Lessons from Leaders: Kathy Burrows

How to Sell Experiences Over Tickets

Lessons from Kathy Burrows 

Selling an experience doesn’t mean selling the pomp, circumstance and atmosphere around the game, it means presenting a game day experience that fits each customer.  

This week’s Flip the Switch podcast features Kathy Burrows, president and owner of Sold Out Seating.  After a career change from nursing to selling tickets with the Cleveland Indians, Kathy began teaching teams around the country to sell experiences over tickets.  Selling an experience comes from throwing out the”100-calls-a-day” benchmark, developing and mentoring sales staff and asking pointed questions to personalize the event experience.  

Here were our three favorite Q&As:

(12:52) Coaching Leaders to Coach Sales Staff
How are your 1:1 meetings structured?  Are these meetings simply “check-in updates” or are you working on strategies to grow and improve?  As a leader, use the time to coach your staff on prospecting or sales strategies. What have you observed that could be improved?  What could your staff work on between meetings?

(25:18) Offering Different Experiences for Different Customer Segments
How are you structuring your season ticket plans?  Are they the same for businesses and super fans?  What benefits do they want vs. what do they expect?  Even with a lean sales and support staff, how can you accommodate personalized plans?

(41:00) Building a Part-Time Sales Team
Fans love to have “their person” to contact with questions about their tickets, their account, their experience.  How can you provide that experience with a part-time sales staff?  Introduce your customers to the team that is happy to serve them and make them feel a oneness with you.

Our take:

Attendance at sporting events had been declining before the pandemic. From 2014 to 2018, attendance across FBS schools fell 7.6%.  In 2019, the average college football attendance was 41,856. College football wasn’t alone. In January 2020, Sports Illustrated reported that MLB attendance dropped 7.1% since 2015 and the NFL posted its lowest numbers since 2004.  

Largely, the industry expected attendance to rebound following a year of empty stadiums and arenas due to the pandemic.  However, the pandemic continues to present challenges, stadiums aren’t filled to capacity as expected and the no-show rates are even more staggering.  

Fans want more control of their experience and to change the decreasing attendance narrative is going to require some creativity and personalization of events.  Front office and college athletic departments had staff limitations before the pandemic-induced reductions and the “Great Resignation”.  If you are operating even leaner than before, it may seem impossible to customize an experience for every fan.  

It starts with redefining the term “experience”.  Our definition of experience is different from first-time fans, casual fans, super fans and business partners.  Ask a few simple questions to understand what’s important to them.  An experience also doesn’t have to be an in-seat mascot visit or a trip to the sidelines.  Some fans just want a seamless experience (thanks, Amazon!) Offer parking when they call or make parking options easy to find and bundle online. They want the chance to catch a foul ball or a home run?  Know your lineup and guide them to those seats.  A business wants to have an out-of-office outing?  Great, here’s a suite and offer to connect them with catering!  

We all know the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  If you are ready to transform your sales process, consider some of Kathy’s principles to engage your sales staff to sell out your experiences over tickets.

For the full episode and show notes, click here.

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Training Staff for a New Venue

At Disney, there were three things we consistently heard from Guests when we asked how they wanted to be treated. 

  1. Treat me like an individual 
  2. Be Knowledgable
  3. Engage with my kids and treat them with respect

These principles can really be applied to any sports & entertainment venue around the world. As we help Austin FC open their new MLS stadium, we based much of our training off the top two principles. 

How might we train our staff to treat each fan like a VIP (Very Important Individual)?

Here’s the approach we took. As part of our Service Standards, we built an Austin FC specific standard focused on the individual. Austin has become one of the most eclectic cities in the US, with cowboys and hipsters, first generation Americans and tech bros from California. So the focus on the individual was extra important for us here.

To make every individual fan feel at home, we crafted specific behaviors and training points to encourage staff interacting with fans on an individual basis. We trained staff to look for little details that would give clues to a fans’ passions. Staff are encouraged to let a guest know they love their cowboy boots. If a fan has the same hat as a staff member, the staff member is rewarded for telling the fan “that’s a great hat, I have the same one!” Staff are incentivized to seek out fans from the other team, asking where they’re from, and if they’re from out of town, suggesting they check out the local Austin concession stand.

In a stadium of 20,000 people, each of our fans want to know that we value the time and money they are investing in coming to watch Austin FC in person. And we know if we want to keep them coming back to our venue, we’ve got to make them feel like an individual, like the best versions of themselves. They don’t want to be lost in the crowd, or thought of as “one of 20,000”.   

How might we deliver training that equips staff with the knowledge they need to answer questions?

In a new venue, it’s easy to overwhelm your staff with even the most basic information. So there are a number of routes we could have gone. We could have handed staff an FAQ sheet and told them to memorize it. We could have shown them videos and pictures of the new space they were entering and told them what each area was. We could have given them stadium tours and asked them to memorize facts and figures about the venue. Instead, we created an interactive competition.

We know that adults learn differently. Adults are more kinesthetic learners and adults are selfish with their time. If they don’t know, “what’s in it for them,” they’ll simply go through the motions. To combat those things we know to be true about adult learning, we built an interactive training. When our gamely staff showed up to training, they were greeted by supporters playing instruments and chanting. Using the same tactics the supporters use to get fans excited in the stadium, the supporters were at our trainings to excite and rally our employees before sitting down. 

After an interactive conversation with the group where we discussed the service standards, the entire group was broken up into teams. The teams were then tasked with racing around the stadium to complete a series of “challenges.” These challenges either taught a new skill or provided them with knowledge and answers to FAQs we’ve anticipated. The challenges were everything from having to encountering a spill and having to call in an incident on the gamely reporting tool,  to meeting the supporters, where they learned and had to complete two chants as a group to move on. Along the way, there were bonus trivia stops and extras that the teams could take note of to share in the debrief and take time off their final team race time. 

One of the activity signs groups encountered as they raced around the stadium

Along the way, we crafted “surprise and delight” moments for the employees, like having the full-time employees whisper “hey, there’s no activity here, but do you guys want to see the locker rooms?” Just changing the way we presented the locker rooms made employees feel like they were getting exclusive access, raising their level of excitement and ownership. And of course, at the end of the race, the winners were provided with prizes, prizes that didn’t cost us much but were truly limited run items. 

When you’re opening a new venue, you only get one first impression. While it may be tempting to train employees the way you’ve always done it, you won’t have the impact you’re looking for. Since adults learn differently, you must evolve your training styles to meet that need. What you do shouldn’t be shaped by what you did before or what you did last year, it should be shaped by the needs of the people you serve. If you know you need to better train your staff to deliver incredible experiences, we’d love to help you. 

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