Five Tips for How to Make a Sale

Serving as Fifth House Ensemble’s Associate Director of Artistic Programming, I not only administer the creation of every new program, I also lead sales initiatives within the organization to ensure the ensemble has a robust performance and residency schedule each season. For Fifth House Ensemble, a “sale” can mean different things:

  1. performance

  2. masterclass

  3. short-term or long-term residency activities, such as entrepreneurship workshops and events to support customized curriculums

  4. all of the above

There is a ton of strategy, research and prospecting, massive outreach, and marketing material design that goes into making a sale. Once you get a presenter on the phone, here are five tips to close the sale:

1. A good introduction is a must – a.k.a. the “elevator pitch”

a. When creating your elevator pitch, it should be brief and highlight a handful of things that make your group stand out from the rest.
b. Here’s an example:

i. Fifth House Ensemble is celebrating its 13th season this year as we continue to create innovative programs that transcend genre and collaborate with artists of all types. In addition to reaching over 17,000 youth annually around Chicagoland through educational residencies, 5HE has served as a curriculum design, community engagement, and residency partner to some of the nation’s top institutions, including the San Francisco Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra, New England Conservatory, the Cleveland Institute of Music, DePauw University, Indiana University, and more.

c. Always lead your pitch with a specific program or project suggestion.

i. We’ve collaborated with Sony, ThatGameCompany, and Grammy-nominated composer Austin Wintory to create a live, interactive performance of the video game Journey that I’d love to tell you more about as it’d be an excellent fit for your audiences for the following reasons…

2. Consistent follow-up

a. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s very easy to forget to respond to emails, and sometimes you are left hanging for a time, or never hear back from a presenter with whom you had a great chat. It happens!

b. How do I keep track of dozens of sales conversations? I never worry about forgetting to follow up with presenters because I use Google Chrome extension, Cirrus Insight to import email conversations and attachments into Salesforce (an online cloud database great for record keeping, creating reports, and setting sales goals) and set a follow-up reminder for a specific date or time. Every morning at 7:00am, my inbox fills up with about 20 threads that I need to follow up on.

c. These tools make it a breeze to keep track of conversation and follow up consistently. “Boomerang” for Gmail is a good free alternative Chrome extension for follow-up reminders.

3. Flexibility

a. Always be flexible! You’ve led with a specific program in mind, but you’ve found out that the presenter doesn’t have the appropriate budget to bring 15 musicians across the country for a performance of Journey LIVE. This is where your research comes in handy. What other initiatives and programming does that presenter have? They’ve got an education series and are seeking to program American contemporary music? In this instance, I would pivot to 5HE’s small ensemble program, Americana for piano trio (violin, cello, piano) that features contemporary American works of Stacy Garrop, Donald Crockett, Paul Schoenfield, and Dan Visconti. As with most programs, 5HE has an educational version of this show that would be a hit on the presenter’s chamber music education series for kids. This not only remedies the budget situation, it provides a great alternative that fulfills the presenter’s needs.

4. Customization

a. Don’t forget to mention everything your group offers. Think about the presenter’s needs and how your group can fulfill those needs. For instance, when I was in the process of determining the residency schedule for an upcoming 5HE visit to a University, the presenter requested a workshop about Arts Integration to be presented to area school teachers and music education students. Upon receiving this request, 5HE revised and customized a standard entrepreneurship workshop to fill this need and best serve the presenter’s audiences.

5. Budgeting - utilize all possible funding sources

a. After a series of conversations, the presenter has settled on a program and it’s your turn to submit a proposal that includes budgets. Touring performances and residencies can get expensive for the presenter, so it’s best to acknowledge and utilize all possible funding sources. Many times, if a presenter is located in a certain region, there are grants available that can provide additional funding and create a win-win situation for your group and the presenter.

b. Here are a few opportunities to keep in mind when chatting with presenters:

i. Arts Midwest Touring Fund: Arts Midwest will fund 20-25% of the artist fee (up to $4,000) for community engagement and education activities. Presenting organizations (and universities with artist series) in these states are eligible: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, or Wisconsin.

ii. Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Arts Connect Program: MAAF can fund a consortium of at least 3 presenters in Mid-Atlantic States (Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, or West Virginia). The program funds 50% (up to $10,000) of artist fees for a performance and community engagement activities.

iii. New England Foundation for the Arts Expeditions Touring Grant: Very similar to MAAF’s Arts Connect program, NEFA is a grant program that funds a consortium of at least 3 presenters located in the New England region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). Expeditions Touring grants provide up to 50% of artist fees (with a maximum grant of $10,000 per tour partner).

iv. Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation US Artists International: For proposals submitted by the artist, USAI provides funding up to $15,000 towards support of artist fees, travel, accommodations, per diem, shipping and visa preparation for international performances.

I have found the tools and tips above to be the most helpful in bringing 5HE to exciting opportunities in new destinations, and I hope they give you a useful perspective whether you’re new to or experienced in making sales for a performing arts group.