By Jim McCarthy Jun 29, 2010 7 comments

Group Sales is Dead

The following post is by Trevor O’Donnell, whose thoughts I’m happy to share with the Live 2.0 readership.

Six years ago I wrote a book called Group Sales for Arts and Entertainment: The Myths, The Markets, The Methods.  If someone asked me to update or revise it today, I wouldn’t. It’s an irrelevant book about an utterly ridiculous enterprise.

My advice to readers is this:  Put it down.  Throw it away.  Burn it.  It won’t do you any good.  Anyone who’s doing group sales now should dismantle their entire sales operation and toss it in the trash.  Anyone who’s thinking about doing group sales should stop right now and start looking into more productive ways to sell tickets.

Take it from me; I’m the guru; I wrote the book: Group sales is dead and it’s not coming back.  Go ahead and stick a fork in it.  It’s done.

Now some folks – those who’ve been paying attention – will welcome the news and take the opportunity to capitalize on a broader range of sales opportunities.  Others will be paralyzed with confusion:  “But, but, but we’ve been doing it this way for years.  How else would we know how it’s done?”  And still others – most notably on Broadway – will chant group sales is dead as a gloating eulogy for a business practice they never liked and never learned how to manage.

But make no mistake: The only thing dead about group sales is the word ‘group.’  ‘Sales’ is more alive than ever and those who think they can bury both and try to survive on traditional marketing and PR might want to keep their antiquated business models for a while.  Better to do sales the old-fashioned way than not at all.  Barely.

How do we know group sales is dead?  It’s simple.  Death is present in the phrase itself.  Say it to anyone and they’ll start to die.  If you don’t believe me, try this:  Go up to your boss or a colleague and say, “At next week’s meeting we need to discuss business-to-business sales channels.”  They’ll say, “Wow.  B-to-B.  Absolutely.”  The next day, go up to that person and say, “We also need to talk about how consumers plan ticket purchases using social media.”  They’ll say, “Social media.  Excellent.  Let’s put it on the agenda.”

On the third day say to that person, “I can’t wait for our meeting about group sales,” and their eyes will glaze over, their facial muscles will melt and their IQ will drop 50 points in five seconds.  It’s like an M. Night Shyamalan movie.  I’ve seen entire conference rooms full of the smartest people in the entertainment industry turn into brain-dead zombies at the merest mention of ‘group sales’ and then proceed to squander millions in revenue opportunities before the spell is broken.

“Group sales. Group Sales. Group SALES. GROUP SALES.” Mmmwwhoaaahhh!!!

But seriously.  It’s dead because the model no longer fits the business.  The group model we use today was developed sixty years ago for little old ladies and school kids AND THAT IS NOT WHO’S BUYING THE FRIGGIN’ TICKETS!

Individuals who buy in bulk and third parties who facilitate bulk purchases represent a broad range of B-to-C and B-to-B market segments, each of which needs a different sales relationship with your product.  (Read that sentence again and burn it into your brain.)  If you’re still trying to capture sales from these buyers with a remote sales operation, a one-size-fits-all service infrastructure or an under-supported, low-level staff, I can promise you this: You’re doing it wrong and you’re failing to capture significant revenue potential.

So here’s the deal.  If I were to write another book about volume ticket sales (See?  The fog is lifting already), here’s what it would say.

Be smart. Banish the phrase ‘group sales’ from your business lexicon.   Start talking clearly about SALES.  Place all of your organization’s sales activities in one department, give it equal status with marketing, hire a seasoned pro from the sports or attractions industry to run it and then make a top-to-bottom organizational commitment to selling rather than just marketing your product.

Be logical. The more tickets you sell per transaction, the lower the cost per sale.  It’s a simple fact but the entertainment industry devotes nearly all of its marketing resources toward generating huge quantities of low-yield “single-ticket” transactions.  With rising marketing costs and diminishing audiences, putting all of your energy into moving tickets two at a time is just insane.

Be professional. Climb out of that stupid group sales pigeonhole and take off those ridiculous little-old-lady-and-school-kid blinders.  Start behaving like a real business.  Stop selling discounts and start selling value.  Offer businesslike services to B-to-B buyers and start persuading consumers to come to your shows with members of their social networks.  (If you’re not thinking about the convergence of group sales and social media, by the way, you may actually be a zombie.)

Group sales died because the world changed and we neglected to change with it.  Now we have a lot of catching up to do.  Smart, strategic, professional, proactive volume ticket sales is the only sensible response to this new world and stands to become the fastest-growing trend in an industry that’s been subsisting far too long on conventional marketing methods.

Many have already seen the light.  Some are changing now.  But an awful lot are still doing it the way they did sixty years ago.

You?

Trevor O’Donnell is a marketing consultant who has worked with Disney Theatrical Productions, the Nederlander Company, Cirque du Soleil, Cameron Mackintosh, Blue Man Productions, Center Theatre Group, TDI, Goldstar, numerous Broadway shows and leading arts institutions in New York, L.A. and cities across the US.  Email: trevoro (at) earthlink.net

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    7 Comments

    • Ceci Dadisman

      Yes, you are right in that the “traditional” model of group sales is no longer relevant. However, group sales is far from “dead.” I realize that you are probably using that phrase to make your post more salacious and it worked: I dropped everything to read it.
      As one of the only arts group sales consultants out there and the self-proclaimed “Queen of Group Sales” I think that I can speak for many organizations that we all know that groups aren’t just little old ladies and school children. That is still an important base in many markets and shouldn’t be overlooked. I’m currently based in South Florida and the “little old lady” quotient is much higher here than in other places, for instance.
      Group Sales turned into Volume Ticket Sales (albeit arts .orgs aren’t calling it that yet) some time ago. This concept isn’t new the people in the trenches. I think the only people who need to be reminded of this fact are the members of upper level management of arts .orgs who still are asking their Group Sales Managers to cold call and spend hours making lists of affinity groups and residential communities.

    • Tia Pickeral

      The title of your post might scream Group Sales is Dead, but what you’re really honing in on is changing terminology and following a new business model. I’ve seen several companies try to move to using social media and authorized third-party vendors to move tickets, with varying success. Little old ladies and the kiddies, still are a viable market, again not the entire shabang, but they visit attractions and theatres in enough volume to take their business seriously. Call it volume sales, call it fill bums w/seats for money, but for goodness sakes, don’t call it dead!!!!

    • Seema Sueko

      I LOVE THIS POST!

      We have lots of “groups” coming to our shows at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company in San Diego. But we don’t call it ‘group sales’ we call it community outreach and it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. Here a little post about the model we use: http://mooleloblog.wordpress.com/?s=high+touch

      Seema Sueko
      Executive Artistic Director
      Mo`olelo

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