SBJ/June 13-19, 2011/Opinion

How teams can tap sales power of their employee networks

In a USA Today story last month, I learned that Amy Trask, CEO of the Oakland Raiders, had a unique way of using her employees during the NFL lockout. Instead of salary cuts and layoffs, she was requiring that employees sell season tickets during the lockout. The goal Trask set was a value of tickets equivalent to 10 percent of the employee’s base salary. Thus, an employee earning a base of $30,000 would be responsible for selling $3,000 in Raiders’ season tickets.

Trask explained: “This is a program that’s constructive and productive. We’re working as a staff to build something together, so when we come out on the other side of this work stoppage we’re going to be bigger and better and stronger for it because we have sold more season tickets.”

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Raiders CEO Amy Trask made selling tickets the responsibility of every employee.
She said the plan has been received well by the vast majority of the staff since being implemented in March. It applies to essentially all employees, including coaches, secretaries, executives and equipment staff.

“It’s a privilege to work for the Raiders and to work for a National Football League team,” Trask said. “Frankly work stoppage or no work stoppage, going out in the community and representing this organization and working to fill the stadium is something all of us should be doing anyway.”

I applaud Trask for trying to keep all of her employees whole in terms of their compensation and to boost morale by retaining everyone while other teams are reducing payroll obligations through furloughs and layoffs. But even more importantly, I applaud Trask for incorporating all of the employees in the sales process so they can understand the challenges of that process, appreciate the sellers who do it on a daily basis and, most importantly, take a role, albeit temporary, in directly generating revenue for the organization.

Given those benefits, why doesn’t every organization, regardless of the labor situation, adopt some format that involves all of the employees in a short-term sales effort? Every sales team can use new sources of leads, and every organization is interested in generating additional revenue. But thinking in broader terms, these new sales might be former ticket holders returning to the fold or could be new ticket buyers who, after having had an opportunity to sample the product, might buy more tickets and attend additional games, perhaps even becoming season-ticket holders and creating a lifetime value for not only themselves but also for people that they bring to games as trial users who also might become regular buyers.

NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The Liberty’s sell-a-thon generated 75,000 ticket sales and promoted its temporary home.
A number of WNBA teams and most notably the New York Liberty have employed a sell-a-thon tactic for years. Captains are selected from among the leadership of the organization and employees are then drafted to form teams that compete for additional compensation or prizes. All teams have at least one person from sales but also include every employee regardless of category or seniority. Even the president of MSG Sports, Scott O’Neil, picks up the phone and sells tickets.

The Liberty sell-a-thon and many others also offer the opportunity to sell group tickets or solicit donations to be used to purchase tickets to provide children, soldiers or other targeted groups the opportunity to attend games at no cost. The unique structure at MSG includes staff from the Liberty, Knicks, Rangers and Madison Square Garden. Teams like the Phoenix Mercury incorporate the Suns, while single-team organizations like the Chicago Sky use only their own employees. Regardless of size and number of employees, all teams are successful in generating revenue and incorporating the ideology that every employee is involved in promoting and selling the organization.

The Liberty, which is playing at the Prudential Center in Newark for the next three seasons while the Garden is being renovated, sought to promote the team’s new home and expose young fans to the game in hopes that the Liberty would become “their team.” The sales program had a goal of sending 50,000 kids to Liberty games this summer. Thus, 240 MSG Sports employees were divided into four teams of 60 to participate in a tournament of champions. The all-staff approach shattered the goal, generating more than 75,000 tickets.

“Amazingly about half of our production or more than 37,500 tickets came from staff we would qualify as nonsellers, proving what an incredible resource the entire staff can be as a network and what can be accomplished if everyone has the opportunity to ask for support for such a great cause,” said Drew Cloud, vice president of sales and service for MSG Sports. Furthermore, the rate of success is higher because the caller knows the people being called, so they can be considered a “warm lead” rather than the traditional “cold call.”

The concept can be continued after the duration of the sell-a-thon by creating a referral program that rewards employees for providing leads that result in sales to the sales team. Employees can be compensated for each sale as well as the possibility of earning additional rewards for the most sales, the largest sale and so forth. This is very similar to the friends-and-family referral programs popularized by the telecommunications companies and most recently by DirecTV. It is also a distant cousin of the volunteer sales forces such as the Designated Hitters popularized by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1980s and 1990s.

One of the most common approaches in sales is that new sales people start by contacting people whom they know, usually beginning with friends and family members. Imagine the networks that can be accessed and solicited if the network of every employee becomes part of the database. To steal from the premise of Bob Beaudine’s best-selling book “The Power of Who,” Just how powerful is your who? You never know until you ask.

Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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