It was the beginning of freshman year when Cassandra Polansky followed her professors’ advice and applied for an internship.
“As soon as I got to campus, I wandered over to the men’s basketball office and I got a job cold-calling people to ask if they wanted season tickets,” Polansky says.
That job was the catalyst for a journey that would take Polansky to the Brewers, Bucks, Packers and, eventually, back to Marquette, where she is now director of ticket sales and service at Learfield, Marquette Athletics’ sports marketing partner.
Along the way, Polansky, who earned an undergraduate degree in marketing, got her MBA from Marquette’s Graduate School of Management and completed the Igniting Insights Innovation Leadership Program, a continuing education offering from Innovation Alley. Polansky is also a member of the Marquette Business Alumni Association.
This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What was your impetus to want to work in ticket sales?
I always wanted to work in sports. After you leave college, you have to grow up and have a job, and I love sports. That’s probably the common answer for anyone who works in sports; you want to do what you like.
I think the more I did this job, the more I got hooked on that adrenaline of game day and putting together the puzzle of understanding our fans enough to create memorable, enjoyable experiences that compel them to keep coming back.
Cold calling is a difficult experience that even a lot of people in sales don’t like, but it seems like you embrace it. Why is that?
The trick is to find a comfort zone with it. You know you’re going to be hung up on; you know that someone is going to say “no” at first and you have to talk them back into the conversation. It’s hard, especially as a young person either in school or just coming out of it, not knowing a lot about the world or how to talk to strangers.
That challenge of developing a relationship, breaking down the walls and finding common ground was exciting, though. It’s all about building strong relationships. Even if someone doesn’t buy today or come to the game tonight, I know I can call in a week or next month, have another quality conversation and try again.
Same with my experiences in customer service and marketing — you really have to understand what motivates people, be attentive to what they tell you and what potentially they want even if they don’t ask for it.
Bottom line: know who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.
What did you get out of the Marquette MBA program? How do you apply what you learned from it in your professional life?
The insights I gained from working with non-like-minded people and hearing their points of view on work was valuable. A lot of times, people surround themselves with other people who are like themselves. You grow up with family that you know very well, and you have a group of friends that are similar, and that’s kind of the world you live in until you expand it. The MBA program was helpful because it made me realize how many kinds of ways there were to approach my job.
I still have friends and acquaintances from the program, and I learned lessons I still apply today.
So much of any MBA experience is the network you get to engage with. How would you characterize Marquette’s?
The Marquette network is an asset for any student and graduate. It’s like an extended family; our alumni are generally happy to help a young person looking to advance their career, learn or get to know new people. It’s a strong community that’s extraordinarily proud of their university and excited to be an ambassador however they can. I’m proud to be part of that network and at the stage of my career to be able to start giving back and helping others as I’ve been helped to Be The Difference.
You also took the Igniting Insights course to learn more about how to guide innovation processes. What did that course teach you?
The types of leadership we honed in on throughout the course had to do with risk-taking and being more ambitious. I remember being in one class and hearing a guest speaker say, “If you’re in a meeting and you don’t think an idea is spot-on, don’t be afraid to say so. Don’t settle for a mediocre idea.”
That was so striking to me because, who says that? But that’s the point. This is a type of leadership that compels change and makes advances happen that wouldn’t without that push.
I would never have fathomed doing that in my first jobs in and out of college, when I was so careful to listen and learn, oftentimes at least slightly intimidated until I learned my role and about my own capabilities, strengths and skills. Now I’m appreciating all that those experiences and collections of interactions taught me and using that to lead our sales team.
That’s really the strength of the postgrad programs — helping us discover more deeply our professional selves and new concepts through engaging with others to become more dynamic leaders and influencers. And that leads to new opportunities.
What kind of a relationship do you have with the people in your Igniting Insights cohort?
I just had lunch a few weeks ago with three other members of my small group from that class. We meet every month and read new books together and talk about our different experiences. It’s a great cross-section of backgrounds, each a highly successful leader in their role, one in finance, one in construction, someone in workforce solutions, and obviously me in sports and hospitality. Talking to them gets me so excited because it keeps me fresh. They keep me plugged into what’s going on so I can be the best leader I could be.
Marquette basketball is coming off one of its most successful seasons in recent memory. It’s easy to think about the challenges associated with selling tickets after a losing season but are there any that come with selling tickets after a winning season?
First, in sports, it’s important to win off the court regardless of what happens on it. I worked for a team that set a franchise record for losses in a season and one that competed for championships each year. Those were very different scenarios with different challenges but the same ultimate goals — pack the place, maintain a recognizable and beloved brand, and win. I loved both, for the record.
It’s incredibly important to capitalize on success, and that’s fortunately the position we found ourselves in last year as the men’s basketball team earned two Big East titles, the women’s squad made it back to the NCAA Tournament, and our volleyball team captured a Big East conference crown, as well. We were able to slide up our sales timeline to sell new season ticket deposits during basketball season to give the fans who are excited about MU hoops a chance to get in on the action.
We’ll continue to welcome basketball fans, Marquette supporters, or just anyone looking for a fun activity on a Wisconsin winter day or night to join us on gameday and see where this year’s journey takes us.
Fans interested in purchasing Marquette tickets can do so at gomarquette.com/tickets.