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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with AMA CultureHive banner

How can arts organisations develop the best possible strategy for their customer relationship management and ticketing systems? Helen Dunnett suggests some steps to make the task easier.

Photo of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Miki Govedarica

There has been a big shift in the way that customer relationship management (CRM) and ticketing have been viewed since the CRM acronym was coined in 1995. Ticketing is no longer just about box office transactions as strategic CRM has become synonymous with organisations seeking to build better relationships with their audiences through a customer-centric business culture. The two are, and should be, intrinsically bound together.

Customer relations

More than ever, ticketed organisations need to develop a CRM strategy. One that will help them procure, improve and develop the way they use their ticketing and CRM systems, so they can achieve their business goals and ultimately offer a more seamless customer journey.

Never underestimate or short-circuit the implementation process

Doug Buist from Shakespeare’s Globe puts it this way: “CRM is all about having a strategy around building your relationship with customers. That is why it was always vital to see the tech as the tool to enable us to realise the relationships with our audiences. We needed to start thinking about our audiences more in this way rather than as a data point on a spreadsheet.”

You can find out more about Shakespeare’s Globe and their journey towards a CRM strategy on AMAculturehive.

Because a CRM strategy is fast becoming an integral part of organisational thinking, it’s not just the preserve of the marketer but also of fundraising, education and learning teams, as well as customer service. Joining up strategy, data and processes means every team is tapping into the versatility of their CRM system to help achieve the organisation’s mission and goals and to gain a more 360-degree view of their audience.

The other big change is that online, mobile and social media play a much bigger role in how audiences interact with organisations. Walking up to or calling the box office accounts for a very small percentage of contact or sales for many arts organisations.

There are different ways to approach the CRM management and ticketing riddle, but here are some core building blocks that I believe make the job easier.

Gathering information

Begin the process with some intensive consultation or information-gathering sessions with staff across the organisation (including the CEO). This facilitative approach should be revealing and may prove to be more so if undertaken by someone from outside the organisation. What you are looking to find out is how data is collected, by whom, what they use it for and what data systems they are using.

You may then discover you have redundant or ineffective data systems, a need to review practices and processes and that the time was absolutely right for change. Being armed with this insight will help in the development of a specification to outline the kind of CRM system functionality that is needed.

Transaction to interaction

Today, CRM software works across a wide range of functions. The software should be able to handle ticketing, marketing, CRM, loyalty, frequent-flyer and membership schemes, as well as fundraising and donation management, event planning, room and equipment scheduling, merchandise and retail sales tools. It can also interface with accounting, planning and hospitality tools.

Most leading suppliers recognise the importance of meeting most of the needs to ‘join-up-the-tools’ for arts organisations around a ‘truth’, encompassing all the customer touch-points in one system.

More detail on selecting ticketing systems can be found on AMAculturehive.

Cost and investment

What will a CRM system cost? The answer isn’t straightforward. It all depends on fitness-for-purpose, volume and value of sales, just what you will have to pay for, and whether you can manage a capital or revenue purchase. Cost is often highest in the minds of many arts organisations when considering an appropriate CRM/ticketing system, but there quite simply isn’t an inexpensive system that will offer the necessary functionality.

Do your research across several system suppliers and work out the cost of ownership over a three-to-five-year period. This is the best time period to test comparative cost-effectiveness, five years being about the most frequent change cycle arts organisations are able to handle for a mission-critical tool.

This becomes especially important when looking at systems that charge on the basis of a commission on the value of sales. 2 to 3% can sound like a low percentage but you need to be clear about what constitutes a sale. For more, see my article on costs on AMAculturehive.

Implementing the strategy

So how can you tap into this huge versatility on offer in today’s systems? Never underestimate or short-circuit the implementation process. Allow the time to properly configure your system, train staff across the organisation and redefine business processes. Map out detailed discovery sessions with your system supplier and spend time mapping out customer journeys to show just how each audience group interacts (or might interact) across multiple touch-points.

Create a core CRM team consisting of representatives from different areas of the business where the needs and concerns of colleagues are addressed. Develop a training and data policy that shows staff the value of adopting and applying the strategic initiatives, and an organisational rule book or benchmark to work to.

For more information, see my AMAculturehive article on implementation.

Culture change

A key factor for success is embracing CRM as a strategic function that is led from the top and not seen as purely a marketing function. Being clear about the end-game and the cultural change that will be needed is important in ensuring the technology is used effectively. CRM isn’t a quick fix: the process requires a fundamental change to the way strategies are planned, budgeted, communicated and monitored. CRM has to become a way of life.

Helen Dunnett is Director of HD Consulting.
Tw @HD_consulting

This article, sponsored and contributed by AMACultureHive, is part of a series sharing resources and learning from the online library for the sector.

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Photo of Helen Dunnett


I can see why Helen would write "but there quite simply isn’t an inexpensive system that will offer the necessary functionality", but I think it is important to remember that cost is a relative term in this context. From my experience in procurement of ticketing-based CRM solutions, the 5-year cost of ownership/usage can vary in tenders as much as 5 times from the lowest, especially for the pay-as-you-go solutions which really mount up over time. And this is for systems where TheTicketingInstitute's Functionality Builder evaluated that the systems did have comparable functionality to meet needs. Various suppliers have endeavoured to meet the needs of the arts sector at modest costs - Databox, PatronBase, Monad come to mind - and I always hope that arts organisations will have the common sense to think that just because a system is "inexpensive", that doesn't mean it is not "fit-for-purpose": in my experience they are often genuinely able to meet needs. That still may not mean they are low enough in cost for some to be able to afford in these challenging times. But if that is the case, try talking to suppliers about how they might be able to help - some have offered really constructive solutions.

Ignore my previous incomplete comment. I entirely agree with both Roger and Rob that inexpensive doesn't necessarily mean that the system is not fit for purpose. Certainly in the work I do, clients are looking for the right system and very much welcome the flexibility of pricing model that PatronBase can very often offer

Yes, times are challenging indeed in the arts sector, and from a supplier perspective (PatronBase) I see far more value in exploring how we can work with organisations (however modest their budgets) to help them obtain and leverage the tools to grow, than putting up barriers to entry. It will be a rare organisation indeed that can't afford to do anything CRM-wise, but there may be difficult choices on prioritising CRM over other resources. On the other hand, though, consider the antonyms of customer relationship - customer disassociation, customer disconnection, customer separation, customer divorce. I’d suggest that "one size fits all" is as poor a fit on price as it is on functionality. Fundamentally, all system cost, and CRM is no exception, boils down to people costs - the direct costs of the developers to write the solution, testers, trainers, support teams, project managers, etc., and the physical resources to support these teams - and of course to the user’s own people costs. The way in which two very similar organisations use CRM can be very different, having a significant impact on the costs for CRM. Sure, pay-as-you-sell or pay-per-user can be measures of usage and cost, but are rather blunt instruments. There's no real substitute for a deep understanding of the organisation and the way they'll use CRM - how demanding their CRM strategy is, how much effort the organisation is prepared to expend "in house" versus wanting a supplier to expend on their behalf, whether the organisation wishes to stay at the cutting edge or find something that works and stick with it for a few years, and of course the scale of the organisation. From there, costs of delivering a solution can be estimated and pricing tailored to each organisation's needs - without compromising the quality of the software tool or its flexibility to grow with the organisation.