How can you avoid objections and sell better? Think about every piece and part individually. Doing so helps you frame how you express yourself. Lance Tyson interviews Nick Frasco, the Chief Revenue Officer of OneTeam Partners. Nick talks with Lance about developing and motivating a strong sales team. You need to challenge yourself in building a solid career in sales leadership. Take the ideas from this episode and turbocharge your business and career growth! Don’t miss out!
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How To Avoid Objections And Sell Better With Nick Frasco
Thanks for having me, Lance. I appreciate it. OneTeam Partners is a joint venture between the NFLPA and MLBPA. We also have partnerships with the US Women’s National Team PA, WNBPA, MLSPA and US Men’s and Women’s Rugby. Our goal is to help athletes monetize their name, image and likeness across the entire sports ecosystem. We help them work collectively with brands across content, digital social media and sponsorship.
That’s truly what we’re focused on a daily basis. Also, in terms of licensing and venture, we focus heavily on those 3 or 4 different categories. It’s great because you can insert athletes across all the different functionality of OneTeam and create these integrated marketing partnerships. We’ve been working heavily and closely with all athletes and in all of our PAs.
For people reading, that might be something. Your clients in the NFL Players Association wouldn’t be the caliber of LeBron James in the NBA but it might be those role players or are other players that don’t have bigger contracts or is it everybody?
I would say we’re agnostic. We certainly want to help and work with every single player across every single sport whether it’s somebody like Tom Brady or anybody else on the roster. We find opportunities for all of them.
As Chief Revenue Officer, tell everybody about your responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.
There are main functionalities that we focus on consistently. Venture investing is one, group licensing, athlete marketing, content and digital marketing. Those are the 4 or 5 functionalities that I work with.
You’re looking at all those revenue avenues and then you have a sales team that reports up on underneath it. You have a whole staff.
We try and keep it focused. There are multiple staff for each different division but also work super close with each other to make sure that they’re constantly communicating and figuring out ways to cross-sell and integrate different opportunities.
If we go back, you’ve had an interesting path here. You’ve worked in hockey, basketball, football and back to basketball again. Now, you’re on this partnership side of things. Let’s tell everybody about your journey. You’re from Youngstown, Ohio. What was your first foray into sales or business? Talk about that.
I graduated from Bowling Green and I knew I wanted to be in sports but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I had a few different internships and operations in marketing. I saw a post on TeamWork about a night sales job with the Cavaliers. I was like, “That sounds cool. Let me give that a shot.” That was my first job. I worked for people that you’re close with like Mike Ondrejko and Chad Estis. Mike was my direct boss.
I was the guy that called you in the middle of dinner on your house phone at 6:30 PM and tried to try to sell you season tickets. Once I tried that, it was after I made the first sale that I fell in love with it. I knew that it was all I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I put all my efforts into making a career out of it. The connectivity that you have with the folks on your team and then the competitive nature of it reminded me so much of sports growing up. I was like, “I can’t see this in any other career.” Right away, I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to do.”
How long did you do that and how would you categorize yourself as a salesperson? I’ll put it to you this way. How long did you do it but then what did you find your managers coach you or always giving you feedback on? Categorize it that way.
Make a solid commitment to learning.
Straight sales before I got into leadership was probably 5 or 6 years. Initially, I was pretty bad. I didn’t even know how to use the printer in the office, let alone influencing somebody who I’ve never met into buying a suite rental. My managers initially would probably label me as annoying because I was constantly in their office like, “How do I do this? How do I get better? What would you recommend for me?”
There are a lot of people that I worked with that would be like, “This kid won’t leave me alone.” Once I realized it was more than the hard work aspect of it because that was a part that I’d always realized that at least if I could do more, that will translate into something. By making a ton of phone calls, constantly prospecting and having a really full-funnel, I knew that through luck, I would find somebody that would say yes.
Some of your family roots are extremely entrepreneurial and keeping busy and hustling is in your blood. Does that have a tie to you getting in sports and the business world that way?
My family’s in the restaurant business. My grandmother started a restaurant in 1957 in Youngstown and I worked at it since I was twelve years old, which I don’t think is legal. Back then, the rules were a lot different. I was just used to it. In high school, it’s the same thing. I worked at the restaurant after practice and after school so putting in a twelve-hour day was normal.
That translated and I knew that that would help me separate but as soon as I started learning a little bit more and realizing that there was a science behind it, I put all my effort into that. I had met you when I was at the Cavs and I learned a lot from you but also through understanding and reading. I made a strong commitment to learning. I’ve truly been doing that for many years whether it’s about life in general, sales or leadership. I’ve constantly carried that on since my first job.
Let’s talk about that because you sold five years before you got into leadership. Where were you on the board consistently? Is it 1, 2 or 3 or did you have to fight your way up from middle to the top? What did that look like?
It varied. Once I started to get it, I leaned towards the top of the board but initially, I was probably middle of the pack at that first job that I had in night sales. As I moved into inside sales, it took me a few months to grasp everything behind it. Once I did, I did fairly well.
I distinctly remember in the last couple of years, you called me up on the phone, you were at the Browns and you’d made change to taking over sales on the sponsorship side. You’re going to meet with Dodge or Chrysler. You’re almost there and you go, “This person’s going to be there. What should I say here? I’m thinking about doing this.” You clearly were thinking about negotiating. When did you realize early in your sales career the bargaining, getting gritty with objections and negotiation were part of your repertoire? I don’t say this to everybody. My company deals with a lot of salespeople but I’d put your objection handling skills and negotiation skills up against anybody. When did you realize that was a thing for you?
I don’t know when I realized it or how important of a skillset it was. A part of it is because I don’t like negotiation or even consider it the way that most people do. Most people look at bargaining or negotiation as sitting at the table and fighting over points. I truly think of it differently. I don’t even like it when it gets to that point. If you think about it more from a strategy perspective and that it should all start with alignment from the very beginning, the first call that you make. How important it is to have every piece and part and everybody that has anything to do with the decision-making process in the loop and understanding, that to me is negotiating. It’s because you’re forcing yourself to think through like, “I’m starting here and I have to end here. How do I get there?”
If you think about every piece and part individually, it helps you frame the way you say things and how you say things. It also helps you avoid objections because you’re dealing with it in the middle of the process rather than having surprises happen at the end. You’ve gotten to a point where you and the buyer or whatever the 2 or 3 parties are truly in alignment by the end of the deal. The deal then becomes a part of the process. It’s signing a piece of paper.
Would you say then that you’re pretty good at bringing up those obstacles so they’re being addressed as needed? You’re constantly bringing that stuff up like, “This seems like an obstacle.” You’re constantly trying to get the plane back on course.
You learn early in your career with all the mistakes that you make when you don’t do that and what it ends up turning into. Early in your career, you want to make a sale and be on the top of the board but you don’t think about the repercussions of what that can look like 2 or 3 years down the road. You get to a point where you’re saying, “I’m not in the sales business. I’m in the renewal business. We want these deals to be long-term. We want people to continue to come back all the time.” I don’t want there to be any surprises at the closing table and I certainly don’t want there to be any surprises after somebody is working with us.
Are you saying that you’re strategic and calculated when needed?
You have to be at some level.
What sales stick out to you the most frustrating one you didn’t get and you should have got? Can you think of it? On the flip side, the sale that you’re most proud of.
I don’t remember the company but I remember realizing it was a pretty massive deal. It was my first seven-figure opportunity. I remember realizing halfway through the process like, “I totally messed this up.” I don’t think it had anything to do with myself and the brand. It had to do with internal politics and negotiation. I just wasn’t communicating properly internally. When it happened, I got frustrated but now that I look back, I’m like, “It was totally your fault. You handled that so poorly.”
How about the one that you’re most proud of?
Prioritize what your ultimate goal is.
I was fairly young. I was a sales consultant, which is your first or second job in ticket sales. We had created at the Cavs this brand new product called platinum suites. They’re like bunker suites. We had six of them. We were in the construction phase and we had a big staff of 50 or 60 people inclusive of sponsorships, suite sellers and premium sellers. I was pretty low on the totem pole. I was able to find somebody in over a two-month process, I was able to sell them a 3 or 4-year deal in one of our full platinum suites. That was an exciting one for sure.
What’s the first leadership job you get? Was that the Cavs?
I was selling in corporate sales for the Cavs. We purchased a Minor League hockey team that’s now called Cleveland Monsters. At that time, it was the Lake Erie Monsters. They have this VP of ticket sales job available. I wasn’t sure because I had transitioned from ticket sales to sponsorship. It was something that I wanted to learn that part of the business but in my mind, I said, “If I could take this leap now and oversee 25 sales and activation people, I feel like it’s worth it. I know I made this transition but let me give it a shot.” I did that and it was one of the better decisions that I’ve made in my career.
I left the Cavs in the middle of LeBron James’ championship run to go work for a minor league hockey team. Now, I was still a part of the organization because we were owned by Dan Gilbert and the Cavs but it was a challenging decision. You’re leaving the fact that you can sell the best player in the world and make a ton of money to say, “I’m going to take a step back financially but I think that this is the right thing for my career.” I stayed there for three and a half years. The amount that I learned about the business outside of sales was probably the most that I’ve learned over a three-year period.
You made this move from an individual role or performer and sponsorship sales to now managing 25 people. If you think about it, it is a quantum leap. What did you have to do more of that you didn’t necessarily have in sales and what did you have to do less of because you were a salesperson?
It’s the same as when I started in sales, I wasn’t that good at it. I was 26 at the time. To realize that, there’s no one way to handle each person and everybody is such an individual that you have to tailor your style. It’s not about business, it’s about people, the interaction and the relationships that you have with each person. It took me about a year to get that. Once I did, I started changing my thoughts and my style on, “This isn’t all like go get them sales. This is about helping people achieve not only their professional goals but helping them achieve their personal goals, if they need.”
What I found is you end up creating this culture and the culture is what drives the success. In myself, I used to feel it was the success that would drive the culture. I realized it wasn’t that at all. It was more of if you create this great culture that you support people and everybody’s happy and wants to be there, they’re going to work hard and you’re going to see a ton of success happen.
So many leaders are into this game of motivation. If you go back to what you said, motivation’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s always tailored. You’ve got to understand motivation and the person. No matter how good you are, people don’t want to be there and be on the bus. You’ve got to build that culture and be able to define your culture, which you’ve always done a good job at.
You’re a VP there, what happens from there? It’s five years in individual sales and you’re making the quantum leap because you’re a performer. My theory is you’re going to rise up to the ranks and probably two different positions. One is high finance and the other is probably sales. You’re a hunter to get the notoriety that way. What’s the next move from there? Interestingly enough for all reading, he goes from a Major League brand to essentially a startup Minor League brand in Cleveland. They’ve had hockey in Cleveland but it was a brand new franchise in the AHL. Where do you go from there?
LeBron left the Cavs so I was like, “This seems hard. Let me go back to the Cavs.” My timing was fantastic. It was a big role. I was so shocked that they gave it to me but they felt strongly enough that I can do it and I loved it. I was a Senior Director of Ticket Sales and Service. We had a big staff. I was able to double down on some of the things that I learned when I was at the Monsters as it related to leadership and bring that back over into the Cavs. I worked closely with all of the directors that oversaw multiple divisions. We worked a ton on that stuff specifically on leadership and creating culture. I can tell you that it was one of the best times in my career to work with so many great people.
You don’t get caught up with a title. You’ve never have been a title person, which is so interesting. If you’re reading and you’re not in sports, he goes from a VP from a smaller organization to a Senior Director with much more revenue, responsibility and more people. At this point in your career, what’s your leadership mantra? What’s that philosophy without being cliché at this point as a Senior Director?
I didn’t have a specific one. It was more about being individual to each person. If that’s a philosophy, that’s what I used. If I lean towards anything, it was much more coaching and teaching because that’s what I like to do. I tended to lean towards that. At this point, I knew what role I wanted to ultimately have. I wanted to be a Chief Revenue Officer in 1 of the 4 major sports. I had started thinking through, “If I want to do that, how do I get there, what I want my body at work to be and how is that going to relate to that job?”
What I tried to avoid was following one specific line in one piece of the revenue vertical audit team. What I tried to do was widen that as much as possible and as much as I could, build some level of expertise across sponsorship, premium tickets and strategy operations so I could have a good understanding of how each one of them works and intertwines with each other. As I made the next few decisions, that was the driving factor. I got a call from the Cleveland Browns to head their suites and premium team. That was a bit different than what I had done in the past and I viewed that as a separate vertical. I went over took that job and did that specific role for 2 or 3 years.
Build the system around the talent that you have.
It’s such a hard product to sell because you’re selling to a very finite audience. It’s a high-ticket item, no pun intended. It’s as complicated as a partnership. It’s this high-end hospitality option for major companies. Now, you also have left the family business you’ve been involved with for a long time. You’re outside that umbrella in a new major league sport. What did you learn about yourself as a sales leader then? On top of that, you said that this is important to you. What did you find different or frustrating about the salespeople?
When we went to the Browns, we had realized there was a lot of work that needed to be done to rebuild the reputation of the business side and also to build some process around the tickets, sponsorship and hospitality side of the business. That’s what we did. The key to that job was understanding how vital the talent is to what you do on a daily basis because we brought in somewhere between 35 and 40 sellers and we had to do it quickly.
It’s about reaching out to our network and creating this functionality to see a lot of talent within a two-week period and build this staff from scratch. The way that it formulated is we created this great culture and team of talented people that ended up feeding off each other so much that they all rose each other’s level of ability. That was super fun to watch.
You went to the Browns, essentially. You had an outtake, “We’re going to build out a process and then completely rebuild a staff from ground zero.” The way I remember it, Brent Stehlik, who was on this program not long ago and who you work with. He hit a zero to hero at that point but started building a great leadership team. From there, you start to add salespeople. You had experienced building something blueprinting from the ground up.
Brent does an unbelievable job of making stuff easy for everybody to understand and giving you clear goals to follow. As he talked to us as his leadership team, he said, “We’re going to focus on three things and those are people, culture and process. If we can do those things well, we’re going to have success.” As you were going through your day, you were easily able to prioritize what the ultimate goal was and that’s what we did.
We focused on bringing in great people, creating this unbelievable culture around them and then making processes pretty simple to follow. Process is an important piece to this but also gets a little bit of a bad name because it feels like it slows you down but truly if you look at it the right way and you put the right processes in place, the goal is to make it as easy and simple as possible for your sales and servicing.
Now, you have two more roles essentially to land the position you’re at. You go to the Senior Director in the NFL but then you made another move internally, which goes back to your philosophy, “If I want to get to my ultimate goal to be Chief Revenue Officer, what does that look like?” You then take a new role inside the Browns as you started working with this great group of people. I would say that our pro sports vertical at that time, the Browns were probably a top-five sales team and sales leadership across the board with all the teams we worked. Their ability to not get it done on the field was not reflected at all with the business unit was. The business unit was world-class.
When we were there, we averaged 3 wins a year for 5 years. The numbers that we put up in comparison to the rest of the league were pretty significant.
You took another role internally. You looked to expand your bandwidth again. What other role did you take inside the Browns?
I had come to a realization like I understand tickets well. I understand suites and premium and I have sold sponsorships in the past but I don’t know the way that I need to know it from the in-depth strategy to understanding the overall process. There was an opportunity to keep my responsibilities on the suites and premium side but expand a little bit and oversee the sponsorship group as well.
Was it harder to lead the sponsorship group? It’s because it’s such a different sale. It’s more finesse and you’re tailoring your message. Was it different to lead that group than it was like a ticketing group that was trying to move inventory?
I love them both. The thing that I loved about sponsorship was the nuance to every deal and the strategy that went behind it. Being able to sit in the office, think and talk through every piece and part of the sponsorship process, what we had to do when it needed to be done and what the positioning would be with each individual person, I fell in love with that. It’s ultimately why I stuck with it.
The thing was they were bringing a third party in an agency, you and I were strategized in how you dealt with them even prior to getting to the door. It was, “Why don’t you call the guy and say what does it look like if the agency disagrees with what we present?” That’s what the guy said to you. The fact is we played it out. It was simple when we did it but that was that whole strategy piece that we’re constantly thinking about.
It’s everything. We had planned this out perfectly and in the morning, we get a phone call and they’re like, “These other people are going to be involved,” so I hopped on a call with you and we figured it out.
I remember us hashing it back and forth. You love the strategy and the planning piece. You have a short stint as a Chief Revenue Officer with an NBA team before this next opportunity. The interesting thing is you get an opportunity at the Memphis Grizzlies to take over all revenue on both sides of the house. You essentially have that.
I can’t remember your exact title there but you have all revenue, sponsorship ticket and everything to go into this city, make a mark and build on what they’ve had in the past. You get your shot as essentially CRO there. Now, you had an org chart and multiple layers of leadership underneath you. Did you go with a similar philosophy which is to manage to the individual first? I remember one of the first things you did was you had interviews with everybody. Didn’t you meet with all staff?
It took 4 or 5 months and depending on the level of the role, I either had dinner, lunch or a one-on-one meeting. Over those four months, I probably met with 60 to 70 people to get a good understanding of everything that they thought, who they were, who they wanted to be and their feelings on the organization.
I tried to bucket all the information that I got and then ultimately mesh some of their thoughts with the way that I think to try and move forward the organization a bit. I want to be clear that Memphis is a great place. I loved working with Jason Wexler. They run a great organization. My job wasn’t to come in there and change anything. My job was to come in and see if we can get some of our areas to the next level.
Now that realizing this call, going back to that philosophy of getting to know people, I understand why you spend all that time interviewing because I remember that getting your voice in there but listen to everybody else’s voice. What did that do for you in a nutshell, you interviewing all those people? What did it say about you? What kind of feedback did you get on that? It’s such an interesting move and very few people do it.
I didn’t expect this to happen but one of the things was they were excited that I was taking the feedback and then also making it actionable. I don’t think you build anything the same every time. Everything is based around the people that you have. You see coaches do this often where they build their system around the talent that they have. I wanted to do that. The feedback that I got from the staff was they appreciated being heard and they were excited to create this vision collectively together and were able to set that. We started doing some good things both on the ticket and the sponsorship side of the business.
Moving off that opportunity, you get a one once in a lifetime chance with a relative startup, which is out now, OneTeam Partners. At this point, you get a chance again to rebuild like you did at the Browns and AHL team. When I started to see this trending out, you have had the opportunity two times prior to OneTeam to go on and rebuild something because it was completely zero at the Browns and the AHL was a startup franchise. You get this chance and you take this opportunity. Back to the beginning, you spent your last nine months doing what?
My first week was the week of the Superbowl. We were all down in Miami and getting to know each other. We have almost 40 team members at this point. The scenario that we’re in now probably slowed us a bit in terms of hiring but we were able to find some talented people. This is the best team that I’ve ever worked with in terms of overall talent across the board.
If you go back looking at your career and as we were bringing this down to a landing, calculate what’s the science behind it and take a step backwards before you take a step forward. A little minor step backwards so I can get forward widens your grasp of what you got to do by getting some experience and tailoring your message to the individual. A couple of questions I ask all the time if you had to define success to your two sons if they came to you and said, “What’s success mean?” What would you say to them at this age?
I was having this conversation with my son Sonny when we left his soccer game. He was asking me a whole bunch of different questions. What I tried to tell him was if you believe in yourself and you think big, the belief is so vital because that alone will help you get there. What I see with kids a little bit is they lack some confidence sometimes and I feel that ultimately will come. I try and instill that as much as possible both with Sonny and Sal. I specifically told them that the most important part of the entire journey is you’re having fun, happy throughout it and nothing else matters.
If you had a sales song because you’ve been in a lot of sales, what’s one song you will play before you go into a deal?
I was reading your show to try and get a sense of what we were going to talk about. I couldn’t think of one but I have been listening to a ton of The Band. It’s got to be one of those, maybe Atlantic City.
If you had to gift one book besides mine, what would you give?
I’ve gifted The Happiness Advantage a lot by Shawn Achor. I like it because it is scientific about the value of your attitude and the way that you view everything as opposed to some of the other books that you read that’s a lot of fluff. This one puts science behind it so I thought it was pretty cool.
Nick, great conversation as always. I’ve learned a bunch about you that I didn’t even know.
Thanks, Lance. I’ll talk to you soon.
About Nick Frasco
Sports executive, specializing in building, leading and developing high performing teams. Fifteen years of industry experience in leadership, premium hospitality, corporate partnerships, ticket sales, and business strategy/intelligence. Have developed, recruited, trained, and led multiple departments, while showing growth in all revenue categories. Strong skill sets in leadership, team member development, sales, service, and negotiation. Backgrounds in business analytics, Archtics, Veritix, Flash Seats, STR, and Microsoft CRM.