We don’t know what the 20-21 season will look like yet, but we’re preparing to ensure that our fans are able to respond from a position of strength regardless of the circumstances.
Director of Inside Sales
Portland Trail Blazers
The interview with Joe Isse was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the Director of Inside Sales of the Portland Trail Blazers.
I lead our entry level ticket sales and service team and I am part of our sales and service leadership group. My primary focuses are on recruiting and hiring new members to our team and coaching and developing our current sellers to improve their skillset and help them guide their career.
Because we don’t hire on a short term or contract basis, I do a lot of proactive interviewing to ensure that we’re able to be nimble and flexible when we have positions come open on my team.
I spend a lot of time in one-on-ones coaching our sales-people. Everyone on my team is at a different point on their individual learning curves and have different goals, different strengths, and different focuses. I try to tailor the development opportunities so that they are as beneficial as possible to each person.
As a member of our sales and service leadership team, I also spend a lot of time helping to build and develop product and marketing strategy and ensure that our reps are positioned to be as successful as possible.
You have been quoted saying your mission is to “fill up one of the loudest arenas in the NBA”. How have you had to pivot your role due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the repercussion that fans will not be allowed in arenas for the foreseeable future?
In sports sales, we have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s how you grow and how you improve. One of the things that makes people most uncomfortable is uncertainty.
We don’t know what the 20-21 season will look like yet, but we’re preparing to ensure that our fans are able to respond from a position of strength regardless of the circumstances. In that same sense, I’m encouraging our sales team to be proactive and continue to have outreach to new potential customers, while spending more time on the needs analysis phase so that when we do have answers and certainty, we can move quickly.
There will always be things out of our control, but it’s up to you to decide what you want to focus on.
Fortunately, the NBA will be resuming play at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. How will the relocation affect your sales team?
It won’t really. We won’t be able to get in front of fans on game night, but we’ll still be able to capitalize on the energy of the season.
Your role indicates that one of the many facets of your job includes recruitment. What do you do to help aspiring sports professionals get their start in the sports industry and once hired how do develop these newcomers into a high quality sales team?
Recruiting is a very important part of my role. I try to be as open as I can with folks looking for career advice or informational interviews. Sometimes students get bad advice – the phrase “foot in the door” drives me crazy, but it gets tossed around all the time – so I think it’s important to be as open and honest as I can to help potential industry professionals learn and grow.
I obviously can’t hire everybody, but I can make a positive impact on anyone I interact with. Ultimately it’s going to be up to the individual if and how they want to apply what they’re getting from our interaction.
When someone joins our team, they come in with their own unique set of strengths and opportunities for growth and their own unique sets of goals. As we go through onboarding and transition into the coaching portion of their position, it’s my job to build authentic trust as I learn about where they’re at in their development and their learning style as I work to provide them with feedback in ways that will they will receive it and apply it. I also work to give them exposure to additional opportunities in the organization so we can identify which skillsets are most important to develop.
Your roles have been all connected to revenue generation – inside sales and ticket sales – what led you in this direction, how did you figure out this was your fit?
I knew I wanted to work in sports since my sophomore year of High School. I did as many internships as possible with the specific goal of avoiding ticket sales. The image I had of sales was the shady guy on the corner with a trench coat full of wristwatches just trying to push product. I thought you had to be super loud, a little brash, a little sneaky and shady and slick to be a sales person. I’m more of an introvert by nature, so I didn’t think sales was something I’d ever enjoy or be good at.
As a college senior, I had an opportunity for a sales internship. I didn’t like turning down opportunities, so I took it. I was selling for Seton Hall Basketball, the New York Liberty, Red Bull New York, and some smaller sports properties. That’s when things clicked for me. I realized what sales really was about – just having conversations with sports fans about the teams they were passionate about. Some of the same conversations I’d be having anyway with my friends and family.
I realized I could both enjoy and be successful in a sales role and that’s when I decided it was what I wanted to pursue long term.
Stacey's Final Thoughts
On March 11, the NBA suspended the 2019–20 season following Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19. On June 4, the NBA Board of Governors approved 29–1 that the league would resume the 2019-20 season in Orlando, Florida at Walt Disney World in a modified scenario with no fans. The lone dissenter was ironically the Portland Trail Blazers, who have one of the best fan bases in the NBA. The impact of fans in the stands is crucial for inside sales. But like the athletes, Joe Isse seems to be doing all he can so that his team is ready when the Trail Blazers return to home court. I know that fans can’t wait to fill the stadium one again and Joe Isse is optimistic that he will super busy executing plans he’s developed over the past few months.