How the Sacramento Kings Completely Transformed Their Sales Strategy

How the Sacramento Kings Completely Transformed Their Sales Strategy

Phil Horn found himself at a crossroads.

As Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, his job was to fill the arena every night, ensure an incredible experience for the fans and foster growth for his employees. That’s no easy job under the best circumstances, but if you follow professional basketball, you know how the Kings fought hard to keep their beloved team through some very challenging circumstances.

For the first few years of Phil’s tenure, rumors swirled that the Kings would relocate to a different city. Would they leave Sacramento and head to Anaheim? Seattle? Phil’s Ticket Sales and Service team faced the difficult task of keeping the local fan base engaged, excited, and coming out to games. Phil also had to keep his sales group motivated and committed during uncertain times when they didn’t know whether they’d have a job the next day.

He and his management team watched their sales staff shrink from 50 to 15. With an uncertain future and a duty to help their employees grow, they helped salespeople find jobs elsewhere in sports. Every day was a question mark. And then, things changed. Fans and the citizens of Sacramento rallied and worked tirelessly to fight for their team. In 2013, Vivek Ranadive led a dynamic and diverse group of investors to purchase the Sacramento Kings, securing the team’s future in California’s capitol city. Vivek’s on- and off-the-court “NBA 3.0” philosophy marked a new era in Sacramento.

The goal: Grow the city and Kings brand globally. Make a positive impact on the local community. And do it all through powerful, cutting-edge technology.

For the Kings Ticket Sales and Service team, that meant reinventing the sales strategy. They needed tools to help them attract the best new sales employees quickly and reach out to a huge influx of demand from newly-committed fans. Phil started looking for technology that complemented the team’s new vision — tools that would help them achieve “Sales 3.0.”

Finding Disruptive Sales Technology

Phil came up with an acronym, SAC — social, accelerated, collaborative — to guide his search for the technology he needed to achieve his goals. “We were looking for sales tools that did three things,” he says. “They had to be social — help us amplify our story through social conversation. They had to be accelerated — allow us to do what we’d normally do faster and more efficiently. And they had to be collaborative — foster a team-selling environment that would make everyone better and help us share ideas.”

Phil talks more about the team’s use of technology in this video:

VIDEO: The Sacramento Kings & DialSource


No More Cold Calls

“We looked at our data and our sales strategy and realized we weren’t selling to buyers in the way they wanted to buy,” Phil says. “No one wants to answer their phone anymore. Everything is text; everything is digital. We decided to sell the way people want to buy.”

And, they decided to let their sales staff sell in a way that was more comfortable to them, using tools that mirrored their personal lives — social media and smartphones instead of cold calls.

“We made a deal with our team that no one would ever have to make a cold call again — but they did have to try the new tools we were testing. We promised our people we’d help them become smarter, faster and more efficient — and they’d have an opportunity to make more money.”

Kings sales leadership also made an important decision about who would have access to the new tools. “We decided that we were going to roll out all the tools to everybody. These wouldn’t be special tools for the top people. From day one on the job, everyone got access to really cool new technology. Everyone got an equal opportunity. That became powerful for our recruiting. We were making a significant investment in tech and training, and it set us apart in the industry.”

Because of their emphasis on forward-thinking new technology, the Kings started attracting the best sales talent in the business. A sales team that was once shrinking was now booming with new candidates knocking on the door.


One of those cool new tools is called Humanyze, which uses smart wearable badges to monitor sales reps’ activity and find out which behaviors are most important in the sales process. This fall, Fast Company featured The Kings and Humanyze:

“…The Kings sent their sales staff into the stands before and during games while wearing the badges. They discovered two things: the reps who spent the most time and energy in motion (both through the stands and in front of customers) sold twice as much as their peers; and the less they talked, the more they sold. Taking these lessons to heart, the Kings tripled their in-game sales last season compared to the previous year. The team has since abandoned cold-calling for face-to-face interactions, quadrupled its sales staff, and started a mentoring program to teach new recruits.”

Humanyze also showed the team that the most senior sales reps weren’t spending much time talking to rookies. “That was a miss,” Phil says. “There was a lot of value that could have been passed along there. As a result, we created a mentorship program that gives veterans and rookies one-to-one mentorship.” The program encourages mentorship pairs to get to know each other, and uses monthly contests with incentives based on pairs’ sales performance. “We’ve seen some rookies really take off because of that opportunity.”

There’s one common thread that Phil says connects all of the team’s new sales initiatives. “None of these new techniques would be working without the amazing willingness and excitement of our staff to try new things,” he says.

The Kings story is a powerful example of using disruptive technology to shift a sales strategy, motivate people and overcome challenges. I’m excited to see where the sales team goes from here, and I’m including a full version of this story in my new ebook on sales and engagement, coming soon.

Ryan Estis helps companies and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance. Each live event blends original research with compelling stories that move participants to take action. Ryan has 20 years of business experience working with the world’s best brands to initiate change, inspire innovation and deliver growth. Learn more about Ryan Estis.


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