In sales, some people are more relationship-heavy and some are more real-value-heavy, try to be a combination of both. In today’s episode, Lance Tyson interviews Brent Schoeb, Chief Revenue officer for the San Francisco 49ers. Brent is extremely process-oriented. So in this interview, Brent provides an insightful how-to manual on creating a culture of success. Listen closely and you’ll hear ideas on developing real value as well as the relationship in sales, advice for first-time managers, and details on infusing accountability into your process. Give this episode a listen and discover how large organizations like the San Francisco 49ers manage their teams to success.
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Against the Sales Odds Discuss Building Relationships And Finding Real Value With Brent Schoeb
I’m so excited about this episode. I’m fortunate to have somebody on that we got to know each other a little bit better. I have Brent Schoeb, Chief Revenue Officer of the 49ers. Brent, welcome to the show. Tell everybody about you, a little bit about your role, and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
It’s great seeing you, Lance. Thanks for having me on. I wish it could be in person, but soon enough. I’m the Chief Revenue Officer of the 49ers. My teams now are ticket sales and service, suite sales and service, corporate partnership sales and service, and broadcast partnerships. From the events side, it’s both public and private events. The majority of the dollars that come through are either the 49ers organization or Levi’s Stadium organization that works with me on my team.
It’s just for perspective, especially for people that maybe are in pro sports. Without disclosing anything that you shouldn’t, how much revenue your team is managing on all ends do you think?
It’s nine figures annually on our end in terms of our overall book of business on any given year. Obviously, the events side of our business is a little light in 2021.
It’s not a good idea that you get big groups of people together.
It’s a bad idea now. We have refrained so far.
From a perspective on the organization that reports up to you, what does your work look like? How many sales leaders report to you and probably some administrative staff and salespeople?
It’s about 50 people all in. If you look at my direct report, the Head of Hospitality is what I’ll call Dustin Albertson, effectually known as DA. Also, a phenomenal haircut similar to mine. We also have Kevin Hilton, who heads up our corporate partnership business. Bob Sargent, known as Sarge, heads up our broadcast partnerships. Catherine Lentz and Brad Dugan head up our private and public events business as well. Those five individuals roll up in. Brad rolls into DA. It’s a little bit of a data mine, but essentially, it’s four and a half direct reports.
I got a two-fold question for you. How recently were you named CRO? Is that in 2020?
It was in 2018.
What has been your greatest challenge as a sales leader?
It was interesting. I have done a terrible job of picking teams, but I have been successful on the field. In 2020, going to the Super Bowl was the first time in my professional career that I had a winning season start to finish. To have the high in my world of being able to leverage the Super Bowl, the team did a phenomenal job of doing so. Going a month later, right into COVID, it was a complete 180 for us. We couldn’t stop selling things if we tried. Coming up with Super Bowl, everything was going great and the brakes hit immediately, especially since COVID hit us. We were one of the first counties and communities to get hit hard by COVID, sadly.
We had to pivot everything from training to how we sell and everything in between. We pretty much had to rip up our entire 2020 business plans and pivot very hard and very quickly. Fortunately, we had our strategies in place with our team. Thanks to my boss, our President, Al Guido. At least in my career, we went from the absolute high of coming up with a Super Bowl win to a global pandemic a month later, so that’s 30 days. It’s our very short-lived celebration. We didn’t come out on the right side of history for the Super Bowl win. Having that momentum and winding our sails was amazing, but it was pretty short-lived, sadly.
During this pandemic, one of my sons said, “Are we post-pandemic now?” I said, “No, we’re dead center still right now.” The pressure has been on sales leadership to drop the right game plan and have several options on the game plan. It’s not one play. It’s several plays. I remember working a little bit with your sponsorship team. Some of the things we were all debating out was, “This move is pretty unorthodox.” I was like, “This whole thing is unorthodox, isn’t it?” You have to be pretty agile.
Let’s go backward. To rise in the ranks that you have, a lot of people who read this would love a personal story. You’re at the top of the heap now in one of the biggest brands in the world, plus one of the most recognizable leagues. Where are you from? Where did you start in sales and where did that start out at? Start from there.
I grew up in a small town in Southwest Minnesota called Wyndham in the middle of the cornfields. I got my sales kick because of my father. He was a small-town stockbroker. He owned his own business and decided to have a kid number two, which was me. It was 100% commission-based starting his own new business, but she said it was probably not the best plan. I got to understand the sales side from my father early on.
I loved sports. I merged the business and sports sides, which hooked me on the sports business facet. From there, I went to St. Cloud State University. I was a failed pitcher. They deemed me an honorary potential walk-on or something like that. There are a lot of potentials and honorary things in there, but I never made the team. An 85 mile an hour fastball doesn’t work at D2. I found out very quickly. There are lots of whiplash from home runs and try-outs.
With that, I worked in Minor League Baseball or Summer Collegiate Baseball at that time. I got my first taste three summers in a row working for the St. Clouds River Bats of the Northwoods Lake. I feel a little bit in the ticketing office with the athletic department with D1 hockey programs. I got to dip my toe in the ticketing side there as well. That leapfrog me into Ohio University with Jim Kahler for the Masters of Sports Ad program. From there, I got to know Jim.
Was that right after school that you jumped right into OU?
I had help because I had three years of Minor League Baseball experience while going through undergrad and then the athletic department, so I was able to jump right in. Jim got me hooked on corporate partnerships at that point in time. Understanding that world and where I fit in the overall sports business pie, Jim was a huge help. I ended up launching that to an entry-level job with the Memphis Grizzlies. Eric Sudol was my mentor at Ohio. He was a class ahead of me. Eric went there first.
You’ll get to know Eric Sudol and I had to get Brent in front of him a little bit. He is a year ahead of you there. When you went to Memphis, he was already there.
Build trusting relationships so that you can get to the point of showing real value.
He was already there for a year. He was a year ahead of me at the Ohio program. He helped get me the job with Andy Dolich and Mike Brown. We were running the show there at that time. We became roommates as well. We were competing with each other as young sellers and roommates. I have got many stories on Eric Sudol. Whoever wants him, feel free to text me. We had a great time. It was ultra-competitive, as you can imagine.
Was that on the partnership side or premium side?
It was the partnership side and then a part of it is at the entry-level price point to get us. We could have made more cash working at McDonald’s for sure. They took flyers on us. No one else wanted the job because of how much they were paying us. Fortunately, the beer was cheap in Memphis. Eric and I thought all the beer specials on Beale Street every other night. We joined in as corporate partnership sellers at least on my end. I’m pretty sure on his end was a pretty limited experience at that time. We learned on the fly together, which was fun looking back on it.
You mentioned something like competition and Eric is a competitive guy. From what I know about you, you are too. How are you as a seller? Did you come out of the gate strong? What did you have to get coached on a lot? Give us the good, bad and ugly to that.
You know Eric well. Having come in behind him a year into the marketplace was a challenge. Coming in fresh without much corporate partnership sales experience, he was dominating there. I learned a lot from him and everyone else on the team. On my end, I learned early that if I could get a corporate partnership prospect to the presentation stage, I felt good about my chances. I was acutely focused on selling base and objectives.
If I could find out how our Memphis Grizzlies partnership could help your business, that was my go-to to give you the pitch. I worked hard on my end to make sure I was getting outreach in the right spot from a prospecting standpoint and getting in front of the right people. I knew if I could do that, I could put a very compelling presentation in front of them, even though we were winning about twenty games a year at that time.
In my conversations with you, I usually categorize salespeople in two ways. You either have folks that are artistic and more concerned about the human piece. It’s not that you don’t appreciate to connect with the person, but you’re process-oriented toward the sales price. Would that be safe to say you were that way when you were younger? Sales is a half heart, half process. The goal is to get to the middle a little bit so you can play both pieces. Talk about that a little bit.
I always looked at it in two buckets. I call it R&R for our team. It’s the relationship and how do you show real value. The way that I describe it for our partnership team is, “Some people are relationship sellers and real value sellers. Some people are relationship buyers and real value buyers.” Early on in my career, I was on the real value side. I had to work on that relationship side because I knew I could get you to a spot where I could get some convincing if I understood your business that I could show you the real value. For me, it was the focus, “How do I build that relationship and trust so I can get to the point of showing that person real value?”
You’re in Memphis for how long? What is your next move?
I was in Memphis for three and a half seasons. From there, I went up to the San Francisco 49ers for the first time. It was the same role, Manager of Corporate Partnership Sales. It’s just a bigger market, brand and opportunity for larger deals. I bounced West for a little under three years. I believe it was the first time I left for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy 500 for a couple of years and then boomeranged back to the 49ers.
What were you coached on the most? What was the most humbling experience for you in Memphis?
I won’t even say humbling. I would say it grounded me. We were the worst team in the NBA in 2 of the 3 years that I was there. It was the smallest market at that time and we had the least amount of Fortune 5s as well in the year going after. This was three years after FedExForum was built. All the major deals were already in place. You had to grind to get a deal done. Every day was a grind coming in to try and prospect a lead and get a deal inked.
It taught me how to rely on every part of a sales function you have, from research from the NBA League office to Eric, Chris and Chad were there, “How did you guys successfully make the sale?” You had to widen your spectrum to get a sale because no sale there at that time was easy. That piece was very humbling for me. It took a lot longer and it was a lot harder than probably most places you could be at a professional level to get a deal done.
You get to a marketplace and a brand that’s a lot different from the 49ers for the first time. You’re probably arguably one of the hottest markets, especially at that time. Everything has affected COVID. That grounded experience from Memphis allows you to do what? Did you start selling in San Fran?
As you mentioned the process piece, my process was down strongly at that point in time. I leaned on the team and my folks heavily as well in terms of garnering the best practices when I was there. As I came here, I felt good about my process. It was elevating those conversations and not being scared of pitching a lot more dollars for a lot less games in the NFL in a bigger market. That was the first piece. The second piece at that time, I’ll never forget this because we were a category-based sales organization. I was a low person on the totem pole. I got all the categories that were 50 to 100.
At that time, technology was 60. I found out very early on that this technology category is interesting. We have a boatload of technology categories out here. No one has been able to uncover how to do a deal at the technology company that was significant at that time. I said, “If I want to be successful here, I got to figure out this technology category.” I educated myself as much as possible to understand the category. The majority of my success in my first stint with the 49ers was selling technology deals.
What year was this? There was a time where technology was almost non-existent in sports sponsorship.
It would have been in 2009 approximately. We ended up closing HP and it was their first major sports partnership. They were essentially our naming rights partner at Candlestick, but they ended up being our seasoned presenting partner since the city owned it. That was our biggest investment in sports at that time. You’ll love this. The biggest objection, Lance, is the Yahoos, Googles and everyone else has said, “We’re a bigger brand than you. We’re international. Why should we partner with you?” I heard that time and time again over that objection.
What would you say to that because that’s so interesting?
To be honest, in the first ten times, I was like, “Crap.” No one knew how to get around.
I’m even sitting here too. I usually have a one-liner or something. I’m trying to put myself in that time frame. Back then, you were like, “What do I get for that? I don’t know if I got it.”
In order to get a sale, you really have to widen your spectrum because no sale is easy.
We ended up figuring out, which is still true to this day, that a lot of these tech companies are looking for either executive briefing centers to showcase their technology or a story that is upscale. In partnering with the team, you can come up with a good tech and innovation story versus another company that might be a brick-and-mortar. We found out, to sell tech, you got to have some kind of story that shows how you’re integrating their tech into your business. It was the key. We waited too long to figure that out. In six months, I kept saying, “Every time I get to that objection, I’m stuck.”
It’s one of those ones too where I’m like, “I hope they don’t bring this up.” I got off a big consulting deal because, in COVID, not only have we done training, but we have done probably as much consulting. It was with a German manufacturer. I was like, “I hope they don’t hit me too hard on these numbers because I’m not ready for this client.” I sidestepped. I was like, “Yes.” I hate those types.
You come back here and get your system down. You get your duplicatable, predictable and scalable. Anytime that somebody is process-oriented, they can scale. You go to the Indy Motor Speedway. You go right back to the Midwest. I always look at NASCAR, Indy race and stuff. It’s known, but it’s not a specialty. Maybe I’m saying it wrong, but it’s like a fringe group or a certain type of group. It’s a big speedway, but you got other things that are going on. You got a brickyard that goes on there and all those things. How did you approach that?
It was interesting and a quick story there. As I was making that decision, Ethan Casson is now the CEO of the Minnesota Timberwolves. At that time, he was the Chief Operating Officer for the 49ers. I had an honest conversation with him that I was looking for growth and we got along well. Based on his plan, my goal was to continue to sell at Candlestick while they were opening the stadium at that point. We hit a crossroads and I said, “We’re not aligned on the plan.” We had an awesome conversation on the way out, which rarely happens, as both of us know.
I made the jump to the Indy 500 and Indy Motor Speedway because it gave me a chance to manage people in a department for the first time. I didn’t know anything about motorsports. I went to one race in my entire life prior to going into it. It was a new challenge for me. There were a lot of things process-wise that you could apply over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No doubt, a lot of things changed. Some decision-makers changed because there are motorsports specialties and companies. A lot of those processes showed out. I was only there for two years. It was a pretty short time frame before Ethan called me back.
This was your first stop to start managing people.
I learned a lot of good and bad things in terms of how I manage people. Quite honestly, if Ethan said, “I’m ready to promote you with the 49ers,” I probably would have done some things that were a failure that I was able to get those out in Indy and be able to come back.
What is the one thing as a first-time manager? You come in knowing your process. Now, you got some people. You are going to change the world. If you had one do-over from a sales leadership perspective in Indy, what category would it be?
We all have some type of plan as we’re going into a new job. For me, I was listening and going through and understanding what everyone wanted to do, but in the back of my mind, I said, “This is what needs to happen.” The Indy Motorsport accelerated way too fast into the corner on some of them. A part of them, I want to go out and buy-in if I would have waited, but I can be impatient at times. In the whole system, we didn’t have any tracking system at that time or CRM. I would try to drop it all on everyone’s lap right away and it was too much, quite honestly. That is when you roll up things and prioritize what is important.
It always comes down to what is the priority and then somehow getting some alignment with other people’s priority. It’s never a straight fix. Rarely when somebody says, “You can come in and do whatever you want, can you do whatever you want.” That’s always the play. From there, you make your way back to San Fran?
I made my way back to San Francisco. I was doing long distance with my now wife at that time for two years and then Ethan called me back and said, “I know I didn’t give you this shot initially, but it’s time.” Ethan and I stayed in contact.
For everybody who would know Ethan, Ethan runs Minnesota, correct?
He went to college with my cousin. He got out the last time we were together. For everybody who doesn’t know, the sports world can be small and intimate at times. Ethan was at Minnesota Timberwolves. He hires you back.
He brings me back. I got to know Al at that time too. It was about a year before we opened Levi’s Stadium. I was able to come in and tackle some of those remaining deals and get the next wave of deals as well beyond naming and some of the founding. It gave me a good glimpse because I was leaving. As the plan was coming together to go-to-market, I was on a couple of the initial naming rights pitches and then I came back as some of them were closing. I had an interesting perspective in those two years that I was out.
In the role that you got hired back for, you had salespeople reporting to you?
Yes. At that time, I was the Director of Partnerships. We had three partnership sellers and then six partnership activation execs. We were all rolling up into me at that time.
This is interesting if you’re all paying attention here. You know what you want to do in Indianapolis. You come in hot. You’re accelerating the corner, which is never a good thing because there’s a wall there. You also come back to San Francisco and you probably know where the gaps and the pockmarks are. What are your first couple of moves there?
I was focused on the organization, but he was focused on making sure that many of our large-scale deals were in place at that time. As he brought me back in, my role was to close up the large deals and then set up shop for a typical NFL team again. We got these long ten-year deals in place and now what is our next move? We got this handful of deals. What is next? He gave me the keys to the car and told the team like, “This is my plan with Brent’s influence and everyone is going to be able to chip in.”
Instead of accelerating fast on this one, I talked to Ethan and the team a bunch. I knew a lot of the folks from my previous stint with the 49ers and we collaboratively pulled it together. I had some priorities that were non-starters in my world that I was very clear with, but I said, “On these certain areas, how should we attack this together?” We game-planned it collaboratively on board.
Is that something different you would have done in the past? Were you more collaborative this time around?
Prioritize what’s most important and then get alignment with other people’s priorities.
I was collaborative.
From there, you go up. You become the Director of Partnerships, then you became the VP after Ethan went to Minnesota, correct?
I’m very blessed and fortunate. I felt like every time Al and Ethan got promoted, I was able to be the lucky suitor behind and got promoted. I was the Director and then VP when Ethan got bumped to CRO. Ethan goes to the CEO of the Timberwolves. Al was the President at that time and then I essentially backfilled Ethan’s CRO responsibilities.
The organization starts to grow. It makes investments in other areas and you get more responsibilities. Let’s go back to one core concept. One of the things you have been saying is like, “You’re very thought-out.” Anybody that understands the sales process can understand milestones, segments, straight lines, and alternative strategies. How does your sales philosophy affect your leadership and management philosophy because you have a big organization now?
There are a couple of things. One, I have a mentality piece and then I have an accountability piece. On the accountability side, we launched 2021 department plans with the leadership team on the revenue side. That’s my reminder to the team every year. For accountability to work, at least how I see the world, your department plan needs to tie into your org structure, goals, KPIs, how you celebrate people and comp plans. Instead of putting a department plan out there, letting it sit, and seeing how it works, I make sure that the accountability piece is locked tight coming out of the department plans every year.
We look at that every week because, every Friday, I get a report from the team that rolls up and I get the weekly KPIs that roll up into the annual goal. For me, if you’re celebrating something but you’re not compensating somebody for that, it’s weird. If you got something in your department plan, but it’s not tied to your goals, something is off. I challenge my team once a year. I don’t try to go too crazy. I’m going to say, “Make sure it’s a linear accountability chain of command there.”
On the other side that talks about mentality, it goes back to probably two things. One, from an outward perspective, it’s that R&R I was talking about. No matter if you’re selling a ticket, suite, event, broadcast partnership, corporate partnership, or whatever, there used to be a relationship and a real value together. Some buyers are more relationship-heavy. Some are more real-value-heavy, but there’s probably a combination of both.
On the inward mentality, B&B is what I lean on, best practices and thinking big. Best practice-wise, I tell our team, “If you’re going to do something, say you’re doing a sponsor recap at the end of the year, don’t just do it to do it. Make it a best practice and figure out how you can leverage that maybe into a renewal.” For thinking big, COVID has made us all think big. If you have a problem, think more globally. It’s probably not just the person you’re talking to that has a problem.
For our partners, an example of that would be the fact that we gave them a “choose your own adventure plan this year.” If you were an airline, you probably weren’t doing great in 2021. We’d take a little less in 2021 if you had a bunch in the backend. If you were a software company in tech, you’re probably doing okay. We can keep your deal as is, but ultimately, you decide and choose your own adventure piece.
To go back to your question, the accountability piece is pretty important for me because that keeps everyone rowing the boat in the same direction together. The mentality piece, the B&B and R&R, are the foundational pillars that I like to remind our team of every year and constantly throughout the season to the point where I’ll get R&R emails from people that have done good R&R work. It’s starting to trickle through the team at this point in time.
You have a lot of salespeople to report up to you or to your managers. What is the most frustrating thing you hear from a salesperson which grinds you?
We’re all hired to do a job. When you’re meddling in other things and there is noise, wins, losses and everything else, we all need to vent at times. At the end of the day, make sure you’re doing your job first and what you were hired to do before you jump into all of these other noise items. It’s important culture-wise to get involved as much as possible, but at the end of the day, just like a head coach, you desire to win football games. As a sales organization, we’re here to drive revenue for the organization.
For everybody who wasn’t paying attention, you’re looking at pretty much a 9, 10 or 12-year run to get to where you are. That’s a lot of speed. Well done and well-played. The last couple of questions are my speed questions. The first question is about success. Take every cliché out of it if you can. You have a 7 or 8-year-old niece, nephew, son, or daughter sitting next to you. They look at you and say, “What does success mean?” You say what?
Success, individually speaking, is you set a goal. You set out to achieve it and you achieve the goal.
You have done a lot of big deals and that list can go on and on. If Brent and I talked about all the deals he has been involved with, they would be the most recognizable things. You definitely heard about his sales if we named the ball. If you’re playing a song in your head before a big sale or big negotiation, what song are you playing?
It’s a Great Day to Be Alive. I don’t want to get too juiced up because I don’t want to come in too high. I got to calm myself down sometimes when I go.
When I’m feeling down, there’s this old rap group called Three Times Dope and they have a song called the Greatest Man Alive. If I got beat up by my wife or I had a bad day, I go to the Greatest Man Alive. I got 2 or 3, but it depends on my mood. I’m with you 100%. The last thing, if you have to gift one book to anybody, what book do you gift?
I have gifted a lot. The other one is The Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer. I love it because he puts the onus on the seller in a humorous way. If you’re not getting a prospect to reach back out to you, blame yourself for not being creative enough, but he does it in a humorous fashion. It’s got a little fire start.
He is a classic with that. I was on his podcast and he always has a great one-liner. Two guys from Philly, him and I. Brent, it was great having you on. I appreciate our relationship and the time we spent.
Thanks, Lance. I appreciate it.