Selling through passion

Author Allison Mast, University of San Francisco

Posted: June 6, 2016

Tagged: sales skills

North Carolina is home to one of the most storied rivalries in college athletics. Throughout the state, lines are clearly drawn, and sides have been chosen. You either wear the royal blue of Duke or the powder blue of UNC Chapel Hill. This intense rivalry reaches its crescendo twice every year when the two schools face off on the hardwood. Unfortunately for the athletic departments of these schools, the enthusiasm often ends there—football is merely an afterthought. So when Brian Chacos, the director of fan development at the University of North Carolina, was tasked with increasing football ticket sales in the heat of the hoops season, he needed the perfect salespeople to help him.

In his book “The Ultimate Sales Machine,” Chet Holmes describes at length the type of personality usually attributed to the successful salesperson. One trait he describes as dominance is an important characteristic that measures the strength of the salesperson’s ego. High dominance or a strong ego, “is crucial in sales because it means you will have the drive and personal ambition to close as many sales as possible and the armor to not take repeated and even harsh rejections personally” (Holmes, 2007, p. 81). In addition, a strong ego allows a salesperson to be more decisive rather than cautious.

Holmes also breaks potential salespeople into two categories: high influence and low influence. High influence people communicate well and communicate often. While low influence people work better alone, high influence people are effective team members. With their advanced communication skills, they can be highly persuasive.

Some secondary characteristics that help form an effective salesperson include steadiness and compliance. High steadiness people are patient, persistent and thoughtful. They can be very good listeners. High compliance people plan ahead and are very accurate and precise in their work, while low compliance people are more willing to push boundaries and take risks.

In Holmes’ opinion, the most successful salesperson is the perfect combination of high dominance and high influence. While selling something like football tickets, they should have a strong enough ego to deal with repeated rejection without thinking any lesser of themselves. They should be extremely driven to close deals and push forward onto the next. That being said, a successful sales person also needs to be personable and empathetic—someone whose ego is so large that they have trouble being in the buyers’ shoes will struggle to establish relationships and retain clients over the long term. Most importantly, “the best of the best are always seeking to be better” (Holmes, 2007, p. 92).

Utilizing a different approach, four professors researched the skills needed to be successful in sales by doing a content analysis of sport ticket sales job announcements on Teamwork Online and JobsInSports. By categorizing the announcements based on key words, they found that many of the skills needed, as stated in the listings, were reoccurring: “communication skills (78 percent) were the most often identified, followed by computer skills (67 percent), work ethic (65 percent), working the hours required in the sport industry (58 percent), organizational skills (53 percent), getting along well with others (43 percent), consultative sales skills (34 percent), the ability to work in a fast paced environment (22 percent), and creativity (21 percent)” (Pierce, Peterson, Clavio & Meadows, 2002, p. 142). In addition, cold calling and customer service were two areas extremely important to those seeking entry-level jobs.

Upon taking a closer look, it is evident that the skills listed above are necessary for a wide range of jobs outside of sales and outside of sports. While these skills are undoubtedly important in sports sales professionals, they do not necessarily consider the field or the target clientele. The same can be said for the personality traits described by Holmes. They are needed to be successful in sales, but what is unique about sports sales? A good salesperson should be able to sell anything, but something extra is needed in the sports industry.

What Chacos found is that people who love sports enjoy sharing that passion with others. He selected the day in which new hope and enthusiasm surrounded the UNC football team—National Signing Day—and created an army of Tar Heel fans to assist him with the selling. Thus, existing season ticket holders took to the phones to help sell tickets for the next season and beyond. By doing this he found that “there is no replacement for the authentic and unbridled enthusiasm of college sports fans. What the volunteer sales team lacked in sales training, they made up for with their love of the product they were selling” (Popp, 2015, p. 12). Although they didn’t necessarily fit Holmes’ profile or possess the skills outlined in the job listings, they were able to connect with potential buyers because they shared a love of UNC sports and were able to bond over it. The season ticket holders did not need a script to show their enthusiasm—they had years of fond memories and fun experiences to help them do so.

Rather than delving into the specifics, Chacos kept it simple, which revealed that “over time, no sales tool is more effective than one-on-one conversations. Simply having a donor, supporter, or student reach out to thank a ticket buyer for their purchase can open a critical dialogue” (Popp, 2015, p. 12). In this case, Chacos found that the person doing the selling did not necessarily matter. It was important that he selected members of Tar Heel Nation, but what really mattered was that person took the time to have a one-on-one conversation. This relates to Chacos’ belief that “fans desire to feel appreciated and wanted by their team. In many cases, college sports fans want to be part of the solution to improving attendance and game atmosphere” (Popp, 2015, p. 12). Even at a school dominated by basketball in a state dominated by basketball, UNC fans want to help improve attendance at football. By having individual conversations with salespeople they consider to be part of their group or network, clients felt valued.

Thus, while sport sales professionals should possess the personality and the skills necessary to succeed in sales, they should also have a genuine passion for the team or product that they’re selling. If they’re able to show this passion and have one-on-one conversations, they can make up for a lack of training.



Holmes, C. (2007). The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies. New York: Portfolio.

Pierce, D., Petersen, J., Clavio, G., & Meadows, B. (2002). Content analysis of sport ticket sales job announcements. Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal, 2(2), 137-155.

Popp, N. (2015, May 4). How one event uses fan base’s passion to recruit ticket buyers. SportsBusiness Journal, 18(4). Retrieved from

About Allison Mast, University of San Francisco

Allison Mast is a Sport Management Master’s candidate at the University of San Francisco. She received a Bachelor of Arts in the History of Art from Vanderbilt University in 2015, graduating with departmental honors for her research on the architecture of baseball parks. She currently serves as a Media Relations intern for the San Francisco Giants and hopes to pursue a career in the media relations field following the completion of her internship.

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