Five Markets The Arts Don’t Bother Tapping #3

3. Volume Buyers

In the arts we cater to three types of buyers. If you’re one of them, you have a reasonably good chance of accessing our products, although some of you will get better service than others. If you’re not among these three types – and many are not – you may be out of luck.

1. If you’re a performing arts consumer who wants to subscribe or a museumgoer who wants to become a member, we will roll out the red carpet and do every thing we can to make you happy. Many of our institutions were built around you and we will gladly nudge others aside to make sure you get the very best we have to offer.

2. If you’re not the commitment type, we welcome consumers in pairs and handfuls too, although you’re not our first priority and we may make you buy through an impersonal third-party ticketing system that adds unwelcome fees. There are so many of you, though, that we will do what we can – given our traditions – to get you in the door.

3. And if you are a consumer who wants to buy more than a handful of tickets, we may let you do it, but we’ll probably give you limited access, dreadful service, low-level staff support, third-class patron status – and we may even force you to sign a contract before we’ll let you and your friends pass through our venue doors.

Back in the 1950s performing arts providers on Broadway and elsewhere recognized demand from a limited but persistent market segment comprised of society ladies and seniors who wanted to attend shows together. But these customers said they couldn’t just plop down cash for un-returnable tickets until they knew how many of their people were coming, and they couldn’t invite people to come unless they knew they had the tickets, so box offices reluctantly carved out a reserve-now/pay-later pigeonhole and called it “group sales.”

PigeonholeSurprisingly, even though that was 70 years ago and society ladies and seniors are a miniscule part of the volume ticket market, this pigeonhole remains the industry model we use today, and most volume buyers are expected to squeeze through it whether they fit or not. Since many don’t fit, only the most avid or complacent bother to buy.

Here’s a surprise: Of all the places you might look for untapped demand from new audiences, your volume sales department, even though it’s the last place you want to look, is likely to be where the most untapped potential lies. Below is a list of buyers that don’t necessarily fit into the three categories above, many of which, depending on your market and the relative popularity of your products, can be found sitting outside your old “group” sales pigeonhole waiting to be invited in through the front door.

But first, know this: Groups don’t buy tickets.

In every instance where multiple tickets are sold, there is an individual decision maker, often a business person or professional, who purchases tickets in large quantities on behalf of others, or purchases tickets to resell to others, or has the power to influence bulk ticket sales through proprietary social or business networks. Volume buyers are remote extensions of our single-ticket sales infrastructure who carry our marketing messages to places they wouldn’t otherwise go, motivate their various constituencies to respond by adding or passing along value, manage the logistics of ticket sales and distribution, and, in many cases, physically deliver patrons to our doorstep. Treating these people like discount-hungry little old ladies is utterly irresponsible, if not outright incompetent, and it’s a profound disservice to funders who expect the organizations they support to be earning revenue in a reasonably professional manner.

Partial List of Under-served Volume Ticket Buyers

  • International wholesale tour operators
  • Receptive tour operators
  • Domestic long-haul package tour operators
  • Local/regional day-trip tour operators (pre-formed & retail)
  • Ground transportation & sightseeing company operators
  • Meeting & event planners
  • Broad range of businesses/corporate buyers (executive event & client entertainment)
  • Destination management companies
  • Employee perks & recreation service providers
  • Corporate & hospitality concierges
  • Fundraisers
  • Destination partners (restaurants, hotels, non-competitive attractions, etc.)
  • Ticket brokers/resellers/agents
  • Affinity & membership organization managers
  • Premium access clients (ongoing accounts)
  • Educators & educational system administrators
  • Semi-professional group event organizers
  • Social media based event organizers

Do this tomorrow: Dismantle your entire “group” sales operation including all the box office traditions, procedures and protocols and throw the whole mess away for good. Now, go out into the world – well outside your artsy bubbles – and engage with representatives of these various market segments (as appropriate to your market/product). Ask them what you can do to give them extraordinary services that will enhance their ticket purchase potential. Listen carefully to what they say and learn as much as you can about how and why they use the products you sell. Then, rebuild your sales infrastructure from the ground up with no arbitrary group/single divisions, no unnecessary discounts, no archaic box office procedures, no superfluous contracts (if you’re still using group sales contracts, stop it right this minute), no punitive deposits, no holding back inventory for “more important” customers, etc.

When your organization begins to engage meaningfully with people in the business and professional communities listed above, you’ll realize that the low-level staffers in the old “group sales” office aren’t equipped for the executive-level engagement you’ll need to make your new volume sales department optimally productive. Instead, try recruiting an experienced VP of sales who reports to the CEO, give her the support she needs (yes, even if it means changing your organization’s culture), help her build a new, bottom line-oriented sales department, and pay a fair base and commission for the results she generates.

If you don’t have a real sales department that actually sells tickets, you can’t really complain about not selling enough tickets.

Group sales is dead. Sales is the new marketing. Welcome to the 21st century.

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