This is a guest post from Marcus Taylor, a musician and founder of a number of music industry projects, including Music Law Contracts, The Musician’s Guide, and Music Job Board.
I don’t consider myself a sales person by any means, but having founded a handful of businesses, including a digital marketing agency, and various music related websites, I’ve pushed myself on several occasions to become well versed in sales.
The reason I’m passionate about sales is because everything is sales. Booking shows, agreeing contract terms, building fans, closing deals, persuading your better half to do the washing up. Everything is sales. So what can artists, specifically, learn from the World of sales to get more shows, fans, and opportunities?
#1 – Measure your progress & improve day-by-day
Just like athletes, the best sales people measure their progress day-in and day-out. By measuring incremental changes in their performance they’re motivated to constantly improve their game. Whether it’s the time taken to close a deal, or the conversion rate of getting through to the right person of the phone, great salespeople track everything that’s important to them.
As an artist, you should be tracking what’s important to you and improving it day-in and day-out. What if you tracked the number of gigs you applied for and the number that turned into real opportunities everyday? You’d surely see patterns that would enable you to book gigs more efficiently and effectively.
The key here is that you must improve every day. If you’re not measuring anything, you’re blind. Start tracking what’s important to you and the improvement will take care of itself. As William Edwards-Demming said, “What gets measured gets managed”.
#2 – Ask better questions
Many sales people are obsessed with ‘closing’ i.e. taking a deal from open to closed. However, I’ve become to respect another school of thought that suggests that if you ask the right questions in the first place, there’s no need to work hard at closing deals – they’ll naturally close.
I’ve learned that if you drill down three layers with your questioning you will often reveal the truth behind someone’s real thoughts. When a promoter says “We’d love to have you play at our show”, don’t stop there. They might just be saying that to keep you happy. Ask “Would it be okay for us to pencil a date in the diary for us to play here?” – if he or she starts umming and ahhing you’ll know that their first response wasn’t genuine.
Alternatively, they might say “actually, we’re fully booked for the next few weeks and it’s not me who you need to speak to”. So you realise that you’ve gone from being almost certain of having a new show to not being anywhere near having a one, plus you’re speaking to the wrong person. In this instance your third layer of questioning may be “Would you mind if I gave the person who books bands a call and mentioned that you’d be interested in having us play?” – “sure”.
#3 – Set goals and make them the only important thing
There’s a lot of talk about goal setting in the music industry, and it’s all great advice. I’m a big fan of having a vague and extremely ambitious 5-year goal (which will inevitably change, but encourages long-term thinking), a 1-year goal (which doesn’t change), and then four quarterly goals, which will put you on track to hit your 1-year goal.
The important thing once you set your quarterly goal is to make it the only important thing. If you achieve anything at all in the next 3 months, it must be this goal.
You goal can be anything, from booking a certain number of shows per quarter, to getting a certain number of fans on the mailing list, or achieving a set of specific goals (e.g. build a new website on Bandzoogle, update the EPK, finish album & distribute it to iTunes). If you don’t have any goals in place, I recommend writing them down now.
#4 – Coffee is for closers
In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, the main character (Ricky) refuses to let his sales people drink the office’s coffee unless they close their deals – “Coffee is for closers” he remarks. While this may be a slightly extreme, rewards are a fantastic incentive for improving your game, so long as they’re used sensibly. I know companies where the sales people are rewarded less than 1% of any new deals they close, which is hardly going to motivate anyone (a $1,000 bonus if you bring in $100,000 worth of deals?!)
Once you’ve set yourself some goals, decide on how you’re going to reward yourself if you complete them. Maybe it’s a new guitar, or a new cymbal, if you get 30 shows booked in the next six months.
Make your rewards worth hustling hard for.
#5 – You need someone on your side
This is extremely important to understand. You may have the best music in town, and the promoters you’re speaking to may be looking for a band just like yours for an upcoming festival, however if they’re not on your side, you won’t get the gig.
There is only one thing that you absolutely must have in every situation to win a deal, gig, or any form of opportunity. You must have someone on the other side rooting for you. This brings up the importance of not getting arrogant / complacent. I know far too many artists who get cocky about their music, and believe that promoters should be coming to them.
It’s exactly when artists start to think like this that opportunities begin drifting downstream to the artists who have made the effort to build a connection. Writing great music is important, but in the World of making things happen, it’s second to building relationships.
A caveat that I should mention is that a lot of artists outsource this duty to booking agents, managers, agents etc. That’s absolutely fine, of course. Just remember – your managers and agents are getting you deals because they’re forming relationships and getting someone ‘on their side’.
#6 – Be honest, inwardly and outwardly
One of the best traits of a great sales person is genuine honesty. If you want to be great at booking shows, negotiating deals, and getting opportunities for your music, you should be brutally honest.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that the more honest I am, the more I get my self into trouble, but the more people begin to respect you. I’ll say great things about my competitors, because in reality they are great. I’ll tell clients to go for the cheaper option, or to go with a different company if we’re not quite right. Conventional wisdom suggests that these things are crazy, but ultimately it’s just being honest – and when it comes to sales, honesty is a rare commodity that carries enormous value.
When you’re booking shows, negotiating with sponsors, labels, agents, or whoever you might be dealing with, give them the full picture. Be brutally honest, and earn their respect.
#7 – Stand out from the crowd
If I receive one hundred demos on my doorstep this month, how do I pick the one artist to headline a show I’m booking next month? I certainly won’t listen to each demo (not enough hours in the day). The honest answer is I don’t really know how I’d pick, but if one of those one hundred demos stood out I’d be more likely to pick them.
I’m not just talking about packaging. I’m guessing most artists wouldn’t follow up on their demo (when I used to manage a record label I’d receive virtually no follow-up calls from demos), so perhaps that’s a way to stand out. Or you could be really different – send the promoter a text message? In a World dominated by email and phone calls, the smallest differences make a big difference.
#8 – Is there any reason this wouldn’t happen?
I have to take my hat off to Noah Kagan for this tip. The final thing you should ask when negotiating a deal is “Is there any reason why this wouldn’t go ahead?” or “What are the risks of this not happening?”
If you’ve negotiated well and asked all of the right questions, there should be no reason why it would not go ahead. However, they may reveal a number of obstacles preventing you from getting what you’re after. Ultimately, it’s better to learn this now rather than weeks or months later.
#9 – Know your next action
Who are the next 20 people you must contact to push your band forward? If you don’t know the answer to this question, stop reading, open a spreadsheet, and write the names of 20 people / companies who you need to contact next. Tie this in with your quarterly goal – who are twenty people who could improve the likelihood of smashing your quarterly goal?
#10 – Follow up
What’s the secret to making things happen? Following up. It’s amazing how many times people don’t follow up after a productive chat. Worse yet, when a promoter says “get back in touch in four months”, and then nothing.
This may seem controversial or even clinical, but I recommend that bands use a CRM system of sorts to keep track of this stuff. If someone says “get back in touch in 11 months and 3 days” I do – because I have a system in place that doesn’t allow me to forget this stuff. If you don’t want to use a CRM, then there are plenty of good tools like Remember the Milk, or Followup.cc, which are handy ways to remember to follow up.
I’d say the benefit of a CRM is that you can connect opportunities to people in your database, and then export them to Mailchimp for email marketing. It’s a great central hub for managing your fans, and your industry contacts.
Sales and sales people, in particular, have a bad wrap. We often associate them with snake oil salesmen, and sleazy car dealerships. In reality, we’re all sales people, trying to artfully compromise and get what we want, while helping others get what they want.
I hope this post has provoked a few thoughts, and whetted your appetite for improving your game when it comes to getting more opportunities for your music.
If you enjoyed it, please pass it on to anyone else who might find it useful. If you have any questions or want to keep in touch with me, my Twitter handle is @MarcusATaylor.
Image Credit: GerardStolk
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