Do you want to build your brand with great people behind you? You have to know how to be a true leader. Lance Tyson sits down with another heavy hitter in sports and entertainment, Curt Waugh, the Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the San Diego Padres. Their discussion touches on creating high-performance teams and finding your voice in the organization. Curt offers insights and advice to young managers getting started and shares how the pandemic affected everything and how he dealt with the difficult circumstances. He then emphasizes the importance of knowing the right time for opportunities to grow and succeed. If you’re looking for ideas on developing your team, do not miss this episode.
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Creating High-Performance Teams To Build A Brand And Grow Your Business With Curt Waugh
I’m pretty excited about another episode. I have somebody on the line here, Curt Waugh, the Vice President of Ticket Sales and Membership Services. My first recollection of him is we had the most serious talk driving to an airport one day. That’s when I knew he was going to be something special and turn this the right way.
Curt, welcome to the program.
Lance, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Tell us about your role. What are you responsible for, what hats do you wear, and what does that look like?
I wear that hat most of the time. I got the Padres hat right there for everybody.
It’s a good hat to be wearing.
We had a little bit of a rough game and that’s why we tried to win three. I oversee our Ticket Sales and Membership Services team. When we’re fully baked, we got about 82 people on our team, all the verticals, about 20 inside salespeople, about 12 group sellers, 8 membership development reps, and a team of 10 to 14, given time of the year, membership services with some part-timers in there. They’ve got a six-person premium sales team as well. My hats I’ve worn a few of them here in San Diego.
I started as a Membership Sales Manager and oversaw inside sales and the leadership team there at the time back in 2014. I oversaw our group sales and hospitality business for four seasons. I enjoyed that and then got to see how all the pieces fit together. When I was given the opportunity to get tapped on the shoulder by our president to oversee the entire department, I jumped right at it. I have been doing that ever since. It’s a fascinating environment.
How many years has that been?
I got here in 2014. I finished a quick career there with the San Antonio Spurs for about five seasons and oversaw the Spurs at the time. I own an American Hockey League and a WNBA franchise. I own the G League team up in Austin. The building shows I go through the AT&T Center and the San Antonio Spurs. I spent most of my time on the AHL hockey side as a seller and oversaw that ticket sales department for two seasons as well. I started my career there in inside sales.
Let’s go back to the Padres real quick. You have 82 people fully baked in. How many direct leaders or managers report to you?
I have four directors that report up to me and there’s a subsequent team below them that report up through them.
Build good relationships with your management team and understand how people work.
That next team below them is 6 or 7?
That’s a big organization to manage, especially with what’s going on. What would you say as a leader, pre-COVID and post-COVID, is the greatest daily sales challenge managing that organization?
In Pre-COVID, it was managing the excitement between where the team was going and where the team was on a daily basis. What we had always built our model around was we want to be post-season ready before the team is so we can capture all that excitement on the way up. I felt we were there and then COVID got here. We’re in the COVID world and we are ready, unfortunately, we can’t have any fans in the venue to take advantage of all the foundational work that we put into play.
The team is post-season ready, finally. Hopefully, once we get fans back in the venue sooner rather than later, we can put all of our hard work on the table and get after it. We have had some success during this time. It has been fun, challenging, and hard. This is not what everybody signs up for in their first time as a VP. You get promoted and, all of a sudden, a world pandemic hits. It’s like, “Let’s go after this and figure it out as we go.”
Every day is a different challenge. Let’s go back. You started to go back to the Spurs. Philosophically speaking, for anybody reading, I have two theories about moving up through an organization, whether it’s sports, entertainment, or a bank. Your success sometimes has to do, especially in sales, if you can bring something to the table. You get recognized and people see you as an individual heroic contributor and performer and sometimes, I finance. I know you well enough that neither you nor I are finance guys but we’re sellers. All the way back, what’s the first sales job you ever got paid for?
It’s retail. I was a mall rat. I worked every place I possibly could to use my discount privileges. Anywhere I could go to get a hat, shoes, or clothes, I worked it, but I enjoyed it. I started at Abercrombie and Fitch and people always laugh when I say that. You’re laughing because you’re automatically assuming I was the model outside the store.
That’s exactly what I was thinking.
I don’t have the body type for that but I worked behind the cash register because I’ve got the gift of gab and I enjoyed it. I made a lot of friends. That was my first high school job. I did that throughout college whenever I could pick up shifts and built a good relationship with our management team there. I got to understand how people work and how to put together a team, schedule it out, and make sure they were all on mission with what we were doing, which at that time, it is selling t-shirts and jeans. It’s simple stuff.
I have three sons. Abercrombie is not inexpensive but it’s like shopping at Lulu. It’s expensive.
When I was in high school, that was the premium brand. Everybody was wearing it. I may have popped my collar once or twice. My wife will tell you that but I enjoyed it. The next part was when I went to college, the same thing happened. I went and worked at a store in the Midwest called Buckle. It’s another high-end clothing store and they’re commission-based.
That was my first commission-based sales job in college. At the time, I didn’t love it because I was sitting there recommending clothes to random people. What I took away from it, and I still give this example to our inside salespeople when we talk about upselling. Part of their sales training is that when somebody comes in and is looking for specific jeans, shirts, shoes, or whatever it is, you have to go to the back to go find stuff in the stock room.
The goal was to bring back three things. It was always bringing something up a little bit better and a little bit better on top of that. You always had the ability to show what the next best product was. I use that example constantly in inside sales training to this day because it got me comfortable recommending something that someone wasn’t going to look for themselves. When we talk about premium suites and all those kinds of things, I’m more comfortable now than ever doing that because it started back in college.
I had no clue you’re a retail sales guy. It’s almost unheard of. A retail commission like Nordstrom and stuff like that, they do, but the move is always to get the customer to make a choice. You got an unsolicited buyer there. You didn’t have to go out and solicit them. They’re there for a reason, so make an offer. Don’t ever judge somebody on your buying pattern. Just because you or I might buy a cheaper product doesn’t mean somebody else will. I always say, and I said to your inside salespeople before, “There’s a reason there’s premium gas, mid-level gas, and cheap gas.” Everybody doesn’t choose the cheap gas, but you might. That’s well said. You get through college. Where did you grow up in the Midwest?
I moved around a lot as a kid. My story is I was born in Ohio and moved to Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, DC, and then landed in Oklahoma City. I finished high school there. I went to Oklahoma State and finished with a Sports Marketing Management degree. I got creative with my guidance counselor. I could major in three things at the same time without taking any more classes. It’s efficiency at its finest. When I graduated, I got the opportunity to go to San Antonio.
You got a job with the Spurs right away. How did you get yourself into that?
One of the close mentors I have in this industry is Brian Byrnes at the Oklahoma City Thunder. He came and spoke to our sports management class in my senior year, and I had a conversation with him afterward. I said, “I was debating about what I want to do with my career, much like a lot of seniors in college are. Everything you said struck me. What do I do? How do I get in?”
It’s the constant question that every senior always asks without a plan in place at all. He said, “Go to TeamWork Online. Send me your resume. I’ll do what I can,” but he gets 1,000 resumes a year, probably. When I started doing my research, I found from the Spurs opportunity a bunch of jobs that I had no business applying for, and I did anyway.
I was applying to be a manager of places, premium salesperson, or whatever it was. I got called back by two. I got called back by the Spurs. I got called back by Nick Forro, who you had on your show earlier. Nick was in Phoenix at the time. I believe he was recruiting for the Sports Sales Combine. At that time, I had received my offer and accepted the job from the Spurs. I was like, “It’s a bad look if I go to the Sports Sales Combine, which I’m pretty sure the Spurs are a part of.” That was my first integrity play. I made sure to choose wisely there.
You did well because, like a lot of industries, sports are very ancestral. Everybody talks to their cousins and everybody knows everything. Like any other good industry, they’re all tied in. You get that inside sales job at the Spurs. What’s interesting about that is it’s not a major market. It’s a mid-level market. Who was Curt as a sales guy as opposed to who Curt is now as a leader?
Curt was energetic. He was excited to be there and wanted to learn and grow very quickly. If I could go back in time and work on the same inside sales team as myself back in the day, I would have told myself, “Take a deep breath and calm down. Everything is going to work out for itself.” I was always excited about working in professional sports.
My dad was a photographer for many years and I got to see the other side of the industry from the media perspective. Once I found out there was a business side of it, I jumped headfirst. If I could go back, I would tell myself to slow down and not take anything for granted and also don’t tell everybody what you sold. That’s your job. There are some of my teammates that looked at me at the time and went, “Sit back down and make some phone calls.”
You’re trying to jockey for position when you’re in any sales role when you’re younger, trying to establish credibility and expertise, and constantly being measured. You thrive for that recognition no matter what. I totally get it. You brought up a couple of things. What I know about you is you’re very self-aware. It’s one of the things I love most about you. You’re the first one to go, “I could have done this a little better.” What did you end up getting coached most on? You said, “My younger self would need to slow down a little bit.” What did your manager coach you on or correct you on? However, you want to answer that question. What was it, not one time but most of the time?
Things might come easier to me based on how I adapt to certain situations. It’s not the same for every single person on that team. You need to be aware of that. The other thing I was coached on a lot is, “It’s okay to do it once or it’s great to do it once, but can you go do it again and be consistent? Can you bring that level of consistency every single day to your job because that’s what it takes to be great?” I learned that not only from my manager at the time but from the key senior-level salespeople at the Spurs. There are certainly good friends and mentors in that group.
Always have a vision for your business. Be consistent. That’s what it takes to be great.
I sat at their desk for an hour or so a day to listen to them make phone calls because they were so consistent. The Spurs, as an organization, is one of the most consistent franchises of the modern era. It’s because they did things the right way, and they didn’t get too high and too low. If I go back, as I said, it’s to slow down but the biggest piece of coaching was you got to be consistent. I use a baseball analogy. You can’t hit 200 and hit 40 home runs all the time. You should hit close to 300 or 350.
There’s one more question there. In inside sales and very younger stuff, where were you on the board? Were you 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 because of consistency all over the place?
I was 1 through 3 or 1 through 4, depending. We were in a playoff run so we had a lot of jockeying. I was also only in inside sales for 4 to 5 months. Given a full year, I don’t know where I would end up but I think that the people at the top of the board were my closest competition, and we all wanted to get promoted around the same time. Looking back, one of the coolest things is everyone was fighting to get better or got promoted at the same time.
Where did you go from there? What was the promotion?
I was on the American Hockey League side. I became an Account Executive for Rampage. I had never sold hockey and groups before in my life. I remember having a conversation with my boss at the time, Ryan Snider, who’s still there. I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be good at this, but I’m going to give it everything I got.” He was like, “It’s all right. We will teach you how to do it. It will be fine.” I have used that before and now being in my seat. What you had to learn very quickly, especially selling hockey in South Texas, was to pay your rent. You had to be good and learn how to sell groups because selling season tickets in the dead of summer is not the easiest task in the world.
I learned quickly to adapt my sales process. I learned about the event building process and how to work with the building. More than anything, in working as an account executive for a Minor League franchise, you learn so much more about the business than being very specialized within your vertical at the Major League level. It’s not to take away anything from people who worked at the Major League level from the beginning of their careers on but I never would look back on my time in the American Hockey League and go, “I didn’t get a lot out of that,” because I got so much out of it.
There have been quite a few people on this like Kevin Rochlitz, John Clark, and even Al Guido for a hot minute. They all worked Minor League. I’m going to the first training I have done live all year and I’m going to Vegas. One of my favorite executives in any business is Kerry Bubolz. He’s an OSU guy, too, Oklahoma State. He started a Minor League baseball out in the West there. He always said that it had jetted him into what he does now because he knows the whole business. It always happens. How long are you doing that AHL term? What does that look like? You’re selling groups and trying to drive revenue, and revenue is so critical in Minor League.
As an account executive, I was selling new sales, renewing my entire book of business, and managing all my group accounts. I was doing everything I could possibly do as well as, in some instances, taking our youth hockey skaters on the ice because there wasn’t enough staff to go around to do that. I’m not the best skater. I did that for two and a half seasons and then my boss at the time, Matt Callister, who’s a great friend of mine, left to work for Kerry up in Cleveland. I got a chance to take on the team right after that. When you go from being a seller to a high level, doing some great things there, and owning your own time as a salesperson to overseeing your peers within a matter of twelve hours through the interview process, it feels like. I went to oversee that team.
What did you run into there? I was telling a group of people, “Just because you’re a great salesperson has no tie into you being a good leader.” Skillsets are the opposite. What’s the first headache you ran into or obstacle?
It’s the fact that you can’t create a team of Curts or create replicas of yourself. It doesn’t work that way. Everyone has got different skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses. A team is about creating a unit that has all the different pieces in play and makes it work. The first struggle as a leader was you can’t do this or create just in the same image of yourself. You’re going to be so frustrated and they’re going to be frustrated with you.
I had some very difficult conversations because when I was a salesperson, I worked alongside some of my peers and friends. You think they could be doing a little bit more because you know how you’re doing it. When you had that first difficult conversation and said to somebody across the table to use your phrase like a knife through hot butter, it’s hard to do that for the first time when you were doing the same job with them a week prior. I had some difficult conversations the first month.
Sometimes that’s a respect thing or like, “Ten minutes ago, we were having a party together and now you’re our boss.” You had some folks that it wasn’t going to work for, to begin with. There’s resentment and all kinds of things. You’re thrown in the fire. If you reflect, was it too soon? Did you need another year? You did it and you’re here now. Was it that quick or you’re ready to go?
I was always looking for how to get to the next step. Going back to the previous comment, it’s telling me to slow down. I wish I would have given myself a chance to sell at a premium level and more B2B at the NBA level. When the time presented itself, I jumped at it. People always ask me, especially on our sales team, “When do you know it’s the right time to take the next opportunity?” You just know. The pieces, the people, and the process fit together. At that time, I was like, “I know I can do this. I’m going to try my best to make sure this team is successful because I had poured so much of my blood, sweat, and tears into the sales process, especially to the Minor League level.” You work to get people in the venue. I wanted to be part of that lineage and success that we’d had, so I jumped at it.
It’s like anything else. When are you ready? When opportunity knocks, if you crack the door open, you’re ready. If you’re curious to see who the hell is out the door, you’re ready. Whether you’re ready, ready and have all the skillsets and stuff, that’s a horse of a different color, but at the end of the day, if you open it, you’re ready. How long were you managing that team? What’s the biggest lesson you picked up from there before your next roll?
I managed that team for two seasons outside of learning how to manage former peers, which was the most difficult task I had to do. It was learning how to cross-departmentally influence. What I mean by that is we had a large sales team in San Antonio. The focus of that team is Spurs. Every single department had Rampage goals and getting your colleagues on the other teams to find the right time to make it a focus for their teams was always a challenge. There’s always a bigger number out there for that team and a bigger commission for them to go get.
I lean heavily on my relationships not only with my colleagues but also with the salespeople at those other teams because I was in their shoes six months prior. When the time was right, I could pull the levers appropriately during certain campaigns. That’s where we found the most success. One of those good instances was the NBA lockout.
One of my first years as a manager was during the NBA lockout. Getting them focused on that being the only product was one of our best years from a tenant’s perspective because, for half the season, you had the entire sales and service department focused on Rampage. It got everybody on the same wavelength with how important that piece of the business is going to be. That was big for me.
How important is it for your leaders to manage laterally or down? The biggest challenge for a leader is this and here. It’s not all of this. You have the authority to manage people underneath you. Do you have the persuasion and influence up and to the sides? That’s thoughtful. Where do you go from there? What’s your next role? Are you in San Diego at that point?
I’m in San Diego at that point. I finished two seasons there. We had good success and then I got the opportunity during the NBA Finals run. I missed the NBA Finals Championship year in San Antonio. I was there for the first two games of that series. I didn’t experience the loss of the year before. I came out to San Diego to oversee membership sales. At that time, we were at the tail end. I believe our GM had gotten let go my first week there. Mr. Padre, Tony Gwynn, passes away my first week there and I’m like, “What’s going on?” I have never experienced this because, in San Antonio, you’re used to winning 50 games, going to playoffs every year, and having a party.
I know it was a grind. Everyone told me it was a grind but I knew that the coaching tree that had come out of this sales department, I want to be a part of it and some of the great leaders that came from here. When I got here, it was right around the time everybody had left. I got a chance to build my brand and story with some great people that already been hired right before me. I oversaw Jeff Gould and Matt Clark, our inside sales team. Eric McKenzie was our Head of Ticketing at that time. I got to work closely with some peers of mine. My peers of mine at the time are now my direct reports. It was a great opportunity for me to jump into something different. I always wanted to move into baseball.
The good news is you had already been through the peer thing to the leader. You had already been down that road once, not twice. You look at the folks that had come through there. You mentioned Eric Mackenzie. There’s also JT Tillman and Jarrod Dillon, who’s at Tampa Bay Lightning. He won a cup. JT got a promotion at the NBA. There’s Jason Green, Peckis, Joel, not to mention Brent Stehlik, who brought most of that crew together, and Jeremy Walls. How can we even forget him? I’m missing a few and if you’re reading, I totally apologize. When you look at that, it is a storied organization, it is a good brand to be, and on top of that, it has the best weather in the country being in the Midwest. What a place to raise your family.
I traded in one form of Mexican food for another form of Mexican food. There’s always a debate. What’s better? Texas or Southern Baja California Mexican food? I’m like, “They both have their pros and cons. I’m never going to answer that question.”
If you’re talking to me, I love the Omni next door. I love the ten-fish taco right next to some. I’m game. I’m all in. I know it very well. It’s all about food and what a great ballpark. You get in there and get that promotion. Who’s reporting to you directly? What are the departments?
At that time, I had membership sales. I oversaw the AEs on the membership sales side. I had Jeff Gould and Matt Clark on the inside sales side.
It’s good to slow down when you think you’re not doing something right.
How many people are reporting to you? You think about, “Is this going from a Big League team to a Minor League team inside a big team?” You’re with a whole another league you have never sold in and you’ve got a decent-sized team. How big is it?
On the American Hockey League side, to get a frame of reference, I had six AEs reporting to me. When I got to San Diego, I had 29 people reporting to me.
You’re 3 to 4X bigger. If you’re reading this and you’re in sales leadership or any kind of leadership, 5 to 7 people is too much. That is a boatload of people. When I look at my own business and I have that many people were reporting to me, if you’re not good with communication, you’re 4X bigger now than you were. Would you change?
I get to trust your people. Having two strong inside sales managers to handle the load of the twenty inside salespeople and make sure that what you’re articulating from a vision perspective is heard, understood, and executed upon is the most crucial piece of that development for me. Having the account executive report to me at the time gave me that ground-floor perspective on what the product was, how it resonated in the marketplace, what are our objections, and what are our challenges. I can use that to guide those two. They were also high-performing salespeople. One of which was in San Diego at the time. We had a good working group there that set the course for redeveloping, inside sales for us.
Does that trust that you brought up because somebody had so much trust in you in San Antonio and you bring it there? There are two types of leaders. There’s a type of leader where you have to earn every inch. There’s the type of leader where you can get burned yourself with that one or give everybody all the trust and let them work out of it if they do it all. Did you have a lot of trust in San Antonio?
I had a lot of trust in San Antonio. I always see leaders come into organizations and talk about where they were and what they did well at other places or, “This worked there.” I never responded to that. I always felt like we knew where you were. There’s a reason you’re here. There are ways to change that message, so it doesn’t feel as though, “In this market, we did this.” I took that upon myself when I got to San Diego to be very cognizant about how I brought things up that I had seen at other places, heard from best practice calls, or whatever it was to make it feel like a San Diego organic idea versus, “In San Antonio, we did this. We should try that.” You lose a lot of people through that process.
It causes a ton of resentment no matter what.
One of my good friends, Jason Howard with the Bulls, he and I were talking. It’s like, “You got to win the leadership team first. If you can win the leadership team first and you go into a new organization, that gives you that much more confidence that they’re going out and executing the mission and vision at a high level with the salesperson that’s 6 or 7 steps away from you in the sales process.”
I have two examples of that. Nick Frasco is going to be on this. When he went to Memphis for a short stint, he wouldn’t take any feedback for me about what my opinion was on the team because I worked with the team before that. He sat down in Memphis and interviewed everybody before he made any changes. Josh Young did that to the Dolphins. It was one of those things where I’m going to decide what I’m going to do, but I’m going to learn what they’re doing before I make any changes, if I’m making any change at all. It becomes not me. It becomes us. That’s what you’re saying to do.
You’re in that role and on the fast track. If you’re reading this, this guy is fast-tracked at this point. He’s fast-tracked because he positions himself right in the organization. You’re way under a decade at this point. You might be at this point in your career at San Diego for 7 or 8 years inside the business. He’s in his third team but technically two because one is rolled up in the other. How long do you do this account exec and lead that team? You’re up at almost 30 people. That’s a big group with 30 souls and 2 managers underneath. How long are you doing that?
I did that for eight months. I finished a campaign and started another campaign. At that time, we were still looking for a Director of Groups, a hospitality role, to oversee that large piece of the business for the organization plus our suite sales. When I got the opportunity to move into that role in February of ‘15, I took on that piece of the business and jumped right into it because I love the group.
How big did that get? Did you leave the other piece or still have the other piece?
I left the other piece at that time.
Was it a bigger chunk of revenue? What was more attractive? Were there some you were more comfortable with? What’s that look like?
It was a bigger chunk of revenue. That was a big piece for me. It was continuing to figure out how to own more of the book and understand more of the business, especially in baseball, with 81 games and 42,000 seats. We were doing, on average, towards the end of my tenure and the last two years on the team, almost 500,000 group tickets. With us and how we position our hospitality business, this is a big entertainment and tourism market. Those provide a lot of challenges that I was excited to take on because I knew for us to achieve our attendance goals organizationally, this piece of the business needs to be in lockstep.
I’m going to press you on something that I usually don’t do in this. It’s because I’m curious. You don’t even know this one’s coming. For everybody who’s reading, we do a little bit of a prep call. He has seen some of the other interviews that I do. Nothing is rehearsed. Answer this directly. What is it about you that you’ve been able to position yourself that quickly and move? I’m looking at it and I admire the hell out of you. I only heard it from 3 or 4 other people. If you tell me lucky, I’ll call bullshit and ask you again. What is it about you that you’re able to do that?
It’s a 30,000-foot view of the business and knowing that there are other pieces of the organization have to operate at a very high level for us to achieve our objectives. When you look at how all the pieces fit together, I always admire the people that led that way and I want to make sure I felt, looked, and acted the same way. When I started in a new organization or when I got to San Diego, I would spend time with our ballpark operations team, the marketing group, the analytics team, and with partnerships.
At the end of the day, I, as a sales leader, need every one of them to essentially be the offensive line for our sales team in a variety of ways, whether it’s executing a 1,000-person event in Gallagher Square, running a lead gen campaign, or partnering up with the partnership team. A core partnership deal is going to include hospitality. I always had that vision of the business and knew that it is bigger than what you’re doing by smiling, dialing, and trying to book 100 group seats.
I’m going to ask it more directly. Are you the best brand ambassador for the Curt Waugh brand?
I feel that I’m pretty good at that. I like to make sure that our team is respected among the organization and that should speak for itself. It’s not necessarily about the Curt Waugh brand. It’s about ticket sales and services.
At the same time, there are a lot of leaders sitting there. I’m not being critical because I get this question constantly in these things, “What’s the how-to?” What I’m hearing you say is, “I’m pretty savvy with understanding the org chart and who’s important to it.” There’s something you’re doing that’s putting that out there and somebody goes, “Curt, he’s the candidate.” That’s what I mean about that. You’re one of the bigger team players I know with the number of resources you put in to build your teams. There’s no doubt about that.
I give this feedback to young managers all the time. You got to get out of your box and understand that for us to be successful, other people have to be successful. To your point about being savvy, that’s what it is. It’s understanding that it’s not just ticket sales and service. If you can go into what the organizational view for the Padres to be the best they possibly can be, you’ve got to be the best leader you possibly can be. Part of that is you got to be willing to take some shots for people and step in front of a couple of bullets every so often. You also got to be able to have tough conversations and build good relationships. Even if you have a tough conversation with a peer in another department, it’s not going to affect the business. That takes time and effort.
What I’m hearing you say is that you’re not afraid of the sound of your voice in mixed company.
I’m definitely not.
Jump into something different.
It’s safe to say that behind the scenes, you’ve spoken up even with people that are above your head. Performance is given. The other thing is you got to promote yourself a little bit. That’s a big challenge for people. I was on the phone with an NFL team. The whole management team is doing stuff we’ve done for you. There are very similar things going through that COA process. Somebody said, “It sounds like politics a little bit.” I go, “It is.” You got to play in the org chart and politic for yourself a little bit. It’s not a dirty word. People are political animals. It’s not inferring anything dirty. You’re promoting yourself at some level, your thought process, your offense, or whatever the view is.
We talk about it all the time. You have to be able to find your voice. That’s the hardest thing for young leaders to understand. It’s not necessarily self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion. That would have been me as an inside salesperson. I came in, got the sale, look at me, awesome. Sometimes, you’ve got to sell your ideas and your team to get resources. Part of that is by having a platform of doing great work and showing results year-over-year so that the conversation is a little bit easier, or you laid the foundation 3 to 4 months ago on this project and that necessarily wasn’t the focus at the time.
A good example of this is the tourism industry. Chelsea runs our tourism business and we had started working on that for a year and a half before it got the green light. Part of that is continuing to go to the right trade shows, being a part of the right groups and right meetings here locally with our different attractions, understanding this business, and continuing to talk about it and bring it up at the table. When the time is right to have that full discussion and you’ve got that action plan put together, then you get the green light.
To me, to your point on being savvy, it’s understanding who you have to have aligned on this idea before you can get it finally approved. That’s one of the more difficult challenges as a young leader. I’ll be the first one to admit it. I’m still not great at it. I work very fast. Sometimes, I don’t hit all the detailed points that I need to, but I always go back and make sure, to your point, about me earlier about knowing where I may have missed, and try and fix those things.
There’s no doubt that self-reflection is so critical. If I’m summing this piece up, you’ve landed where you are now from there. You run the whole organization. Was there a little stop in between that group thing? Was that the next move of the VP of Ticket Sales and Membership Services?
There was a small stop there as tickets do. I was the Senior Director of Ticket Sales, quickly ascended into the VP of Sales and Service, and got to oversee the whole business.
In a very short timeframe, for anybody that thinks they can’t move, you can move. You said it’s that organizational savviness and the desire and willingness to give your opinion. Be persuasive, have a voice, and sell your ideas at some level. Your team has to perform too. Don’t go after the next job if you’re not performing. It’s one thing to say you did it and it’s another thing to do it. As we bring this bird down for a landing, I’m going for the big question that you have been waiting for. What was your sales song when you were in sales?
I love this question. I spent the most time thinking about it. I went back to my Spotify list when I was a salesperson. I was a huge The Black Keys fan from Ohio. It’s Gold on the Ceiling by The Black Keys. There’s a line in there and it reflects on how you always got to be ready for someone to come and take it. If you’re a salesperson and you’re working at the top of your game, there’s always somebody either right beside you that’s trying to push you as an accountability partner or someone right behind you that wants that seat or spot on the board. We see it all the time. I also advocated for that song hard when we had our membership base in San Antonio to select our new goal song and we scored a goal. It was on the top three. I was getting all of my members to say, “Do this song because it’s awesome.”
If you have to gift a book, what book have you gifted? What book do you think you should gift?
There’s a couple. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson, that was gifted to me by Jarrod Dillon. I respect him as a leader and what he has done. The book itself breaks down what it’s like to be successful on a day-to-day basis and these big goals and success habits. I gifted that one a few times during the pandemic specifically. What You Do Is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz is another good one too. It’s about building organizational culture and being about what you’re about.
I have always prided myself on you’ll see the same person on the weekends that you see in the office because I feel the same way. I want to have this platform for leadership for a reason. You shouldn’t see two different people. Authenticity matters to me and how you bring your family life, personal, and work-life into it. Now more than ever, with all these video calls, I’m surprised one of my kids hasn’t run through the wall.
I have been around enough with you that you’ve heard my kids screaming, our dog barking, or we’ve lost a connection. This is a question that I haven’t asked often. You’re looking around the corner because you’re always thinking and looking to the future of any type of sales. We’ve talked about it. We’re not going back to normal. There’s no new normal in this new business reality. How do you think sales have changed forever based on this pandemic?
The virtual aspect of sales has changed. We have had to pull our salespeople up the hill a little bit and make sure they felt comfortable in front of a screen having the same conversation that they have had with you in person. Our best sales tool is the ballpark and we can’t be in it. How do you replicate that sales process and adapt? The other piece is understanding your buyer’s needs because it goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Safety is one of the big ones. How does your buyer feel safe with your product? That’s the product of the baseball game and the experience as a whole. When you boil it down to client needs, preferences, events structures, and all those different things, do we meet those needs? If we’re not, how do you advocate for the resources to make sure you meet those needs?
For us, we do so much tourism business and that’s not going to be there in 2021. We had to shift our focus from global to local and make sure that we’re owning our San Diego market. It’s safety, meeting the customer’s needs, asking those questions, and not using the same sales process you had before. We have talked about that a little bit and the sales training that our team is going through. You’ve got to ask the elephant in the room the question, “How has COVID affected your business, your entertainment, and your new business development?” How do we as the Padres or as the industry meet those needs? What we did months ago might not work.
Curt, this was a great conversation. Thanks for being on, being a confidant, and a great interview.
Lance, thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be a part of that laundry list of people you had. I’m not at the same level as any of those guys but thank you.
I appreciate you being on.