Fast Learning: 5 Tips on How to Work with Customers, Sponsors from Suzanne Henslee Mannino

Zanna and MikeSuzanne Henslee Mannino entered the endurance market in 2000 under less-than-enthusiastic circumstances. Having lost her late husband to cancer and now raising a 3-year-old on her own, Suzanne needed an outlet.

She began participating in triathlons in and around Tampa, Florida, and soon noticed a lack of corporate sponsors. Armed with a sales background, she began pitching sponsorships to major Tampa Bay businesses and before she knew it, she was planning and directing races.

In 2012, she founded Xanadu Race Management with Michael Mannino (who she would marry in 2015), and now serves the Tampa Bay area full time as an up-and-coming race director.

We recently talked to Suzanne about the challenges she faces when planning races, how she caters to her community and what she wished she knew about every racer.

  1. Listen, but be realistic in actions

“Michael and I get calls all the time from an excited participant who exclaims, “I have got the perfect idea for a race!” We listen and try not to shoot them down but typically if they are thinking about it we have already considered it.”

  1. Don’t bend for others

“I live by the saying, ‘I am willing to jump over hurdles but I won’t force my way through brick walls.’ I have a very positive personality. This is helpful and gets people to question my intentions. I let people judge for themselves if we are right for each other regarding any given event. I don’t dwell in negativity, so I quickly move on if I am questioned ethically or otherwise.”

  1. Work with, not against, those around you

“Respect dates of surrounding race directors, stick to your own location and play nice. We are what people choose to spend their hard-earned money doing. Give them safety and a great experience. You can’t please everyone so address the critics personally and praise the crowd loud and socially.”

  1. Cater to your customers

“Most of our races have a limit between 200 and 900 participants and have a quick sell out based on our price point. We pride ourselves on providing a great experience where people will leave with an intrinsic and tangible return based on what they paid. “

  1. Get to know your racers in some fashion

We are blessed to see hundreds of the same faces throughout the year and our participants have become our dear friends. Because I get very involved with our participants via email, I know many of their stories and to say they are touching does not give them justice. The hard part is getting to the races and putting the faces you know perfectly with the names and stories you know deeply.”

Read more from Suzanne and other Event Directors of the Month.