3 Reasons to Choose iContact over Constant Contact

First off, let me tell you that I am receiving no compensation from iContact nor do I have a customer service horror story about Constant Contact.  What follows is simply my opinion.

Why I think that non-profits should use iContact instead of Constant Contact for their mass e-mail communications.

1.  iContact is cheaper.

Here is a pretty graphic from their website illustrating this fact:

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2.  iContact gives you added features without extra cost.

With iContact, you get lots of other great features without spending extra money.  The two biggies for me are the fact that you can do surveys and have a public newsletter archive.  These are two very powerful tools for non-profits.  We all know how useful a survey can be but have you ever thought about what you could do if you could post a URL to your last e-newsletter?  This is what the public archive allows you to do.  Not only can you send messages to the people on your list, but you can share that same message with your Facebook fans, Twitter follwers, blog readers, etc.

3.  Better control of custom HTML.

Let’s say you have paid a designer to create a custom HTML e-mail template for you.  That is super for the first month when they are sending it out for you.  But what do you do in the upcoming months when you don’t have super HTML skills?  iContact provides three tabs that let you easily access the HTML as well as make edits in a preview fashion that doesn’t require any HTML knowledge.

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Are you wondering if they have a non-profit rate?  Yes, they do.  And they have all of the list segmentation tools and stats that you are used to.  If you are using Constant Contact consider saving a lot of money per year and switch to iContact.

4 Tips To Help You Write a Group Sales Intro Letter

Do you want to include a letter with your group sales brochure?  Not sure where to start?
 
In general, letters to ticket buyers (or potential ticket buyers) should be rather short (no more than 3 paragraphs) and written in a personable tone.  Consider these thoughts when you craft the letter:
 
1.  Remember that the group leader needs to feel comfortable with you.  They are about to start a long-term relationship with you – there is a certain amount of trust involved.
 
2.  Put yourself in the shoes of the group leader.  What would make you take the leap of faith to get your group tickets?  It may be the fact that you have a flexible payment plan.  It may be that you are looking for premium seating.  It may be that you want to be able to cancel the order at any time without penalty.
 
3.  Tell them something they don’t already know.  Is there some neat factoid or piece of information that they might not know?  This could be something related to one of the shows or about the organization as a whole.  
 
4.  Remember that the average group leader doesn’t really want a “sales pitch.”  They just want good seats for their group and a smooth process to get them. 
 
Go ahead and be brave!  Go with your gut instinct.  Your brochure is going to sell the product.  The letter is to get people to buy the product from you personally.

Brochures A-Go-Go

Ladies and gentlemen:  it’s that time of year again!  Time for group sales brochures!

As per usual, e-mail me a PDF of your brochure and I’ll post it online so we can all learn and share.

Box Office vs. Group Sales

My newest (cyber) friend is Erin Vargo who is the Audience Development and Group Sales Manager at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  She recently sent me a very interesting blog post from the off-stage right blog:

Better box office and front of house service keeps your customers coming back – almost as much as your programming

She accompanied the link with her thoughts:

In my past life, I worked in marketing and PR for big box retail (Borders, followed briefly by B&N), and I am in total agreement about the massive disconnect between the “front lines” and the folks who often make the decisions.

We happen to have some of the best frontline staff anywhere, here at the theatre. And there’s certainly less of a gap in terms of the people who actually provide customer service and the folks in director-level positions. BUT still – for group sales in particular – I think we can learn from this.

As sellers of group tickets, as caretakers of the “big evening out” for people, as customer service representatives ourselves, we directly affect our income by virtue of the service we provide, and the information we gather. We have changed several practices here, based on repeated feedback from customers (for example, allowing multiple credit cards to be added and charged for a group; adding phone access to promotions formerly accessible online only, etc.). Then we let them know that we listened and changes our ways because we value them. It makes a difference.

How do you see our role? Do you have thoughts about the dynamic the employees on the front-lines as sources for positive change? I’m interested to know what you think.

I would like to ask this same question to all of you out there:  what are your thoughts?

Access the softer side of your group sales message

I know all of you out there are piggybacking on your arts .org’s general marketing message.  You use the same marketing verbiage for each show, get your group discount prices based on the regular ticket prices, and use the same graphics and artwork on your brochure.  Don’t forget that you are not only trying to get people to by tickets; you are trying to form a relationship with a group leader.  This isn’t some one off ticket purchase.  You are going to be communicating with your group leader for weeks and perhaps months until their performance date.  Don’t be afraid to soften your image a bit in your collateral and on your page of the website.  Speak in plain English and use fun vernacular speech.  Why not even include a photo of yourself?  Make your pitch not only compelling but also accessible and friendly.  It will pay off in the long run.

Mini-Brands?

So, lets think of your .org’s overall branding campaign as the “brand.”  Your marketing campaign would be a “mini-brand” within the larger brand.

It is important to realize that any good Group Sales campaign is going to mirror that of the larger organization, but have it’s own unique target demographic, and therefore special needs when it comes to branding.

Don’t forget that groups want to know about group-related things.  Some will be interested in what the regular ticket prices are, but only in conjunction with what the group rate is.  Some will be interested in what pre-performance functions you have, but only in relation to which ones groups are permitted to attend.

In most cases it it well worth it to print a companion to your regular brochure that has only group information or to print entirely separate group collateral all together.  It is important that the “brand” gets out to the correct people, and the same applies for your “mini-brand.”

Think you don’t have the budget for group-specific collateral?  Contact me and I’ll show you how!

innOVATIONS

For this installment of innOVATIONS, I am pleased to bring you the thoughts of Chris Harrower, Group Sales blogger extraordinaire. I asked him for his thoughts on new ways of doing things in the field of Group Sales.

New ways of doing things? We’ve all be talking about that for years now, looking for the “next big thing” in group travel. If you ask 20 “seasoned pro”‘s, you’d get 21 different answers.

Some people swear by experiential tourism (go and DO, not just go and see).

Others say mutil-option itineraries are the mythical “wave of the future”. Instead of everyone going in lockstep to see an attraction, they get a menu. After chosing what they want to do, 10 may go to a show, 12 may go shopping, 8 want to play golf, and the rest are just going to chill at the hotel pool. It means more work for the Operator and local Receptive, but if it means more people on the coach, it’s worth the work.

To be honest from my (slightly skewed) point of view, I think that this is just another cycle, and as the “Boomer” generation continues to age, they will start getting on the coaches that they have thus far resisted. If you combine escalating gas prices with increasing environmental awareness, traveling by Motorcoach is going to become more of a viable option, especially with some of the new coaches in the pipeline! The new buses that New World Tours has put on the road are nothing short of amazing, and will help to drive the Boomers our way. Large flat screen monitors, each playing a separate program; satellite TV and radio; computer projection and more adds up to a head-turning package that everyone I know that has seen it has said “I’d love to travel on one of these!”.

It means a huge investment at a time when most companies are cutting back…but visionaries like Dave Bolen will step up, do what must be done, and help lead us into the next generation. We, as suppliers, need to do everything we can to help support, encourage, and even endorse these Operators. If they succeed, and others start following in their footsteps, then we’re back on track, and the Group industry as a whole succeeds.

Be sure to check out Chris’ blog at: http://blog.groupsalesseminar.com

Service Fees

I will be the first to tell you that I am not a fan of service fees. They seem to be on everything nowadays.
I AM, however, a fan of service fees on group ticket orders. I generally think they shouldn’t be above $5 for regular orders with perhaps the option for a higher rate if someone wants their tickets overnighted or something similar.
If your order were 2 or 3 tickets, yes, that would seem high. But on an order of 50 tickets; not so much. Also, if you’re not tracking your postage use, you should. You’ll find out quite quickly that mailing all of those little padded envelopes chock-full of tickets can cost a pretty penny.
Just be sure that your ticketing system allows you to manually subtract that fee if necessary.

Multi-Level Marketing

I’ve always thought that “Group Sales” was a bit of a mis-nomer. I prefer to think about it as “Group Marketing.” Why? Essentially, Group Sales Managers aren’t really hard-selling or cold-calling but, in fact, carefully crafting plans to get information out to the right people and enticing them to purchase tickets.

On another level, the Group Leader that the Group Sales Manager is “selling” to is at the same time “selling” it to their group members. This possibly is the most important phase. If that Group Leader can’t get enough people on their end to buy tickets, the group ceases to exist.

What can we do? Provide the Group Leader with all the information and collateral possible to then pass along to their group members. It is great if your company already prints show-specific posters or postcards that can be submitted. Also, preparing materials that might give background information about the performance is great. Something with a synopsis, “behind-the-scenes” information, cast information, and anything else that would be pertinent. If that same document could be reproducible on a common copy machine and still look good, you’ve hit the jackpot. Send only one copy to the Group Leader and they can copy as many as they need.

The more information that a potential ticket-buyer has, the more likely that they will actually purchase tickets.

Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

How can I get more groups?

Question: My last postcard/brochure mailing was successful in gaining repeat groups. But what about the other 2000 groups on my lists that have never been to one of my performances?

Answer: Host a FAM.

Most FAM tours are hosted by area CVBs or other Cultural Council or Cultural Trust organizations. Just because you either don’t have relationships with those types of groups, or those groups don’t do FAMs doesn’t mean that you can’t have one yourself.

It is often just a matter of giving free tickets and a goody bag.

Send a letter to your list of groups that have NEVER been to your show or groups that have LAPSED. Enclose an order form for them to fill out and mail back to claim their tickets. Got a huge mailing list, but can only give away a finite number of tickets? Just note that on the letter: “Offer good for the first 50 people who respond” and so on.
If you can have a little pre-performance soiree at the theatre, all the better. If not, put a little goody bag on each group leader’s seat and make sure you introduce yourself before the performance starts.

I am a firm believer, that if a group leader sees the performance they are much more likely to bring their group in the future.