Selling the Not-So-Easy-to-Sell

For the first few years it relied on, the sales team at Palace Sports and Entertainment didn’t need much from its new system. Back then, the company could bank on two immensely sellable products: the Detroit Pistons, then one of the National Basketball Association’s best teams, and the team’s home of 29 years, the Palace at Auburn Hills.

“The team sold itself,” Chris Pittenturf, VP of IT and analytics, said in explaining why the company hadn’t felt it was necessary to invest a lot of time and money to extract insight from its Salesforce environment. “There wasn’t an understanding of why we needed all this information.”

Fast forward to today, and the sales staff has to work a bit harder, what with the Pistons now NBA bottom-feeders and the Palace having hosted its last event when Bob Seger performed on Sept. 23. Palace Sports started getting creative with its use of Salesforce a few years back, when the Pistons started to fade from the list of the NBA’s elite. Now, with its namesake arena closed, that effort figures to become more of a focus as the company adjusts to an evolving set of priorities.

“As you can imagine, the financial model has shifted quite a bit,” said Chris Pittenturf, VP of IT and analytics. “The revenue channels have changed dramatically.”

The company started to get more serious about its use of the data in Salesforce as Pistons’ tickets became a harder sell. It focused more than ever on data collection, customer experience and making more informed business decisions.

It was during this time that the company hired Angie Hight, who brought substantial experience from Salesforce from another industry, to serve as CRM director. Hight said that when she arrived, sales staff morale was low because of the difficulty in getting people to buy tickets to see a bad team.

“We had to find a way to energize our sales team,” said Hight. “It’s hard to hear ‘no, no, no’ day after day.”

Hight’s strategy was simple: Make the system fun so that salespeople will stay engaged and on task, but also make sure to offer rich data. Along those lines, she started by ensuring that employees injected as much data into Salesforce as possible, thereby accumulating enough data about each account, not to mention every lead, that salespeople would have more to work with. Hight wanted sales staffers to have a very clear picture of what someone who purchases tickets to see an inferior team looks like, allowing them to trade in the unpopular practice of having to make cold calls in exchange for getting warm leads from Salesforce.

Along with that, however, she wanted to make sure the sales team was engaged enough with Salesforce to do the bulk of their work there. So, for instance, she made sure Salesforce was well integrated with other systems to minimize toggling.

To inject some fun, she turned to a third-party app called Level 11, which generates little celebrations — in this case, that means 10-second walk-up songs and little profiles of sales people broadcast on TVs in the office whenever they close a deal. She also encouraged the use of Salesforce’s social media tool, Chatter, so that salespeople could support each other — or, perhaps more importantly, engage in trash talk, a good fit for a team full of young sports enthusiasts.

Hight pushed the staff’s competitive nature one step further by having her team design a dashboard affectionately called “Someone Else is Going to Eat Your Lunch,” which displays a “naughty” list of salespeople with overdue deals that haven’t closed.

“It’s not punitive,” she said. “It’s just a bit of razzing.”

Whatever Hight has been doing, it’s working. While she doesn’t have hard metrics illustrating the impact on revenue, she said the consensus is that devoted use of Salesforce (the company has achieved 100 percent adoption) is having a positive bottom-line effect.

One benefit she was able to quantify was deal turnaround times. Previously, when someone agreed to purchase a season ticket, it took days to turn around the contract, and during that time people often changed their minds.

Now that those contracts are managed in and generated by Salesforce, sales staff can click a button to generate an automated email that reaches the purchaser instantaneously, thereby increasing the odds that it gets signed and sent back quickly.

“We have been closing deals quicker because of that process,” said Hight. And it’s not just Pistons tickets that are affected. The company also has been able to turn contracts around much more quickly for sponsorships and performances, which it will continue to sell at the new downtown arena that it’s leasing. (The Palace arena will be razed and the land sold at a future date, said Pittenturf.)

But there’s no mistaking that the Pistons are the main focus, and that their new downtown Detroit home, Little Caesars Arena, is re-energizing the fan base, and thus season ticket sales, because of its proximity to abundant dining and nightlife.

“Our focus is primarily Pistons,” said Hight. “Always has been, and always will be.”

With a little help from Salesforce, that focus is paying off again.

Tony Kontzer


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