Attention Team Owners: You Need Your Salespeople to STAY

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Working hard or hardly working? I’ve had the “luxury” of having entire sections to myself over the course of my career.

It was the moment I decided enough was enough.

Our new boss looked around the room. He had just taken over a small but strong and dedicated sales team, and business as we knew it was about to change forever.

“With the new management changes, things are going to be drastically different around here,” he said.

The first thing he told us is that we were no longer allowed to create email marketing campaigns, which was my favorite part of my day. I had the responsibility of designing and scheduling each Weekly Team Newsletter or Game Day Alert, which gave ticket sales staff the ability to reach thousands of fans with reminders of upcoming games and promotions within seconds by clicking a simple button.

“Then who is going to do it?” I defensively chimed in. “Until we implemented email marketing techniques, we were struggling with getting the word out about certain ticket specials. After we started, our walk-up numbers increased dramatically and phones rang off the hook.”

“It’s not our problem anymore,” he said. “That’s for the marketing team to figure out.”

WRONG.

The use of emails in sales is essential in 2016. Not only do programs like TM Messenger (produced by Ticketmaster) give sales representatives another method of reaching their prospective clients, but they also allow you to target certain groups of fans, like everyone who came out to Pink in the Rink last season or exclusive emails to Season Ticket Holders only.

Individual reps even had the ability to drive more sales through personalized email campaigns for certain game nights they were working on.

“You don’t look too pleased, Nicole,” he said, calling me out.

It’s true. I don’t hide my emotions too well when my life just exploded in front of my face. And if you’re sounding completely uninformed, you’re going to know it when we make eye contact.

“I disagree strongly,” I continued to defend my strategy. “The marketing staff doesn’t even have Ticketmaster training or capabilities. We have to create the lists using complicated queries.”

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Portland Pirates players, staff members, and fans were completely blindsided with the announced sale and relocation of the team last week, especially with the number of group events and activities being offered.

He looked at me dumbfounded.

“I guess we can consider using it for those types of things only,” he said, “but anything that looks like news is not our focus. We need to hit the phones.”

And just like that, the P-word set off another immediate red flag.

“I know you all have only been making 30-40 cold calls per day, but that’s definitely going to change,” our new boss continued. “We need to be hitting 90-100 cold calls per day. I’ll be monitoring your activity, especially talk time and number of connected calls.”

What effing planet are you from?! I was thinking to myself.

The 1970’s have come and gone. The early 2000’s changed the way people communicate FOR GOOD. I can’t even begin to explain how many hours I have wasted on worthless, awkward cold sales calls.

Aside from selling tickets, I also had other responsibilities such as youth hockey rink visits, school visits with principals and teachers, and managing interns.

“There’s no way I have time to make that many calls per day,” I reacted, explaining my typical day to this otherwise clueless man.

“Again, those things aren’t our problem anymore, especially the interns,” he said. “Our purpose is to strictly sell.”

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This doesn’t just happen in hockey. It is a trend across the board of the sports industry.

And then my voice raised naturally as if I was standing up for everyone in the room.

“How am I supposed to run game nights without my interns?!” I exclaimed. “It’s literally impossible without them, and I was promised at least four interns for next season.”

Two interns barely got the job done. Between escorting youth hockey teams around for their intermission skates or bringing school music groups back to their seats after performing the National Anthem, there was absolutely no way I could do it all by myself when I was the one making sure it all ran smoothly.

Not to mention how unproductive cold calls can be! I’m a believer phone calls should be saved for later in the sales process after meeting prospects in a more natural, less stalker-ish way, like at the arena, via email, and especially social media.

In fact, 77% of my new book of business from my first season was generated primarily through emails and social media. Phone calls came later in the process after the prospect naturally made their decision on what ticket packages were the best fit for them. Nobody likes to be sold, but everyone enjoys a nice personalized note here or there from their favorite team.

“I guess we will have to look into this further,” he finally agreed. I really don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into.

And as if he didn’t already ruin my morale enough, he saved the “best” change for last.

“Everyone is still getting the same pay raise they were promised,” he began.

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Despite a variety of group experiences offered by the Pirates, the sales staff still struggled to increase attendance over 3,400 per game. The team needed an average attendance of 4,000 to break even on costs, let alone profit.

Oh, a whopping $2,000 raise. Thanks, guys,  I thought to myself. The pay raise still held my salary under $30,000 per year, and an extra $20 per paycheck really wasn’t going to help make a dent in the house of debt I live in.

“However,” he continued, “our commission structure will be quite different going forward. Instead of an extra commission check once per month, you’ll receive one big check every July.”

We all looked at each other with our jaws on the floor.

“When does this take effect?!” I demanded to know. We all relied on our monthly commissions to survive. With the salary offered to me and changed schedule, I was now going to be deep in the hole for bills I was expecting to be able to pay that later month.

The best part? This announcement came in July with no warning. I wasn’t going to see commission again for an entire year.

“You’re also only going to get 1.5% of every sale instead of the 4% you’re getting now,” the devil continued to speak.

So you’re telling me that you would rather me waste time making more phone calls and sell less than I did last season; stop improving our email marketing tactics to drive ticket sales; and I’m not going to be able to pay the bills? AGAIN?!

And when I thought I had heard enough, our new VP of Sales had this closing thought for our meeting:

“I’m sure you guys all still have your parents helping you out. Milk it as long as you can,” he said with an evil twinkle in his eye. “Save as much as you can.”

“HA!!” I actually said out loud. All of us are college grads in our mid-twenties. Our parents were done with us years ago!

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Rumors are swirling that the AHL’s Binghamton Senators will be the next team to go after the 2016-17 season.

A few weeks later, I resigned with an extremely heavy heart. I didn’t want to leave the best job I ever had, but there was no way I could’ve financially made it work. I’m not married and I’m trying to not live off of my parents, and a clause in our contracts said we couldn’t be employed elsewhere. You would’ve done the same thing.

What I have experienced throughout my career is an all too common trend across the sports world. The mentality of “let’s pay college grads as little as possible and try to sell out this arena” is poisoning the fan development efforts of everyone in this industry in possession of a brain.

This happens EVERYWHERE. Some teams feel that they have no other choice but to fire their senior level executives, who have put up with the *BS* for multiple seasons and continued to advance their career and grow their books of business, just so that they can divide the salary they were paying that rep by three to bring on clueless college graduates who are brainwashed into thinking going into even more debt than just college loans alone is what they NEED to do to get their foot in the door of the sports industry.

When at the end of the day, they’re just going to be making pointless cold calls for their entire careers and live life being overworked and underpaid, a claim most of America will make in their lifetimes.

I’ve been in offices where my coworkers and supervisors would brag about their eligibility for food stamps and everything they know about filing for bankruptcy. I don’t think that should be anyone’s goal in their careers.

Instead of providing their employees with the essential resources they need to not only survive but to thrive in their positions, teams are essentially continuously digging their own graves and wonder why they can’t motivate their sales staff to stay at the office past 5:00 PM, let alone keep them around to grow their books of business for years to come.

With additional contract clauses preventing sales representatives from taking secondary part-time jobs, what else should teams expect when their arenas remain empty? If teams paid their sales representatives a liveable salary, attendance would drastically increase thanks to employees being able to financially sustain their lives outside of work, motivating them to grow their careers long term within the same organization instead of constantly searching for the next best opportunity elsewhere.

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Team owners believe low base salaries will motivate their reps to make as much commission money as possible, yet they continue to sell less than they need and constantly have to replace salespeople. The logic isn’t working, and it’s killing sports.

Please trust me. I speak from personal experience.

I can’t even begin to explain how much potential revenue is lost every time a team loses one of their top sales reps. And more times than not, teams could’ve prevented this loss by investing just a few more dollars in their employees. This happens much too often in sports, which explains why you have a different season ticket account manager every 18 months, roughly.

My opinions are strictly sports-related, but if a company in a different industry offered their sales staff only about $25,000 per year with the incentive of MAYBE breaking $30,000 with commissions, would they really find people willing to not only accept their job offer but also stay with their company and work towards the common goal of selling as much as possible for years to come?

Nope, probably not.

All my friends have been “jealous” of my awesome career path so far. And I don’t blame them – working for the Binghamton Senators, Portland Pirates, and Carolina Hurricanes definitely was awesome! But trust me, I’m way more jealous of all of you with your steady jobs and salaries than you should ever be of me.

I hope you learned something today and if you have a moment to write to the owners of your local sports team, please ask them to raise wages for their sales staff. The future of your city’s economy will thank you.

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And nothing pisses me off more than an empty arena.