Group sales was developed over seventy years ago for society matrons and seniors who wanted to reserve seats in advance so they could resell tickets. But that was seventy years ago and arts administrators can’t afford to rely on business practices that were created for little old ladies long before most of us were born.
If your organization needs to sell tickets and the only department in your organization with ‘sales’ in the name is group sales, it’s time for a change.
Do This Now
- Pick a date in the next six months to end all group sales functions. Fire the staff, erase all traces of group sales from your organizational communications, eliminate every box office policy and procedure having to do with group sales and abandon all group sales accounting processes.
- Take some time to imagine how a young, energetic, innovative, customer-oriented start-up might approach the process of selling tickets if the arts industry’s lumbering old “sales” traditions had never existed.
- Create a new department called ‘Sales’ and advertise for a director or VP who answers to the chief executive and whose seniority is consistent with your top development and marketing staffers.
- Hire someone from outside the arts bubble. Look for a pro who has experience in sports, theme parks, attractions, hospitality or travel and tourism. Focus on candidates with solid track records who understand business-to-business sales and who have well-established contacts in the marketplace.
- Develop a salary-plus-commission compensation package for your new sales executive and don’t cap her earnings. (A well-structured package means that if your sales executive is earning more than her peers or superiors, she’ll be worth the disparity.)
- Work with your new senior sales staffer to develop a sales department with new policies and procedures that make no arbitrary distinctions between groups and single-tickets. Focus on buyers who deliver volume sales and structure policies around their needs.
- Prepare your organization to develop new service infrastructures for business buyers, wholesalers, community partners and other resellers. If your ticketing system isn’t capable of accommodating B-to-B relationships, get a new ticketing system.
- Stop selling discounts and start selling value.
- Focus on the development of long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
- Notify your producing/presenting partners and artists that you are introducing new sales methods and that future contracts will reflect innovations with which they may be unfamiliar.
- Establish crystal-clear distinctions between customer service, inside sales and outside sales. (If the customer has already decided to buy, it’s customer service). Focus your new sales department entirely on sales.
- Foster an organization-wide sales culture so that proactive, persuasive, personal engagement with people in the marketplace becomes an overriding organizational imperative. This will have a profound influence on marketing, which in the arts is passive, self-centered and impersonal. And it will help to add a goal orientation to community engagement.
If after your new sales department is up and running you learn that some people are still looking for that old group sales pigeonhole, feel free to reintroduce it as a part of your new sales initiative. Try not to reintroduce the discounts, bad seats and poor service, though.
And if this all seems wildly difficult or too far outside the nonprofit norm, you can do what arts leaders have been doing for decades: Complain about your group sales department every now and then for not being more proactive.