By Jim McCarthy Jul 22, 2010 8 comments

Group Sales is Dead, Part Two

The following post is by Trevor O’Donnell, noted arts marketing and sales consultant and author of the recent Live 2.0 post “Group Sales is Dead.”

Recently Jim McCarthy published a post I wrote called “Group Sales is Dead,” which he tells me generated a surprising amount of interest. If you’ve read the piece, which you can do here, you may come away with more questions than answers so I’ve selected a handful of the more interesting ones to answer in this post:

Are you really serious about group sales being dead? Yes. No. Yes. Maybe. Um…yes.

Why do you hate group sales? I actually love group sales. I was sitting at its side when it died. In fact, just before it gasped its last breath it leaned up to me and said, “Hey, Trev, make sure to give my regards to Br… ungh…ghrfnuh…fluhghnh.”

(By the way, if there’s anyone from Branson out there, Group Sales says hey.)

Why do you pick on Broadway? A suburban housewife can buy two discounted tickets to a Broadway show with a few keystrokes and know exactly where her seats are. But a corporate CEO who wants 100 top-dollar tickets has to wait DAYS to find out if they’re available then pay for them without knowing where he and his clients will be sitting. Any industry that lets this happen deserves to be picked on.

If sales is such a good idea, wouldn’t we be doing it already? I remember when people asked that question about marketing so here’s some historical context: In the 1950s we ‘publicized’ our events. In the 1960s we began ‘advertising’ our events. In the 1980s we learned to ‘market’ our events. Recently we discovered that we have to ‘sell’ our events. Welcome to the sales era.

What exactly is sales? A publicist, a marketer and a salesperson walk into a bar where they see three gorgeous women sitting across the room. The publicist asks the bartender to send them a round of drinks and say, ‘the good-looking guy at the bar sent these over.’ The women nod their polite thanks. Next the marketer draws a clever picture with a provocative message on a cocktail napkin and tips the bartender to send it to them. The women read the napkin, laugh and acknowledge the guys again. Finally the sales guy walks over, speaks briefly, sits with the women for a while and eventually the four of them get up and leave together. The next day the publicist and the marketer ask their colleague how he did it and he says, “Simple. I asked them which one worked better, the drinks or the note, and then listened intently for a very long time.”

Can you talk about sales without being flip or insulting? Well, OK. But it won’t be as much fun.

The point of the joke is that publicity and marketing only go so far; the old message sending model doesn’t work as well as it used to. Sales is the persuasive element, the personal element, the relationship building element that bonds us to a network of ‘mavens,’ ‘connectors’ and ‘salespeople’ (a la Malcolm Gladwell) who amplify and activate our brands. If we want their business, we can’t keep shoving them into a decades-old pigeonhole and pretending they don’t exist.

The simple truth is that many of our most valuable and potentially lucrative relationships are being managed by whoever’s doing our group sales right now, or by message-sending marketers who don’t have the time or incentive to invest in their full potential. At some point we have to ask if that’s the best scenario for the industry’s long-term success.

C’mon, Trev, is group sales really dead? Saying group sales is dead is like saying print media is dead. It’s a rhetorical statement that calls attention to either a dire end, a fascinating transition or an intriguing opportunity.

I’m inclined to go with opportunity.

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    • Jenny Costantino

      Trevor, my dear, I couldn’t agree more and I think it’s because I have a very different background than most of my arts org colleagues. I was in the corporate world of outside sales and marketing for the first 15 years of my career. I then started with a theater company at its inception as the Director of Communications. I had no non-profit background and certainly no theatre training, but that didn’t matter for the marketing and PR responsibilities I held. I found very quickly that I was doing the same work I’d always done: SELLING. Selling a member of the media on the idea of writing a story. Selling a sponsor on the idea of giving us money on a whim and a prayer. Selling a venue on the idea of partnering with us as co-producer. Selling a radio station on SELLING US airtime for a reduced rate. Heck, I even sell my children on the idea of a nice, early bedtime. Now I am a communications consultant and I do PR for arts orgs, but I still work closely with my clients’ marketing departments to help SELL TICKETS. It all has to be an integrated STRATEGY.
      I agree that “group sales” is dead, inasmuch as the way we used to do it. The communication and SELLING tools have all changed and continue to change daily, dare I say, hourly. The way I see it, we can get either on the train or be left standing at the station.

    • Ceci Dadisman

      LOL! I’m so glad to see Group Sales getting some attention! WOOT!
      Yes, there is tremendous opportunity with regards to volume ticket sales. However, how are we going to take advantage of these opportunities when most arts .orgs don’t have the ticketing technology to sell groups online? If I could sell a group online I would be in hog heaven. I’ve got clients who are using ticketing software that can barely deal with groups as it is in the office.
      I ask: who is going to make a solution for this?

    • Bridget Murphy

      Thank you Trevor! I worked in group sales for a large arts org in my area after a background in fundraising (which is all about the relationships) and marketing. I did exceptionally well because I believed it was and treated it like SALES. I built relationships where they trusted me because I listened to their needs and made my product work for them.

      I will say that while I think social media is a great avenue for inspiring and encouraging volume ticket sales, I think that selling group tickets online could actually become dangerous. I realize our online market is all about instant gratification, but if we become complacent and stop relying on the high-level people we need to hire to build and facilitate these relationships, we will fail all over again.

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      I’d be inclined to clinch the deal with you one this subject. Which is not something I usually do! I love reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to speak my mind!