Legends International’s Florent Coulon and Samin Macdonald deliver five insights to the ticket and hospitality sales sector.
In the fast-evolving and increasingly competitive sports and entertainment industry, maximising revenue from ticketing and hospitality is not simply a matter of delivering a great product on the pitch or the stage. Another essential ingredient for success is creating new opportunities to enjoy the live experience and ensuring these offers are a big hit on the day of the match or event. As Richard Cheesman and Martin Jennings of Legends International explained in our first exclusive white paper, that involves a thorough and detailed analytical and development process as well as cutting-edge creativity, in order to establish the right mix of products for the anticipated content in that location in that specific market. Once the ideal mix of experiences has been identified and created, the next critical step is to deliver sales at or above the forecast levels to ensure that the business plan is achieved and ROI is maximised from both a brand and a financial perspective.
The foundation of Legends’ success when helping clients to achieve their sales targets in respect of ticketing and premium experiences has been the consistent application of the core elements of: Process, People, Execution and Culture. Delivering on each of these elements requires great commitment, time and attention across the entire client organisation.
Florent Coulon, vice president, sales, and Samin Macdonald, associate project director of Legends International provide key insights into the way the sector is evolving.
Samin is responsible for the set up of Legends International’s ticketing and hospitality sales projects. This includes developing sales, legal and financial processes along with the implementation of project-based IT and CRM systems. Florent leads the Legends International Sales vertical and has responsibility for delivering revenue forecasts from ticketing and hospitality at all client venues. His personal involvement and commitment to projects is continuous from the recruitment of the first member of the local sales team through to the end of Legends’ involvement in the sales process, typically years after stadium or venue opening. Florent joined Legends International in January 2018 after spending four years as director of hospitality for Olympique Lyonnais, where he successfully planned and executed the Premium Sales programme for Lyon’s Groupama Stadium, which opened in January 2016.
Earlier in their careers, Florent and Samin were colleagues at IMG and worked together on the enormously successful sales execution teams for Wembley stadium and Euro 2008.
Insight 1 – Sales is not a dirty word
In the UK and across Europe, the words ‘sales’ and ‘salesman’ have had a negative connotation, with words like ‘pushy’, ‘arrogant’ or even ‘unreliable’ or ‘untrustworthy’ often attached to them. At Legends, they are dedicated to changing that perception. Legends believes that sales professionals are there to sell with integrity by understanding the client’s values, market and target audience; by learning about a potential customer’s goals, culture and ambitions; and using that knowledge to build a relationship. Through that relationship the sales team is able to tailor an offer or set off experiences to suit a customer’s needs, to help solve problems, and ultimately to deliver the right game plan to drive the organization forward. A key Legends mantra is: “sales is a relationship not a transaction”.
Most people recognise that companies cannot succeed without sales professionals bringing business through their doors. That in itself is not sufficient. Based on years of experience and expertise, the Legends global sales team has learned that every country is unique and the sales process varies from one country to another, and indeed from one team or property to another.
In Spain, where Legends is responsible for all Premium seat sales for Atletico de Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, you won’t find the buzzy ‘boiler room’ atmosphere created around telephone sales in the UK and elsewhere. That’s not because the sales executives aren’t as focused on success, it’s because sales are executed in a different manner. Spain is a country where initial cold contact is far more widely accepted and more effective, such as using social channels such as LinkedIn.
Because Legends works internationally, the importance of local and national cultural differences is recognised, and their team works diligently to train and invest in people with the skills, competencies and attitude to succeed. Florent explains: “We expect our sales teams to work hard. That is a given, but it is not enough. They must also work ‘smart’. We encourage them to be strategic in how they approach the market, to be diligent in their research before approaching prospects, and to have a clear and flexible plan, tailored specifically, for how they will engage with all sectors and demographics of the local market”.
Insight 2 – People are your most valuable resource
Making a commitment to invest in the growth of your team is in fact what allows Legends to continue to focus on the right priorities and provides them with the expertise to move from project to project and consistently deliver at the highest level.
Both Samin and Florent started their careers in the sales team that successfully delivered the UK’s first long-term premium seating programme for Wembley Stadium. “Ten years later, high performers from this team have all become industry leaders, and it’s a great group to be part of for networking, sharing best practices and staying on top of industry trends. “At Legends, we believe networking and building effective relationships are key to build a competitive roster of talent: some of our colleagues in the US have been working together for more than 15 years on two, three or sometimes five different projects. It’s undeniable that there are huge benefits as well as efficiencies in working with people you know, you trust and you can rely on”.
Having a network of experienced sales executives that the Legends Team has worked with on multiple projects enables them to build each sales resource around experienced professionals – people who have faced the tough challenges and know how to deal with them. We supplement that experience with carefully selected talent to achieve the optimal blend of youth, energy and experience like any good team.
Legends build their team to ensure that they have the proper infrastructure to deliver on each of the areas of their partnership. They place huge emphasis on and significant time into identifying and hiring the best talent in the industry. From there, the team continually mentors, coaches and equips their team members to understand market trends, embrace new sales techniques and stay ahead of the game.
Insight 3 – The client is the story
Delivering a successful sales strategy does not come to life without having a team of talented and committed individuals on the ground who can deliver. Building a talented team is critical, but it is not enough. One of the most crucial elements of Legends’ strategy is developing a complete understanding of the client, its values and its brand. This is essential in shaping the way in which the sales team presents opportunities to potential customers. Of equal importance is to understand and buy into the ethos in which their clients operate so that the sales team is able to integrate themselves and their process within the client’s culture.
To gain this understanding takes time and effort in building relationships across the entire company.
Fundamental to the Legends approach is the understanding that ‘the client is the story’. Whether engaging with long-term season ticket holders, families, or large corporations, Legends sales teams are required to have an in-depth understanding and passion for the team or venue which they represent. As Samin says: “We always remember that a customer is also, and primarily, a fan – they want to engage with their team and not with a third party sales agent throughout the process”. Legends sales teams are required to blend seamlessly into a client organisation. The physical manifestation of this is that Legends operates on a ‘white label’ basis and the sales team members carry business cards which identify them as members of the client’s commercial team. The most important emotional manifestation is in the way in which the team members present themselves – as passionate advocates and representatives of the client organisation.
Insight 4 – Invest in sales and marketing
Five years ago, Samin remembers seeing Legends present while he was visiting a business summit in Manchester. It was years before the acquisition of ISG was even contemplated and Legends was expanding to the EMEA market. They played a video showcasing their newly-opened $10m Levi’s Stadium sales centre in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Samin sat there shocked by the amount of money invested in sales and marketing in the US. It was simply unfathomable on this side of the pond.
Over the years, Legends International has worked hard to change their clients’ mindset. As Florent explains: “All clubs and venues have multiple competing requirements for available spend. Investment in sales and marketing is essential to generate the long-term returns on investment. We spend a lot of time with clients helping them away from the mindset of it being an unnecessary expense and to convince them that appropriate investment in education, sales and marketing is a key component for delivering outstanding results”.
Legends have seen this investment pay off massively from their projects in the US and have brought their relevant experience to create a success story in the European market.
Samin can remember setting up Atletico Madrid’s project: “The Club was at first reluctant to commit to spending money on a mock-up box within our sales office and it took us some time to convince them of the return. The plan was to build a box, including a row of the exact seats that would be used in the stadium, with a video wall to be able to show the view from any seat in the stadium using a 3D stadium visualisation tool. Once this was finished, the Club was so impressed that they used the space for their own meetings and would regularly bring partners to see it during discussions on the new stadium. The suite became a key marketing tool for the club as a whole, as well as for the new stadium.”
Legends’ approach to the marketing of tickets and hospitality is to develop a bespoke marketing strategy covering the essential ingredients of education and awareness, and a targeted approach to all relevant sectors and demographic segments of the potential market. Informed by the research and business planning process, this marketing strategy will become part of the club or venue’s communication strategy.
Legends believes that at the heart of every sales and marketing strategy is the ability to acquire and effectively analyse and use data. Clients often have invaluable data which is vital to the process of segmentation, defining catchment and identifying historical renewals – all of which contribute to identifying new products and developing appropriate sales and marketing strategies.
This sophisticated data-driven approach is complimented by targeted and impactful digital sales collateral. “This is a must-have and should be a part of the fully thought-through process across the whole marketing mix”, adds Florent. “We apply all of our expertise and use our research capabilities to define the most effective way to inspire and influence our potential clients in each territory. You can’t assume that you will engage with a prospective corporate client in France or Spain in the same way that you would do it in the UK.”
Another tool Legends uses as part of the sales process is a Sales/Customer Relationship Management System which provides a pipeline, contract and payment management system, along with traditional CRM functionality, such as helping to know the customers and better understanding their needs. In doing so, you are able to provide outstanding service, simplify the administrative process, effectively renew business, while also introducing new, upgraded offers and accurately managing performance and activity levels from your sales team. The key is to create a sales system that supports our specific sales approach and pipeline management, and not let our processes be determined by the limitations of out-of-the-box solutions.
Legends has developed and built these systems from scratch, as was the case at Friends Arena in Sweden where Microsoft Dynamics was chosen to easily integrate into the client accounting system. However, on most occasions where a client has an existing system, it makes more sense to customise this to match our requirements, such as Atletico Madrid’s Salesforce CRM.
Insight 5 – Use international experience to deliver best possible solution
Part of the Legends International learning process has been built on first-hand access to the experience and industry-leading trends from their US counterparts. Working for a global company builds a collaborative environment in sharing data and progress and making decisions to determine the best path to move forward.
Legends International do not replicate the model. Instead they take the best practices and trends from their projects in the US and combine that with their international experience and knowledge to come up with the best sales operations and delivering outstanding results.