to help get me ready for that next step. I wasn’t in a rush to go chase a title or a job. I’ve seen that with some of the folks I’ve worked with.
There are certain people that I work with now that we’ve been able to promote to vice president over the last few years that had opportunities to do that before, but they chose to stay with us. It’s hard. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. What are you tangibly doing to show that you’re investing in your people and helping them grow and be ready for that? You can say it, and that might get their attention for 6 or 8 months, but if you’re not sitting down and putting a plan there together and holding each other accountable, at some point, it’s going to be in one ear and out the other. You have to make a concerted effort to do it.
You pull back the current a little bit as their cultural execution, and that culture is defined by the leader. It takes on a persona. I know you as a very high-value person because you have a lot of loyalty. You have a lot of salespeople in Tampa Bay. The Lightning’s fortunate to have some winning ways, but you’ve added so many different things to Amalie and the college stuff, so there are a lot more things for folks to sell.
Values start when you notice something that frustrates you. When you’re looking at a sales team or people underneath you, what’s the one thing that frustrates the hell out of you that you hear about a salesperson and you’re like, “Are you freaking serious?” What’s that 1 or 2 things that pisses you off when you hear it?
My biggest pet peeve would be a lack of follow-up. All of us in sales at some point our career are working through a pipeline. We have prospects that are warmer, cold, or wherever they may be in that pipeline phase. If someone’s trying to sell me something, the biggest thing I want to protect is my time. I’m always very curious to see how people follow up.
What’s the frequency? What’s the tone? Are you just emailing me out of the blue, or are you coming with something relevant to talk about that gets my attention or that’s worthy of us spending some time together? In that case, make it about me or make it about your prospect and not about you, the salesperson.
Focus on the individual is what you’re saying.
There’s always a conversation I love to have with the salespeople, and that is to understand what is your mindset through that managing your pipeline and prospects? How are you following up? What does that look like? When you are getting the meeting or trying to get their time, how are you making that relevant for them? Even if they come away with nothing in terms of your business, how are they coming away with something that was worth the time that they spent with you?
It can’t be selfish and about me. It can’t be like, “I need to sell this season ticket plan or this suite. I need to hit this goal.” It needs to be about, “What’s in it for the prospect? Why is it worth their time?” Even if you walk away and it’s not something you do, how did I enrich your professional life somehow with something meaningful during that time that I spent with you?
One of the things I do know about you, especially when you went into Tampa, every leader that has ever worked for you misreads your attention to detail until you start asking them questions, which I love about you. I’ve seen it three times at this point because I remember when you came into Tampa. That, to me, goes back to your values. That attention to detail for you is so important. The follow-up, the specificity, I love that.
I’m going to switch off of that and come off that because I have been fortunate enough to meet your family. I’ve watched you with your kids and how you talk to your kids. You talk in their terms and not in your terms. It was phenomenal when I came over and had dinner there. I expect it to happen when we finally get back together. I love spending time with your family. If your kids came up to you and said, “How would you define success?” What would you tell them on their terms?
I’ll tell you exactly what we talked about. This is a topic around our house, as many of our audience, too. My wife, Monica, and I have three girls. It’s amazing. For me, it was the scariest and hardest thing I’ve ever done in life. Now, it’s also the most fulfilling by far. It’s my number one job. What we talk about is taking a lot of pride in what you do and seeing things through.
If you’re working on a project, you want to make it the best project it can be. I don’t care if you’re drawing little stick figures running around. Make it the best that you can make it and see it through. Don’t stop short or put it away short. Finish it and take pride in that. What we try to do as a family is we try to celebrate that and talk about that.
Every night at dinner, we’ll talk about our wins and challenges for the day. It sounds hokey, but we go around the table, and I make the kids talk about, “What was the best thing that happened to you today and why? What was your biggest challenge? How did you handle it?” Part of it is just talking through these things. How does that relate to success? To me, being able to talk about your wins and what you learned from them, and being able to talk through your challenges, whether they went your way or not, what did you learn from them? How will you handle that situation next time or differently that leads to your success?
The second thing we talk about is doing things that you’re passionate about. If you’re going to take pride in it, it helps if you’re passionate and you care about it. This is something I tell a lot of people. I’ve committed to myself from day one because I’ve had such great mentors and people that would give me their time in this industry over the years, especially when I was young and starting out, that I would take a call and set up a call with a student or with a young person in the industry anytime. I’ll figure out the time if they reach out to me.
One of the things I always was talking about with young folks coming in from school and they say they say, “How do you break into sports?” One thing I always stress them is, “I don’t believe in just taking a job to take a job.” If you want to work in ticketing and that’s what you want to do, don’t necessarily take a job in marketing or PR because you think you’re going to be able to slide over and get your foot in the door. If that’s what you want to do, go learn that craft. Go learn sales from a different industry and get good at it, because that skillset is going to be more transferrable for you to work for us in sales one day than if you’ve been doing a completely different skillset in a different job for several years.
We see that a lot. I learned that very early on in my career. I had an opportunity to work for the San Francisco Giants, my hometown team. I was going to be doing a job that had nothing to do with sales that I wanted to do. It was not interacting with people. It was completely behind the scenes. My other opportunity was to go to that Minor League Baseball team, which no one knew about. They drew about 2,500 people per game, but I was going to be doing sales and marketing, which is what I knew I wanted to do.
I had great advice at the time to, “Go do that. A year from now, you will be that much more marketable to do what you want to do with us than you will taking a suite attendant, food and beverage type of job.” There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not what I wanted to do. I relate that back to my kids with success. Take pride in what you want to do and be passionate about it and you’re going to be that much better at whatever that is that you’re doing.
It’s like you said with your salespeople. Follow through, bring it across the line, and do something that you’re passionate about. Here’s the speed round. Are you ready?
Here’s a tough one. You can answer this one of two ways. At your wake, what song do you want them to play? You can go the other way. You can say, “This was my sales song.” You can pick A or B. What do you want them to play at your wake, or what’s your sales song? If you had to play a sales song before a big sale, what do you got? Either of your choice. Go.
I’m going to go with the sale song. I like upbeat, and I also like oldies, soul music, and Motown.
You only get one.
I’m going to go with Celebration by Kool & The Gang. It’s a great song because it’s catchy, fun, upbeat, and brings a smile to your face. I always believe whether you land the deal or you don’t, you’re better after. You’re a little bit better. You could have the opportunity to be worse if you’re not prepared, but I like to think about it as like, “I know we’re going to come out of this better. We may not or we way win the business, but it’s the process.”
It’s the process of going through that with people. To me, there’s nothing more fun than going into that room and getting up there with your colleagues and having that meeting or presentation. We all want to win and be able to have that sale or whatever it is, but knowing that you’re going to come out of that process better is something that’s on my mind quite a bit.
It’s similar to talking to your daughters like, “What are you celebrating?” You got a lot of themes. You’re deep. Here’s the last question to bring the bird down for a landing. If you had to gift a book, what book would you gift most to anybody?
Selling Is An Away Game by Lance Tyson.
I don’t need the plug, but I appreciate that.
It’s a great book. I’m not saying that because I’m on your show here, but it is a good one for sure if nobody’s read it. There’s one I’m reading now, and I’m in the last twenty pages. Our Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, shoutout to Travis Pelleymounter, gave me the book as a gift. It’s The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. It’s good. I’m also a massive Jon Gordon fan. He has become a little bit of a friend over the last couple of years. I’ve met him through the Daniel Summit that Jeremy Wallace and the team puts on.
Jon’s blend of faith in leadership and positivity speaks to me. The Power of Positive Leadership and The Carpenter are probably my two favorite Jon Gordon books. I’m a massive fan of his and having the opportunity to meet him through the Daniel Summit and the great work that Jeremy is doing for the Daniel Summit. Those are probably 2 or 3 of my favorite books now. I’ve gifted The Power of Positive Leadership and The Carpenter quite a bit, and I will start gifting The Slight Edge now that I’m finishing it up.
I appreciate your time. I know how busy you are trying to figure out everything that’s going on in this world. Thanks to the inside of your leadership and your values. I appreciate our friendship. Have a great day.
I appreciate you and our friendship. When you think about all the different people you come across in life and how you can connect with people, it’s hard to believe you and I have been working together for several years. The success my teams have had over the years and a lot of the success that people on my team have had, we talked about investing in your people and that development, has come from investing in a relationship with you and what you bring to the table for our folks. I appreciate you, and I want you to know that.
Thank you. I appreciate the trust. Hands washed, heads up. Say hi to the family. I’ll talk to you soon.