What's the #1 Reason to Sell Tickets Online?

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What’s the #1 reason to sell tickets online? The answer may seem obvious, but most people in our industry get this wrong.

There are certainly many benefits that follow when a patron buys a ticket online. We tend to focus on the operational and customer service benefits: Online ticketing lessens the work at the box office, allows people to buy tickets during off-hours, provides a wider distribution of our tickets to people who might not know our organization well, and puts the customer in control of the entire experience.

But all of that fails to identify the most important benefit, which is all about marketing and fundraising. When you sell online, you collect rich customer information — name, address, email, and sometimes other demographic data.

Let’s be honest: The walk-up customer who pays cash for a ticket is a lost opportunity. You have no way to reach that person after the performance, no way to build a relationship, and no way to assess how interested he or she is in your organization after the fact. Which means you can’t raise money from that patron — ever.

The idealized path for audience development looks something like this: You bring people into your organization for the first time, coax them to come back a second time, engage them further to turn them into subscribers or members, and then get them to become donors. If that goes well, perhaps they’ll become lifelong donors or even board members. But the whole equation falls apart if you don’t start with getting those customers’ information the first time they show up!

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in just the past month who complain that vast numbers of patrons flow in and out of their organizations every year and they have no idea who they are.

My solution to this is simple: Make it an organization-wide goal to get (at minimum) the name and email address of every person who makes a transaction. What’s the easiest way to do that? Incentivize online ticket sales! When patrons buy online you have to get their names and contact info, and you can also collect additional information about how they heard about you, or their contact preferences. When that data is associated with their customer records in your CRM system, you’ll be able to communicate with those people again, in a targeted way (segmenting by when they bought, what type of ticket, etc.).

I encourage you to embark on an obsessive and never-ending quest to improve your website buying experience so more and more people will buy online, and fewer and fewer will pay cash at the door. (This is particularly challenging in a museum environment, where advance purchase and limited seating is never a problem. That just means you have to work harder to entice people to buy online.)

What might you do to achieve this? Well, for one thing, why not charge more at the door than online? I still don’t understand why more organizations don’t set their ticket prices lower online than at the venue — after all, we are all familiar with “early bird” specials that get people to buy tickets in advance. Why don’t we do this as a matter of course, like the airlines do, offering web-special pricing for people who buy on the Internet versus in a walk-up or over the phone?

All of this boils down to your overall marketing and fundraising strategy. What is the most important thing your organization could be doing to improve your bottom line? Increasing the percentage of people who buy from you online opens the door to an enormous relationship-building opportunity.

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