Who’s Your Senior-most Outside Sales Executive?

Doug Borwick has a great post over at Engaging Matters where he makes an interesting connection between engagement and sales. Check it out.

I know the question in my title will be confusing for most arts professionals. Outside sales executives are virtually non-existent in our industry. In most cases, the answer – if there is one – will look something like this:

  • Our senior-most outside sales person is our telemarketing manager
  • Our senior-most outside sales person is our subcontracted telemarketing agent
  • Our senior-most outside sales person is our group sales manager
  • Our marketing director just had the word ‘sales’ added to her title
  • Our marketing VP is in charge of sales

Outside sales is a process of connecting personally with people in the community. It’s about identifying community members who have an interest – or potential interest – in our products and developing relationships that will facilitate their access. The essential ingredients of outside sales are:

  • Spending plenty of time out in the community
  • Making personal connections with potential buyers and partners
  • Building productive, long-lasting relationships
  • Ensuring that those relationships result in mutually beneficial business transactions

Telemarketing obviously doesn’t fit the description, nor does group sales, which, while it’s often meant to be outside sales, is usually a bottom-rung customer service function.

Some organizations assign sales duties to senior staff members, but those duties are almost always about managing the organization’s passive sales, which means satisfying available demand with appropriate systems and services. Making sure the organization can service existing demand is important, but it is definitely not outside sales and the staffers who oversee the processes spend little to no time in the marketplace initiating new sales relationships, much less connecting buyers to the organizations’ products.

Sales for most arts organizations means spraying impersonal marketing messages at the community in hopes of “getting the word out” to people who care about the product, and then ‘selling’ them tickets when they respond. Our entire organizational/industrial culture is built around this model, which is why outside sales is such a foreign concept.

I don’t know about you, but I find it ironic, and maybe just a little bit tragic, that an industry that complains so bitterly about its inability to sell tickets doesn’t actually sell tickets.



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