by Dave Wakeman, special to TicketNews
My friend, and first customer, when I left Americana Tickets to start my own venture back in 2006, Peter Shankman, says that he hates “prediction” posts because its often someone that has no real perspective or expertise from which to make the predictions and are often just focused on outlandish things to get clicks.
So I’ve tried to do something a little different with my looking forward posts for the groups of people that I work with, focusing more on challenges and opportunities for the coming year.
Approaching the topic from this vantage point likely ensures that the answers you see are more useful for you.
Over the last week or so, I have posted a couple of posts with industry insiders giving their challenges and opportunities facing the secondary market in 2018. I have one more coming at some point this week.
Before I post Part 3, I want to take a few moments to share my own thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the secondary market in 2018.
Challenges for Secondary Ticketing in 2018
It goes without saying that there is any number of challenges facing the secondary market in 2018. This post could be an opened ended one, but I really wanted to focus on areas where I think brokers have the greatest likelihood of influencing their own businesses.
But the biggest challenge that I see for the industry that has been facing the industry for a number of years is unwillingness to change fast enough to reflect the changing dynamics in the market.
For a number of years, brokers truly led the way on innovation in the world of tickets with websites that drove sales and marketing efforts that the primary in a lot of ways still hasn’t caught up with.
The only challenge is that after this rush of innovation and advancement that started around 2002-2004, the innovations have slowed or stopped.
For too many brokers, instead of being digital innovators, the idea of being in business now comes down to having a high credit limit and being able to post your tickets to a number of websites all at once.
In so many of my conversations that I had this past year, I heard all too often that what the primary side wants is “data, distribution, and pricing.” Likely this is BS, but let’s make an assumption that it is true.
The challenge with the assumption is that data is everywhere and even when data is being shared, the teams aren’t doing a particularly good job of turning that data into actions.
Distribution is a BS answer because the truth is that distribution from a digital standpoint has been solved by companies like AutoProcessor, StubHub, and TicketNetwork.
Pricing is another red herring. Because the truth is that the teams are undercutting their broker “partners” at every turn because in most cases, the business model of the primary side inside sales staff reflects better on 1997 than it does on 2017.
This has created an environment where teams don’t do an effective job of selling their tickets, panic, and deeply discount…destroying the incentive to buy early and undercutting the perceived value of their product.
It happens every day.
This destroys the investments of their fans, their partners, and sets in motion a vicious cycle of lower and lower appreciation for live entertainment.
For me this is the top of mind challenge facing the secondary market in 2018, how to innovate the business model in a way that enables brokers and resellers to add more value to the ticket selling community.
It isn’t going to get any easier to sell tickets. The truth is that consumers are more distracted than ever before. The ability to capture someone’s attention is tougher than ever. And, the number of people vying for someone’s entertainment or business spending is only going to increase.
The reality is that no matter what point in history we find ourselves in, customers tastes and preferences are changing. That makes it our job to stay ahead of that so that we don’t stand on the corner asking, “What happened?”
That’s the challenge(s):
- Need to innovate business models to continue to add value
- Reluctance to change
- Faulty theory of why the primary side wants to work with brokers
- Partnerships that aren’t true partnerships due to “partners” being willing to undercut partners at any and every turn
Opportunities for Secondary Ticketing 2018
I probably want to spend more time focusing on the opportunity side of the equation because I am a big believer in the need to constantly focus on growing your value to the markets you serve.
A thought experiment that I try to build on regularly is one where I ask myself the question: “How can I add more value to X?”
Then I answer that question.
Which typically leads to my latest talk, blog post, workshop, or consulting offering.
What should be exciting everyone in the world of tickets and live entertainment is that the desire of consumers to buy experiences has not abated.
It seems to have only increased over the last year.
While we have seen numerous stories about the inability of the NFL to get fans into stadiums, declining ratings, and other challenges facing sports and live entertainment…I’m still a fan of the potential of live entertainment to grow as an industry and to continue to generate the kinds of experiences that fans crave and the kinds of profits that allow all of us to continue to operate in the industry.
Here are some of the opportunities I feel people should be focusing on this year:
Focus on customer acquisition and control:
I did a webinar for the NATB in November of 2016 where I discussed the need for brokers to control their customers.
On that webinar, I talked about someone that I had been talking with that had a list of around 50,000 emails that wanted to grow their profits.
When I suggested that you had the answer to your question right there in front of you with your list, the reply was “we don’t want to deal with customers.”
My jaw hit the ground because I was amazed that anyone would be so willing to just throw away the customer base so brazenly.
Then I went around talking to other people in the industry and realized that my experience wasn’t uncommon. That in too many cases, a lot of the brokers had basically taken to the business model of being fulfillment houses.
Which is great if the market isn’t flooded with inventory.
The problem is that for the secondary market that isn’t the case.
The market is flooded with inventory from all over the place.
Let’s be honest, if you are searching on StubHub for a ticket to the game between the Sabres and the Rangers at Citi Field, the primary driver of your decision is going to be price.
If you are trying to sell your tickets like that through someone else that controls the customer, the only lever you have to push is price.
They control the customer. They control you.
If I were doing the webinar today, my advice to the brokers in the secondary market would be the same…even if you only have a group of 10 customers that are regulars, start there. You have to start to control your customers and have a way of reaching and communicating your value to your customers.
As we have seen this year, there are numerous examples of “partners” squeezing brokers for more money, more fees, and better prices.
The thing is that these “partners” are nowhere without the inventory from the brokers.
The flip side is that the brokers are nowhere without the “partners” because they’ve ceded the responsibility of building a customer base in too many instances to someone else.
I’ll put it to you like this, I’ve kept an email list for the last few years that has slowly and steadily been growing.
I send an email to that list every Sunday.
I offer up value each Sunday. I may share a book I’ve been reading and my take on it. I might talk about strategy.
I add value and I maintain contact with my customers every week.
I don’t do this because I need to write another email. I do this because that is an asset and collection of people that pay attention to my ideas, share my content, share my product and service offerings, and care.
The reality is that without some sort of customer base, your business is always in danger.
You can get squeezed by the boards and marketplaces that post your seats for sale.
You can get squeezed by the changing of Google’s algorithm or AdWords specifications.
Teams can take your tickets and sell them to someone that offers more value to them besides having a Black Card and being willing to buy.
I can go on, but I won’t.
The number 1 opportunity in the secondary market next year begins with creating and controlling customers
Don’t know where to start?
Do you have any customers that still go direct?
Do you have some sort of competitive advantage?
Something unique that you offer that other brokers can’t offer?
Struggling to figure it out, email me (dave @ davewakeman.com).
The second big opportunity is another one that I talked about last year and that is developing relationships.
I was talking to someone in the secondary market about the challenges of giving the service award in the industry. The big challenge that has come up over the last few years is that it is extremely difficult to give out the award because so few brokers actually want to deal with other brokers.
There are a number of reasons that people give me for trying to hide inventory or mask their identity and not dealing with brokers on a person-to-person basis. A not-complete list goes something like this:
- “Everyone wants a discount.”
- “Someone will try to steal my inventory.”
- “I don’t like having to teach newbies.”
My answer to these 3 examples and any of the thousands of other potential ideas you could offer up as excuses would be, “How is this different than it was before?”
As long as I was involved in the secondary market, people would call me all the time, asking for “room” on a price. Depending on who it was, what the ticket was, and any other host of factors, I might say yes. I might say no. This happens everywhere. It isn’t just brokers.
The inventory idea is real, especially for brokers that operate in a world where they don’t have a relationship with anyone: brokers, consolidators, team management, etc.
On last year’s webinar, I tried to make the point several different ways that you can’t just go through life as another name in the database with a tag saying “broker.”
You just can’t.
Like I’ve said pretty much daily for the entire year, you have to have a relationship with the team. That way if someone tries to take your inventory or “rats” you out as a broker, it won’t be a surprise that something is up.
Before you fill up my inbox with emails telling me I just don’t get it…I do get it. There are bad actors and people that act in bad faith no matter what.
That’s not going to change.
Your job is to put your business in the best position to withstand that kind of turmoil or bad action.
You don’t do that by hiding and hoping no one will ever draw a link between your account and the fact that you sell tickets on the secondary market.
This also leads back to the first opportunity of creating and controlling customers.
If you have customers, you have value.
If you have customers and you have a relationship with the team, you have more value.
If you have customers, have a relationship with the team, and have some unique ideas for ways to add more value to the transaction between you and both sides…you have a chance.
If you are just selling tickets on StubHub, Vivid, or wherever and never want to have a relationship with anyone else…I’d be concerned about the stability of my business model because a lot of people have great influence over your business and you aren’t likely the one with the most control.
Here’s 3 ways you can build more important relationships within the industry that will help you have a little more stability in your business:
- Find yourself an industry expert that you can look to as a resource and someone you can trust. Don’t know where to start? You might look into joining the NATB. Or, you might want to join the broker Slack group or the Ticker Reseller Group on Facebook. Or, you are here…try sending me an email.
- Make friends with the people at the organizations and venues you are buying from. I remember in NYC, we would buy millions of dollars of inventory from Disney and MSG each year. You don’t think I knew those guys? I did. So when things got sticky, who are they going to work with first? Me or some guy buying his Lion King tickets off Ticketmaster? The guy that has one of the largest accounts for the Christmas Show or the person buying coupons at the window? Don’t be a stranger.
- Not to belabor this point, but what about your customers? Have you talked to anyone that buys from you anytime in recent memory?
The second great opportunity in 2018 is in building relationships. Business is as much about people as anything else.
Customer Service is the Third Opportunity
The third opportunity is sort of a stepchild or a sideswipe of the first two, but it is one area that has the greatest ability to differentiate you from everyone else as quickly as possible.
Scott Spencer from Suite Experience Group talked about the demand for service in higher end sales when I asked him about challenges and opportunities facing the industry last week.
Above, I talked about the need to create and control customers. Which was followed by my story about the struggles of an industry award to find qualified people to give a service award to.
There’s a key theme here.
Many of you may have a favorite hotel that you stay in when traveling for business. I’m sure for a lot of you, its Marriott.
For me, I love a good Four Seasons.
One story about the Four Seasons should illustrate why I love the company so much: in 2014, I turned 40 and my family took me to LA and San Diego.
When we got to LA, the Four Seasons knew it was my birthday and they had really rolled out the red carpet, greeting me with a selection of craft beers, a fondant cake that was just beautiful, and they upgraded me to a presidential suite with a view of the Hollywood sign!
None of that was necessary.
But it was the service and the extra little bit of effort that makes the stay memorable. I mean the concierge hunted down the last bottles of Pliny the Elder in Beverly Hills for me.
I could go on and talk about how when my partner was in Miami on business and stayed at the Four Seasons on Brickell, the concierge would send a toy for my son back with her.
The point isn’t to highlight my travel habits.
The point is to highlight the fact that service matters.
It was the service at the Hotel Helix in Washington, DC that likely started us down a path to living in Washington, DC.
It was the level of service that I provided American Express and Circles that led me to have the chance to help AmEx and Circles build a global distribution supply chain for tickets for Black Card members.
Service, again, was the differentiator that allowed me to win the contract that helped Yellow Tail Wine’s advertising agency create the experiential marketing campaign that helped increase Yellow Tail’s sales over 600% in one year.
On the flip side, the level of service provided by a company like Jawbone likely tells you a lot about why they went out of business despite being a pioneer in fitness tracking.
And, the lack of service and personalized contact is often one of the big points of pain that people point to as a key reason why they don’t go out to dinner more, out to concerts or games as regularly as they used to.
In growing a sustainable business, service is the cheapest form of marketing in almost every case. It doesn’t have to be the expensive kind of service like a super sized fondant cake…it can be going the extra step to make a concierge feel appreciated like the relationships my friend, Mr. G had with all the concierges he worked with in NYC.
Or, it can be found in the list of customers my colleague, Nicole, kept when she was working in ticket sales on the primary side. She’d email her customers to let them know about seats opening up at the last minute or networking opportunities or just that there were things happening in and around town that might be interesting.
The key point is that if you aren’t serving your customers and adding value, you are a commodity. Commodities are always price driven things.
Having personally sold somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million tickets on my own, I know that there are some times and places where your ticket and sale are going to be entirely price driven. But if every sale is only price driven, you are doing something wrong.
Don’t know where to start with better service? Here are a few things anyone can do:
- Is there some sort of value add that you can include in your ticket sales process? I don’t mean a logo’d pen or giveaway. That’s about you. That’s not about the customer. Do something for the client that will increase their feeling that they have done business with you and that they aren’t just a transaction.
- Remember those customers that we have been discussing throughout? Have you got a CRM or a database that allows you to keep track of things about your clients so that you can have a more informed conversation?
- Try being polite, helpful, and pleasant. You may be rolling your eyes at me, but think about how often you go out to buy something and the service is indifferent or bad…the little things matter.
To recap, the big opportunities for secondary market businesses lie in people:
- Creating and keeping customers
- Building relationships
- Deliver on the promise of customer service
What have I missed here?
What do you think are your challenges and opportunities in the next year?
Dave Wakeman is a branding and strategy expert who often opines about the ticketing world on his website and twitter. If you like this stuff and the stuff he usually posts, he does a Sunday email that talks all about value, connection, and humans. You can get that for free by sending him an email at email@example.com. He also has a Master Mentor program with some openings for 2018. If interested, you can email him for more information.