Q&A with Aaron Mahnke – Account Executive, University of Illinois 

Last month, Aaron Mahnke from Illinois was able to put the finishing touches on a group sale that was four month in the making. Upon receipt of payment, Aaron closed the $4200 group sale to the Illinois FFA for 300 tickets to the February 18 Men’s Basketball game versus Nebraska.

We sat down with Aaron to take us through the process and find out how time and effort can pay off.

IMGL: Tell us how you came about the lead?

Mahnke: The original idea came from AJ. He was at the sales center in Indianapolis at the same time as the national FFA Conference. Scott and I did some research on Agricultural organizations in Illinois and ended up with the Executive Director of the Illinois Association FFA.

IMGL: Walk us through how you reached out to them. What was the process like? How did you go about navigating the gatekeeper and finding the decision maker?

Mahnke: On the call prompt, I was able to get directly to the Executive Director. It took two or three tries and some emails, but we eventually got in touch. She was excited from the beginning being an alum of the University of Illinois. We had two conversations, and Scott came along on the meeting in Springfield.

IMGL: What were some of the early objections and how did you overcome them?

Mahnke: The meeting was the week before Thanksgiving, so the season had already started. The two biggest objections were price and the short time frame to turn everything around. Since the group was predominantly students, a weeknight game didn’t make as much sense. The game that worked perfectly was the Sunday afternoon game versus Nebraska. Being a weekend Big Ten game, it was in our highest price point. They said they could get 100 students out, and we were able to negotiate a group rate with the ticket office.

IMGL: How did you show value in an outing to the men’s basketball game?

Mahnke: By having ties with the U of I already, the Executive Director (Mindy) already had some connections with the College of ACES (Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences). We work with them on a yearly basis for football. Scott and I came up with the idea of hosting a networking event before the game for prospective students. We were able to work with the FFA, ACES, the event staff, and Fighting Illini Sports Properties to set everything up. They were getting a group rate for a weekend basketball game, a chance to meet future professors, and two personal account reps going forward for football and basketball.

IMGL: Looking back at the entire sales process, what are some things you would do differently?

Mahnke: In the past, we had tried reaching the FFA and other Agricultural entities in the state. Most of the corporations already had tickets and memberships and the barrier for the students is the price. They were very diligent and set up an internal purchasing system for the tickets. If I could have gotten a meeting a week or two earlier, there may have been an opportunity to get a few more students involved.

IMGL: What advice would you give your colleagues at other schools about this process?

Mahnke: Be diligent. The goal on the first call is not to close the big deal. Build rapport for a call or two and ask for a meeting. Once you are face-to-face, keep the conversation going. Provide solutions to the customer that they wouldn’t have thought about. Paint a picture about what you are imagining, but be straightforward and honest.

Once you close the group, make sure you find a group leader who is willing to communicate everything with their base. In the FFA case, the Executive Director delegated the duties to the Communication Specialist. The Communication Specialist plans and coordinates all the statewide events for the association. This made game day planning a breeze. It varies on a case-by-case basis, but the person who pays for the tickets may not always be the best one to coordinate the event.


For more questions reach out to Aaron directly at [email protected]