Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rebranding the Traditional Box Office

In a previous post entitled Subscriptions Dead? Maybe Not, I discussed various strategies Arena Stage employed in order to significantly increase its subscriber base. One of the most important was systematically identifying the best subscriber leads in our database, and then developing and implementing strategies to increase the number of similar leads.

Like many others, we traded lists with other performing arts organizations during the acquisition portion of our subscription campaign. However, in doing so, we experienced an incredibly high cost-of-sale for each new subscriber. Even when factoring in the value of each new subscriber over multiple years, returns from mailings to traded lists didn't justify the cost. Our strategy was flawed, and it was time for a change.

Data showed that our best leads were in our own database, with the best of the best being single ticket buyers who purchased tickets to multiple productions during the previous fiscal year. Instead of trying to attract new subscribers with no prior transactional history with us by sending direct mail campaigns to traded lists, we shifted strategy by focusing on building multi-buyers during the 2008-09 season. The new strategy was simple--if multi-buyers were the best prospects for subscriber acquisition campaigns, then the more multi-buyers we had, the better off we were for the following year's subscription campaign.

Instead of trading lists for subscription mailings, we traded lists for our most popular productions. Transactional data showed that by luring in new patrons via our most popular programming, we had a much better shot of cross-selling them into other productions soon after they had their first great experience at our theater. If new patrons purchased tickets to just one additional production during the season, they were exponentially more likely to subscribe than a lead with no prior transactional history with us.

Our focus was now clear--in order to grow our subscriber base, we must first focus on building the number of multi-buyers throughout the year. And the most critical component of that strategy was refocusing our ticket sales operations by shifting our box office to a sales office.

The prevailing feeling at the time was that our box office associates were "order takers." They were expected to pick up the phone and process each order in a courteous and timely fashion. They were evaluated on efficiency instead of effectiveness. With the beginning of the 2008-09 season, we rebranded our box office (now referred to as a sales office), and made it clear that associates were expected to function as sales consultants. They were now responsible for up-selling, cross-selling and proactively soliciting annual fund donations. To prepare the office, I promoted an exceptionally entrepreneurial minded manager to lead the division, and she in turn, brought in several experts to train our staff. We adopted a mantra of sales through service, and in doing so, viewed each opportunity to cross-sell as a moment to provide excellent customer service.

Three years later, I am very pleased with our results:

From FY08 to FY11, new-to-file households (those that had no previous transactional history with Arena Stage) increased by 90%, but even more importantly, multi-buyer households increased by 44%, giving us a much larger "best prospects" pool for new subscribers. In this fiscal year alone, that pool was converted into more than 5,100 new subscribers. Despite what some viewed as aggressive sales techniques, our 2011 customer satisfaction survey revealed that satisfaction levels were at an all-time high, and our attrition rate decreased 6% over the last two years.

Today, our sales associates up-sell seat locations, cross-sell buyers into similar programming, solicit various levels of annual fund donations, offer to make reservations at our cafe, suggest pre-paid parking, and will even arrange for a car service with a preferred provider. In addition, during slower sales cycles, our associates also provide support to our group sales office, and participate in outbound calling. By doing so, we maximize revenue, while growing the number of multi-buyer households and providing premium concierge service to all patrons.


MaryC said...

As a fundraiser, your plan makes perfect sense to me. We've long known it's easier to regain a lapsed donor, for instance, than to gain a brand-new one. Someone with a relationship with your organization is much more likely to extend that relationship.

I'm glad to hear it's working so well!

Michael said...

I think it is high time the same thing be expected of artists. To rebrand your box office is a brilliant idea, and the idea of retraining staff to model more of what a for profit institute does is also brilliant. I hope to bring about the same type of change to artists with my PERFORMING ARTS PROFIT MANIFESTO.