I know “sales” is a dirty word in the nonprofit arts, but I’m going to talk about it anyway. If you’re offended, please don’t read ahead.
Sales is one-on-one, personal, human interaction designed to motivate customers to buy your product. Some people use the word to refer to inside order-taking or customer service, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. You can call that stuff sales if you want, but if you’re not actively reaching out to persuade customers to buy your product, it’s really just operations.
Girl Scouts do sales. Businesses do sales. Used car dealers do sales. Art galleries do sales. Even prostitutes do sales, which means that sales has been around for a very long time. Fortunately, the relative integrity of sales as a revenue-generating endeavor is all about the motives of the people doing the sales, not the sales process itself.
Nonprofit arts organizations do sales, but we call it telemarketing so we can feel better about doing something we think is icky. We also do group “sales” but we do it so badly that it’s not even worth talking about.
I mention sales in the context of research because one the of the principal side benefits of sales is that by talking to our customers, we get information that helps us understand their needs, wants and desires. And when we understand our customers’ needs wants and desires, we can communicate with them more persuasively. People who do sales tend to identify with the people they sell to, which enables them to describe how the products they sell satisfy their customers’ yearnings.
In distancing ourselves from sales, we in the arts have inadvertently distanced ourselves from the people we most need to persuade – our new audiences. We don’t learn from them because we don’t endeavor to identify with them. And failing to learn from them prevents us from speaking to them in a language they understand.
As with all research, there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure you gather the most accurate, useful information.
1. Take sales out of the boiler room. Hire a Director of Sales and give her an office next to the Director of Development and Director of Marketing. Put her in charge of everything that involves direct persuasive communication with key buyers, resellers or strategic selling partners, i.e:
- Sales to/through area businesses and corporations
- Sales through priority, discount or package offers
- Sales of sponsorships
- Sales through strategic marketing partners (media, credit card companies, etc.)
- Sales through strategic sales partners (hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc.)
- Sales through destination partners (BIDs, Chambers, CVB’s)
- Sales through legitimate secondary sales outlets, brokers and ticket agencies
- Sales through employee and membership perks companies
- Sales through affinity organizations and membership groups (AAA, AARP, alumni organizations., etc.)
- Sales through authorized, incentivized remote ticketing outlets
- Sales of whole-house buyouts, exclusive events and venue rentals to meeting & event planners and destination management companies
- Sales to/through tour operators & receptive service providers
- Sales through web-based discounters (Travelzoo, Groupon, Goldstar, etc.)
- Sales through/to educational systems, educators and students
- Sales of packages (dinner, parking, tickets, etc.)
- Sales through social media to consumer social networks
- Sales to senior, military, ethnic, religious, fraternal (SMERF) groups (a.k.a. traditional group sales)
- Sales to individual consumers through telemarketing, (a.k.a.”telesales”)
2. Develop, staff and empower a department that will engage in constant direct contact with the above, and that will channel external perspectives and expectations back into the organization at a senior management level.
3. Employ and enjoy best practices in sales including long-term relationship development, win-win partnership development, and the willingness to respond with alacrity and deference to the needs of willing but unfamiliar new buyers.
In the arts, sales is all about developing productive, mutually beneficial relationships with community decision makers who can buy or influence the purchase of tickets or admissions to our events or institutions. But it is also about opening a dialogue with those buyers/influencers so we can learn how to sell more effectively to them or through them to their various constituencies.
Sell. Learn. Sell.
We can’t be afraid to sell. That’s something I’m working on.