IntilliShop "mystery shopped" 25 clubs in MLB to see how well they performed
in terms of season-ticket sales staff. The Padres win the scoring (100 being perfect)
while the Rockies finished last
A recent study looking into the quality of season ticket sales teams across Major League Baseball finds that significant differences exist between the sales skills demonstrated by each team and that too many agents are leaving money on the table by not taking advantage of core selling opportunities.
That is the findings of an IntelliShop study that used 500 “mystery shoppers” to grade 25 clubs in MLB (5 clubs had already sold out of all their season-ticket inventory)
The findings were interesting.
One might think that clubs that have had a history of losing would have a higher quality sales force than say, the New York Yankees where a history of winning “sells the tickets” for the staff. But that was not the case.
In fact, while the San Diego Padres top the survey, the Colorado Rockies came in last. As for the Yankees? They ranked fourth behind only the aforementioned Padres, Indians, and Rays as the best sales performance.
According to IntelliShop, in the overall, the opinion of MLB season ticket agents is best described as “good, but not great.” More than three-fourths of the mystery shoppers evaluated season ticket inquiry as either on par with, or slightly better than, the typical telephone sales experience.
How did the survey work?
The evaluations discussed above reflect each mystery shopper’s subjective evaluation of their ticket inquiry. For that question mystery shoppers were asked to shed their role as professional auditors and put on their everyday consumer hats. According to IntelliShop, this is an important distinction because when it comes to “selling,” the attributes most closely linked to “satisfaction” are not always perfectly aligned with what management wants salespeople to say or do.
READ THE QUESTIONAIRE (PDF)
For example, the effort a salesperson makes to “close” a sale may be closely correlated to sales performance, but only marginally related to customer satisfaction. For this reason IntelliShop ranked each team on its final score, which encompasses a wide range of individual sales processes.
The scoring system is designed so that the maximum possible score for any call is 100. The questionnaire is highly discriminating. An agent’s likelihood of achieving a perfect score on a call is about as likely as a rookie knuckleball pitcher throwing a perfect game. To achieve a perfect score an agent would need to ask every needs assessment question, stress every advantage of becoming a season ticket holder, attempt to overcome every objection, make multiple efforts to close the sale, and do all of the above while demonstrating the highest level of courtesy, engagement, and enthusiasm.
With an overall average score of 63, the San Diego Padres earned the honor of having the best ticket agents in major league baseball for 2011. The Padres achieved this honor by taking advantage of selling opportunities that were ignored by most teams. For example, the Padres scored higher than any other team across each of the following:
- Building rapport by engaging callers in conversation not directly related to the sale
- Emphasizing the discount structure of season tickets in order to overcome pricing objections
- Making a concerted effort to have callers visit the ballpark to sit in available seats
The Padres’ victory is also about consistency. Their agents were among the league leaders from the beginning to end (needs assessment all the way through to setting up callers for follow up).
Padres agents not only said all the right things; they did so in an engaging way that – for lack of a better term – made it seem as if one could hear the agent smiling over the phone. For example, the Padres received the highest rating for agent personality by a wide margin over the second highest team; more than two-thirds (70%) of the Padres’ shoppers rated their agent’s personality as “truly exceptional.” Compare this to a MLB average of only 22% and three teams whose agents never received a single “truly exceptional” rating for personality.
Like the Padres, the Cleveland Indians agents also scored consistently well across most performance attributes. The Indians performed particularly strong when it came to selling the benefits of season ticket ownership such as flexibility programs, financing options, and a variety of special opportunities for season ticket holders to upgrade seats and attend exclusive events.
In general, although both the Padres and Indians performed quite well overall, their path towards excellence was somewhat different. The Indians did the best job of overcoming objections directly, while the Padres demonstrated greater tenacity and fundamental selling skills.
Although it is more enjoyable to focus on the top performers, we need to analyze the performance of the bottom performers to understand some of the weaknesses identified in this study. Consider the performance of the Colorado
Rockies and Detroit Tigers who scored the lowest in the study:
- Only 5% of the agents from the Rockies and Tigers asked for the caller’s name upfront to personalize the call (the industry average was 48%, with the Indians and White Sox asking 88% of the time).
- The Rockies were the only team that never had an agent ever mention that season tickets were discounted off face value in an effort to overcome a pricing objection.
- The Rockies and Tigers were two out of only three teams whose agents never attempted to build rapport by discussing matters outside the direct sale of the tickets.
- The Rockies did not make any attempt to collect any contact information from any callers (the Tigers scored second lowest in this area by collecting follow up information only 20% of the time).
Whereas the Padres and Indians are able to close sales with callers who are sitting on the fence, agents who consistently fail to perform these basic sales processes will have both lower close rates and less penetration for ancillary sales.
As mentioned, winning or brand popularity, driven through paid attendance should be an influence in the quality of the season-ticket sales force. Surprisingly, the study found little relationship between attendance and sales performance. This finding is illustrated in the chart below. The horizontal axis shows each team’s overall score; the further to the right a team plots the better it ranked in sales performance. The vertical axis represents the percent of available home seats that each team filled during the 2010 season.
The other interesting aspect of the study focused on “closing the deal”. Some of the questions bring to light matters that may seem like common sense, but are often overlooked in the sales process.
For example, many fans are not aware of the ballpark’s seating configuration. Roughly half of all agents prematurely assumed that callers were intimately familiar with the ballpark’s row and section numbers. Agents would immediately begin to quote available seats by row and section, leaving some callers in a state of confusion and they had to slow the agent down.
But, some were consistent in this fundamental sales aspect.
The Arizona Diamondbacks set an example for the rest of the league in this area. Ninety-five percent (95%) of the time Diamondback agents either asked the caller how familiar they were with the ballpark upfront, or at least provided a description of seat locations along with the section number.
What should be most concerning is that the effort by agents to “close the deal” was lackluster.
IntelliShop found that more than two-thirds (69%) never asked for either the sale or a deposit. The Yankees, Indians, and Royals were the only teams that at least asked for the sale at least half the time. The Houston Astros came in at the other end of the spectrum by asking for the sale only 4% of the time, demonstrating once again the great disparity that exists in the sales performance of each team.
What we have is a mixed bag in MLB as it pertains to the quality of sales teams across the league (remember, 5 clubs were not part of the survey). Either front office staff hasn’t focused closely on the little details that matter most, or it’s slipped through the cracks. Those at the top of the survey will surely strut their stuff upon reading, while those at the bottom need to look in the mirror and ask if increasing paid attendance and cost certainty through season-ticket blocks is simply tied to the performance of the team on the field, or the team of agents working the phones.
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