The Road Back To Ticket Sales Starts With Your Customers!

I’ve been thinking about selling tickets again!

I don’t know when we will really be able to sell tickets again, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since it seems like we still haven’t hit rock bottom and we have no idea when this pandemic will get brought under control.

In doing a survey in my entertainment business newsletter, Talking Tickets, one of the big things that folks asked about was demand generation, customer growth, and thinking through the sales process.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some ideas and ways of approaching your marketing and sales process starting now that will help you relaunch your business effectively beginning with the idea of market orientation.

The most important one is how to reorient the business to be focused on putting the customer first.

Four kinds of orientations:

In marketing, there are a few competing ideas of business orientations:

  • Sales orientation
  • Product orientation
  • Advertising orientation
  • Marketing orientation

Each of these provides certain attributes that are important to recognize and think through as you are planning out your marketing and sales strategies going forward.

At a high level:

Sales orientation is focused on a few things like all customers are good, we don’t really need to understand our customers, and marketing is sales support. But my favorite might be revenue is everything even if it isn’t profitable.

An example of sales orientation in action can be seen on display in the way that you may see a team or theatre offer 30 different price points where price is the only consideration.

Product orientation is all about building it and hoping that folks will come. In this case, the product is supreme over the needs or desires of the market or the customers.

In thinking through some of the “newer” products on the market like subscription models for tickets that only seem to reflect a desire to emulate Netflix a product orientation is present and makes the assumption that just because the subscription model works in other places, we have a better product and people should buy it.

Advertising orientation has been described to me by Professor Mark Ritson as putting lipstick on a gorilla. In advertising orientation, the business just assumes that they can message their way out of the problem and don’t take any actions to make corrective or new actions that might make the communication effective.

Think about it like this, many organizations during the George Floyd protests talked about their concern for the Black Lives Matter movement. Where this became putting lipstick on a gorilla is when an organizations made no additional efforts to support the minorities in their cities.

Finally, marketing orientation is focusing on the customer first.

You might call it customer focused, outside-in, or some other term, but the key here is that market orientation is about understanding your customer, putting them at the center of your business’s go-to market strategy and figuring out what they need and want.

The marketing thought leader, Seth Godin, has described market orientation as “finding products for your customers.”

Marketing orientated companies listen to their customers, respond to feedback, and get adjust their offering to get back into the market with their update.

Something all of us are probably familiar with is the annual cycle of new iPhone releases. That is an example of the market orientation in action.

The case for market orientation:

As stated at the top, market orientation is the path forward for businesses that market and sell live entertainment going forward.

Why?

Well, we are dealing with a unique crisis that is a mixture of a number of different problems all converging at once:

  • The public health crisis of a pandemic.
  • The economic crisis of trying to control the pandemic and shutting down the economy to try and give relief to our public health systems, limit infections, and reduce deaths.
  • The psychological crisis brought on by isolation or detachment, mass work from home operations, social unrest, economic uncertainty, and on it goes.

This highlights the likelihood that when things return to normal, that normal may not be exactly what it was before.

The data from previous downturns paints a picture of society snapping back to “normal” pretty quickly after most financial downturns, but the longer the pandemic stretches, the more likely it becomes that people develop new attitudes, tastes, and habits which will be reflected in their consumption and purchasing patterns once economies are able to safely reopen.

The problem with most data and surveys right now is that much of the information you are going to get may be useful in the moment, but will be meaningless once things do start to stabilize again.

This report produced by Sports Atlas is good, but it opens up as many questions as it answers.

Because we’ve seen that the excitement of sports fans being excited to watch live sports not translate into TV ratings in a lot of cases.

We’ve seen that even the limited numbers of tickets available haven’t sold out in most instances which reflects the public sentiment in the poll where 82% said they’d love to see a game but aren’t into putting people’s lives at risk.

You also see some context around whether or not folks are developing new habits, facing financial concerns, and doing different things.

This leads to the point that the starting point of any discussion about selling tickets to live events: sports, theatre, concerts, etc. has to begin by being able to understand what your market wants and needs.

To put this another way, turn the lens you are looking through away from your perch inside the business and turn it so that you are looking at what you are doing through the eyes of your customer and prospects.

As I repeated many times over the years, “You are not your market.”

How do you apply this in your business?

This isn’t some theoretical discussion about market orientation because the steps to put it to work for your business are simple, not easy, but simple.

First, focus on your customer.

There are some easy things you can do to figure out what is going on with your customers right now.

You can call them.

You can do Zoom meetings with them.

You can do research built around finding out what people are doing in the absence of your events.

Two things have really stuck with me during the pandemic:

One, the teams I have worked with over the years and continue to work with over the years have seen tremendous results from being market oriented and using the time during the pandemic to deepen the relationships they have with their customers.

One executive shared with me that because they’ve spent so much time talking with customers and being present, they’ve been able to keep over 80% of the money that their fans had already spent for this season even when refunds were offered, no questions asked.

This isn’t a one off because I’ve talked to people in baseball, in festivals, in Europe, and other places that have given me some variation of the same story.

Second, the surprising number of people that were six months into the pandemic and still weren’t hearing from their sales reps or teams about their tickets, their sponsorships, or more.

I don’t have to go out of one degree of separation to find more than a handful of people that have been upset due to the way that the teams they buy tickets from feel about the way they’ve been treated and are committed to not extending the relationship when they can get back to a normal situation.

To put it another way, they are looking at the roll-overs and lack of refunds as sunk costs that they won’t recover, but also as a reason to cut ties with the organization going forward.

To me that illustrates the two sides of the market orientation coin.

The second step to put this to work is by paying attention to the people you are going to go after.

Right now is a great time to do a better job of a couple of things that sound complex but aren’t really as hard as they are made out to be.

The first thing is to get a better grip on your segmentation.

Think of it like slicing the pie of your customer base.

In the example I gave above of teams with 30 different price points, the choices become overwhelming.

Decision fatigue is a real problem and the bigger problem is folks can’t figure out where to slot themselves.

Second thing, focus on your targeting.

I’ve talked about the example that multiple people gave me when I was heading to Australia last year of the marketing strategy of too many Australian venues being “getting older and whiter”.

But that example is a targeting example.

To target effectively, you are going to need to design products, services, and other forms of value that appeal to your segments and target those buyers. There is absolutely overlap here, but the assumption can’t be that the entire market moves in one homogenous lump like millennials.

It’s just wrong!

It will cause your marketing to be less effective, your profits to go down, and your will probably see any new products or services you offer not be nearly as successful as they could be.

Third, position yourself correctly.

This is a pretty big problem in a lot of places.

First, because if you haven’t developed market orientation, then you may find yourself falling into the trap of thinking that your customers and prospects want and desire the same things you do.

Remember this over everything else: You are not your market.

Like a lot of things, positioning isn’t as hard as it often seems, but it can be handled poorly.

Positioning is simple. To use an example from the OG book on the topic, Positioning, the concept is just about retying the connections that already exist in your potential customer’s mind.

Positioning is all about perception and you have to make sure that the perception of your audience matches the message you are sending. That’s positioning at its most basic.

Finally, to get down and dirty with your market orientation, spend a little bit of time with your strategy.

So many of the folks I talk with in sports business, especially in the States, are ready and raring to go and get back to “phone crushing”.

That’s sales orientation at its greatest and a great sales person is unbelievable at making things happen.

But over the last decade or more, most of the revenue generation in teams has become too overburdened by the sales orientation and marketing has fallen to the role of sales support.

This causes several bad things in most organizations like you develop price sensitivity in your customer base, leading to discounting, and finally a struggle to make sales because customers have been trained to wait for the next best deal.

Mark Ritson teaches, “Strategy first and then tactics.”

To overcome the challenge of the pandemic, it is going to be essential that businesses in the arts, sports, and live entertainment rethink their strategies because the signs of strain on the old model were already evident before the pandemic like declining turnstile attendance counts, university athletic departments with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, declining ratings, and more.

The strategic process is simple and I’ve found any number of simple ways to think through strategy like the nugget of a strategy from Richard Rummelt or Professor Roger Martin’s two questions:

  • Where will you compete?
  • How will you win?

For what it is worth, I use three questions:

  • What’s the value you are creating?
  • For whom?
  • Where are you going to find these folks?

It weds strategy and tactics, but really the first two questions need most of your attention right now.

What do y’all think about this? Is this something you’ve been thinking about? Let me know in the comments or send me an email!

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