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Yes, But Who Actually Buys The Product?

Sports selling methodology is at an industry divide. It is slowly coming to a conclusion that other industries made nearly a decade ago, yet sports was able to deny simply because of product demand. Yet, that is changing, as the consumer is changing in how they consume our product. Or whether they want our product at all.

What the customer thinks, feels, and how they receive sports sales messaging matters well-beyond what the sports organization feels about where they should be selling the product or the platforms that it desires its own sales agents to sell the product on. If a team puts the ticket product on the wrong platform, delivers the ticket product sales message through the wrong delivery system, or causes the customer to feel that the pricing of that ticket product is beyond the perceived value, those business decisions can take down an entire infrastructure within a few fiscal quarters.

Industries such as textiles and technology have understood this and adapted. Yet, in sports sales, because of a vast cable bubble which has supplanted other economic resources as a sports team sugar daddy, the majority of sports organizations have not altered their selling structures since the 1990s. This stark moment where sports organizations find their financial portfolios cracking will be occurring in the next few years, and it will not be pretty.

It will, however, likely bring the end to boiler room style telemarketing companies and scripted mass-marketed telephone calls in unstructured, non-CRM manners. It will also force teams to actually update their e-scale technologies, recognize digital assets of distribution far beyond what they are currently willing to, and change over most c-suite executives who cannot adjust. Creative destruction is coming to the sports sales landscape, a decade behind when every other industry had their turning point with the same sales initiation issues.

Constant Technology Change of Sales

The inside sales model has been long adopted by sports teams since the 1990s. This required an overhead of a few million dollars for major league organizations, who have on staff 50-60 young professionals fresh out of college earning $18,000 plus commission off of season ticket sales, while generating 100-to-150 phone calls daily.

During the 1990s, this was a smart and safe move. The majority of home owners and businesses possessed landlines. Cell phones were a luxury item only for rich moguls. But now, in 2016, this is less likely to be very effective. Yet it is utilized constantly as a solution to sports sales.

The phone call is merely a technological delivery device. Like many other technologies which are no longer as relevant now as each they were in the past. Before the inside sales phone call model was advocated for in sports sales during the 1990s, I am certain that there was probably some billboard guru trying to talk sports executives out of inside sales development, because billboard gurus had a specific vested interest in it.

That’s the crux of the issue: Vested interests in antiquated technology have entrenched themselves against the adoption of new technology in sports.

Phone sales advocacy is no different. Those telling you that you have to use phone calls in order to reach people may not have another delivery system to train you on, therefore they lose their advantage, and eventually their livelihood. That’s why they preach phone sales.

And it isn’t phone calls as a whole. But blinding, non-CRM adoption phone calls which are off of worked-over lists, with less data to verify the importance of one caller over another. Let’s refer to this often-used method as “dirty calls.” Essentially, the sports industry still believes in “dirty calls” over “data calls.”

Or, worse yet, that’s all sports sales executives may know in general. Very few of them train their staffs on differing ways to enhance their selling to new platforms nor understand text messages, or Twitter, or LinkedIn even if they wanted to. They talk about reaching the CEO or group leader through telephone calls. Those CEOs or group leaders may not want or accept phone calls anymore. They are potentially beyond that platform, even if the sports team isn’t.

If you are under 35, you likely don’t make many outbound phone calls or receive them to your friends or colleague. If you are over 35, you probably still use this method to reach those same people to communicate.

If you are under 25, you probably Snapchat more than you tweet. If you are over 25, you don’t get that Snapchat thing and are confused when people send you “snaps.”

All of this comes down to a delivery system. The idea that “more phone calls” should be a constant, because that’s what happened in the 1990s, is irrelevant. More phone calls doesn’t prove that your sales staff is busier either. The majority of the time, they may not be reaching anyone.

Where Are Your Customers Living?

Here’s the rub: While you aren’t on these new platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Snapchat, and sticking to phone calls, your customers are on those platforms.

And in the end, who is buying the product, you or your customer?

It doesn’t matter if you hate text messages personally, because you’re not the one purchasing the product. The customer is. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Instagram or LinkedIn blog posts. If that’s where the customer lives, then it is where you should be selling to them. If it works, and if it translates to an ROI, then it should be used.

If you want to sent someone direct mail, you had better be certain that it is a delivery method that they want to receive. Not just one that you want to send on. Otherwise, that direct mail goes unopened, or straight into the recycling bin.

If I started up a telegram sales company, would I be justified in complaining if no one bought through my telegram service? I might get a few, for the novelty of it, but not the majority. Most people would laugh at me if I suggested people need to be on the telegraph lines, because I hate phone calls.

The sales person cannot dictate to their customer what platform the sales message should be delivered upon. It doesn’t work that way.

See the absurdity of what I’m saying?

Stop Giving Lipservice To Data

If you are going to push phone calls, at least attempt to have the data behind them. My buddies at Dialsource (who are UC Davis alums), are making waves with their refractive dialing systems. But, here’s the rub, those phone call advocates who preach massive sales floors full of being calling leads, don’t seem to adopt Dialsource. Why? Because its still a technology advance that is still too scary.

Hell, a lot of sports teams are just now updating their Microsoft Dynamics from 2011 to 2016, or may not have a CRM in general.

And that belies one of the real issues in sports sales: A fear of change.

The sports industry, especially on the business side, has the appearance of a fear of change.

That fear is coupled with a vested interested by those leading sports teams in protecting current market share. Certain c-level top echelon executives running teams fight specific innovation techniques not because they won’t generate more revenue, but because those specific executives don’t personally understand them. Consultants know this, and target market to this opinion in order to get consulting gigs.

When you cannot understand something such as a new technology, it makes you irrelevant to the need, therefore, by continuing to promoting the “old ways” or “the good ways,” because that’s what you are used to, you’ll gain more consulting gigs. Therefore, there is more of a vested interest in denying new technology, or promoting antiquated versions of technology, in order to protect your personal market share. Whether those methods still work or not.

If there are sales trainers who make a living out of 150-deck PowerPoint slides that preach re-writing copy on facsimiles, they are likely not connecting with their young sales staffs. They may still be hired, because of the c-level executive, but being relatable is a different story.

Denying Technology Hurts Sales

The biggest issue facing the sports industry, and all industries, is that we have young people (ages 18-to-25) who are currently working, and are techno gurus on various social platforms. They are able to communicate with like-minded young prospective buyers on those same digital channels. This should be considered a godsend. Yet, those sports executives in the 35-to-50 category have made it our mission to get the youngest professionals away from what they are good at.

Imagine if we were trying to form a band. We have a bunch of young people who have been taught music on the guitar. The young audiences who enjoy music are also guitar fans. That’s what they like, that’s what they want to hear. And when they come to us, and as producers, we tell them that they have to put down the guitar, and learn the classical piano. Because that’s what we want to hear, piano.

We break young sales professionals out of what they are good at (social selling), in order to foster what we are good at (phone calls), which may not be what the customer wants to receive. It essentially means that we will be creating music that no one who will be buying music will want to hear.

In less than 5-10 years, many of these millennial buyers will be the main revenue generators for the sports product. Yet, by training all young sports executives now to eliminate what they are good at (social selling) in favor of phone sales, we are going to be costing ourselves a generation of young talent who will be out of step with their own generation when they are in the c-suite executives of tomorrow.

Heed The Music Industry Example

Let’s come back to the music example again. Where the guitar playing abilities of the young musicians are being pushed out of them, forgotten as a skill, in order to enhance the classical piano tastes of the producer. That is a recipe for disaster across the board for the industry as a whole.

Few popular music fans want to hear classical piano as much as guitar, but who is the band playing music for at that point? The music-loving, paying audience? Or the producer, who isn’t buying anything? It comes down to who is buying, and what they want to purchase.

If you aren’t selling to the actual customer, then who are you selling to? The person not buying the product but wishes the dictate its delivery method? That makes little economic sense, but it has happened before, in music, actually.

A lot of music people in the 1990s couldn’t understand why the public stopped buying Compact Discs, not wanting all 18 songs, despite the fact that only 2 songs on each CD were worth a damn. That’s how music swapping happened with Napster. Your customers will find a way to consume the product, whether its a way that the business approved of or not. That’s how Apple’s iTunes $0.99 music buy is now the norm, and actually sells way more individual songs than CDs ever did.

The secondary market is no different. If you are running a team and refuse to sell digitally, don’t worry about it. Your tickets are on those digital market places whether you want them to be or not. The New York Yankees discovered in 2016 what happens when you deny PDF tickets. Your customers stop going.

A Simple Sales Message

If you are targeting 40 years, use the technology that they feel comfortable with to sell them on. But if you targeting any group, you need to ensure that you sell where they are living.

Otherwise, you’re the music industry, waiting for a group (like Apple) to just negotiate a $0.99 per electronic unit deal on iTunes, where they solve the selling and distribution platform that you were incapable of recognizing in the first place.

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1 Comment

  1. Nick
    July 12, 2016 at 8:50 am — Reply

    Troy – we can’t push phone sales anymore. I agree. However, I don’t understand the solution of social selling. I understand the concept of selling through a different medium but have no idea how it is done. I know when I used linkedin, twitter, instagram, and facebook, I never purchased anything through them. Thus, I have a tough time believing executives can start posting and connecting with folks through these mediums to sell tickets. How are reps supposed to social sell?

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