Ring, Ring ... Ticket, Please!
On one of my several trips to Mexico to talk Direct Marketing I met Rodrigo Gonzalez.
Rodrigo is the Executive Director of Ticket Master. Ticket Master is an organization which sells tickets to major events. Sporting events. The theater. Movies. Concerts of all kinds. Special events of all kinds. Museum shows. Art galleries. And countless other "entertainment".
The majority of their business is done over the telephone. You call a telephone number and place your order. For a handling fee in some cases, a percentage of the ticket value in other or sometimes a combination. Your ticket will be mailed to you or held at the event will-call window.
Rodrigo's business marketing background began by being active in a number of foreign countries with offices in Mexico. These included brand manager for UniLeaver. He was also active with the chewing gum people, ADAMS. Amongst others.
His telemarketing experience began with a stock broker company, SHEARSON LEHMAN. This was expanded when he went to work for CitiBank.
One of his major projects with CitiBank was taking those customers who produced a minimal amount of business and nurturing them into expanded, profitable clients.
The old 80/20 rule... where 80% of your clients give you only 20% of your business. You don't want to throw them away and at the same time you can not afford to treat them as profitable...because for the most part they are not.
Rodrigo's answer was to provide them the highest possible quality service...over the telephone. And it worked.
As a result of his experience with the telephone, he was asked by some enterprising entrepreneurs to establish the first telemarketing agency in Mexico.
The word Telemarketing itself was "new". People did not really understand what it was or how it worked. And many of Rodrigo's closest friends thought he was absolutely out of his mind...in his own words "nuts"!
The idea was the right idea. The timing was not necessarily the right time. Combining this with the total lack of knowledge of what Telemarketing is and how it works made every individual sale a 4 to 6 month project.
Not only did they have to generate leads for people who might consider using a Telemarketing service agency, then they had to educate all the upper and middle management as to what it was and how to make it work. This is a long and financially painful process. So, while all this is going on, Rodrigo decides that an educational program is necessary. He goes about to establish one.
Rodrigo's first stop on his educational plan was with the Mexican Direct Marketing Association. A group that had been around for awhile, and still very quiet. Most of the marketplace did not know they existed. They themselves were not really active in marketing. It was an internal group...fine for what it was designed to do, but Rodrigo soon recognized it was not fine for what he wanted to do.
So, what did he do?
He established Asociacion Mexicana de Telemarketing.
This happened in 1988. He gathered together an association board and a membership which was active in Direct Marketing and understood the telephone as a marketing and sales tool. Primarily a young group of business people from around the greater Mexico City area.
Part of the effort was to launch a regular Association meeting. Because the group was small and nobody had a whole lot of money, a tremendous amount of Public Relations through the press, radio, television was used. Soon their name was known.
This story is not about the association. This is background only. The good news is that the Association and educational concept can be credited for launching an understanding of Telemarketing in Mexico. The bad news is it was really too late to save the original Telemarketing agency service concept that Rodrigo was on board to launch.
At the same time, one of the early projects Rodrigo took on was a ticketing program. It did prove successful. Rodrigo had done some work with a variety of both USA and Mexican special event promoters. Selling tickets for them through the telephone. It was a smashingly successful effort...so much so that Rodrigo could see it as a "business" in and of to itself. His partners disagreed.
The idea for the Telemarketing service agency was not Rodrigo's. It was the partners with the money. The idea was great. The timing just didn't work.
At the same time (because of the timing) the Telemarketing Association came about. And Rodrigo's educational concept came about. Which did launch a large number of small to medium size companies into the knowledge arena of what the telephone could do for them in their business.
This was not just the big international corporations, such as CitiBank, American Express, Proctor & Gamble and similar... these were companies with fewer than 20 employees and almost always with fewer than 100, who took to the telephone as a marketing tool and did so enthusiastically. This would not have happened had it not been for this service agency.
So, there was both good news and then there was news that was not so good.
Telemarketing is a vital marketing tool for Mexico for at least 3 reasons:
- Mexico is a very larger geographical mass. It is 3rd largest in population. Mexico rates 5th largest in area in the Western Hemisphere. That's below Canada, USA, Brazil and Argentina.
- The transportation system in Mexico is not necessarily on par with those in the States and Canada. Or in Europe. Or in certain places in south east Asia.
Because of this the movements of goods and services is more difficult than it needs to be. The telephone can be a bridge between a supplier and a customer that will aid in making up for this difference.
- Customer service was a new concept. Rodrigo discovered early on that the Mexican citizenship did not expect service, because they were so unaccustomed to it.
This happened because the government nationalized a number of industries, and most of the balance of the industries were dominated by a few players. Under that kind of an arrangement service was not a factor.
With the breaking up of the monopolies and the much wider spread of a capitalistic business community, service became a factor. And people began to expect a certain level of service.
Rodrigo was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of this "discovery". And the telephone was an excellent tool to offer and implement customer service.
Rodrigo learned that by making "customer service" Telemarketing calls and displaying a sincere level of interest in the customers need and wants, it was then very easy to also make a sales presentation.
The customer was surprised and pleased that the company calling cared about their opinions. This required a high level of interest...sensitivity...careful listening... At the same time it opened the door to ask for the order! To ask for the order for a new product or service. To up-sell. To cross-sell. To gain some additional business.
Yes, Telemarketing is new in Mexico. At the same time making these "cold calls" to customers to establish their level of satisfaction was resulting in sales of 10 to 20% of a new product or service. Certainly not bad in any environment!
All this background and experience is what led Rodrigo to establish what is now known as Ticket Master. Because the ticketing project had been so successful Rodrigo, returned to the US and Mexican promoters to talk about how they could work together to establish an ongoing business. After 8 months of planning, including obtaining a license to represent Ticket Master in the country of Mexico, November, 1991 they opened for business.
All of the education and "mistakes" made with the service agency offered knowledge as Ticket Master was established. 90 work stations were set up. The location, the computer equipment, the lighting...all of the physical things that can make or break a successful Telemarketing service over a period of time, were taken into regard before Ticket Master opened their doors.
In the beginning they started small. Under the first contract they sold only 3% of all the tickets. Part of this was knowledge of the marketplace. Part of this was the response the consumer gave. And part of this of course, was experience.
Tickets are sold three ways, just as they are in the USA and in Great Britain: 1. At the Box Office. 2. Through ticket outlets scattered about a city. 3. Over the telephone with a Telemarketing operation.
Within 2 years that 3% sale of all the tickets to a specific event now runs anywhere from 60 to 80%! Nice growth.
Ticket Master Mexico has two customers:
- The venue. The theater. The movie-house. The concert stage. The sporting arena. The place where the event will be held. Rodrigo has worked very hard to establish an excellent working relationship with the major sponsor venues around the country.
- The ultimate ticket buyer. The customer who goes to the concert, the symphony, the football match, the opera, or whatever.
Customer satisfaction is important for both of these groups. And it is an equal challenge. If Rodrigo is not able to sell enough tickets, then the venue will seek to distribute by other means. And if the customer buying the ticket doesn't feel and appreciate the additional value from making a buying decision over the telephone, they will also seek other means.
Since it costs anywhere from US/$3 to US/$6 over and above the ticket price for the service provided when you purchase over the telephone, it is quite a challenge.
Rodrigo prides himself in not only collecting the extra service fee, but keeping the customer at the same level of ticket choice they had prior to knowing or understanding about the service fee. That is, if they came in for an A class ticket, they continued to buy an A class ticket. If they came in for a B class ticket they continued at the B class ticket price...plus the service fee.
This obviously is where the money is made for Ticket Master Mexico...and it is also equally obvious that unless this can be made to happen successfully, the venue managers will soon pull their contracts and go elsewhere. They too have to find profit in doing business with Ticket Master Mexico.
In 1993 Rodrigo, through Ticket Master Mexico sold over the telephone in excess of 2 million entertainment tickets. At an "average" price of US/$30 ...that's US/$60 million worth of business. In a country where prior to 1990 the word Telemarketing was an unknown word.
Let's talk another minute or so about this growth. It's somewhat amazing, because every phone call takes somewhere between 4 and 5 minutes. Long to take a ticket order. Why does it take so long? Simply because almost on every call there is a wee bit of education that must take place.
Rodrigo reports that in the beginning...and still to this day...people call who have never placed an order for a ticket before. They really are calling for "information". They don't realize that they are going to be asked to make a transaction. To make an absolute firm commitment. Where their credit card will be charged or the invoice will be sent. They have made a purchasing decision and they have done it over the telephone.
The education of the marketplace is a necessity for the success of a program. This is true of any product, of any service, in any country, at anytime. Ticket Master Mexico takes that extra minute and educates their audience. For their and the entire marketplaces long term success.
Rodrigo also needs to promote. One of the ways he promotes is through an entertainment guide. Which is sold over the telephone by subscription. Once a month you get a full guide of the various kinds of programs that are going to be offered around the country.
The guide is also promoted through Bank-Card statements and in ticket statements themselves. The sale of the entertainment guide to now over 300,000 people in Mexico certainly increases the sale of the tickets to the events advertised in the guide.
Through the entertainment guide as well as on television, merchandising opportunities will expand. As we all know, the sweatshirts, the hats, the mugs, the calendars, the pictures, and all the memorabilia is almost as important as the event itself. Ticket Master plans on playing a part in this.
Why? After all, they already have your credit information. They already know you are willing to buy by telephone. They already have a fulfillment house. They already have all of the know how in place. The real question is, why not?!
And, they are expanding. In the late part of 1993 an office was opened in Monterrey, a city in the northeastern portion of the country. To service that growing marketplace.
A Ticket Master Frequent User Club has also been established. Because of their database capabilities they know the particular customer likes to go to a certain type of event. So special mailings and telephone contacts are made to those kinds of people when those events are calendared.
An obvious outgrowth of all of this are gift certificates. Where you can buy a certain value gift certificate and give it for Birthday, Anniversary, a special holiday time.
For special events which they know will get heavy response, a special telephone hot line number is established. Where as many as 10,000 calls an hour can be received and processed efficiently.
As is being done in much of the world, "Messages On Hold" is a part of Ticket Master Mexico. You call a number. It is busy. Rather than getting put on hold with background music or dead, complete silence, Ticket Master takes advantage of that opportunity and cross-sells you additional products and services. You may or may not be interested in them ...but it has been proven time and time again that Messages On Hold tend to keep the customer with you for a considerably longer period of time then they would by any other means.
One of the interesting things Rodrigo has done with both the hot line and Message On Hold services is gain an outside corporate sponsor. Somebody else who pays for that time to have a special message given on a personal one- on-one basis to a customer. For example, Coca-Cola sponsored a hot line for the Paul McCartney concert.
This is really a win win deal. Ticket Master Mexico obviously wins with an additional sponsor. The sponsor wins because they're able to give a very special message to the kinds of people they want to reach. And, the customer wins because even though they have to wait a little while to place the order, they're not bored by an uninteresting message or complete and absolute dead silence. They know they are not being ignored.
In Mexico, as in many countries around the world, cellular telephone service is an important part of the business marketplace. So Rodrigo has hooked up with the largest cellular distributor in Mexico for a special service.
The cellular company provides to their membership every day information about various activities for which they can purchase the ticket from Ticket Master. Allowing them to do so through their cellular telephone service. Another way to direct market.
Out of all this a lot has been learned. Even in the short time that Ticket Master has been alive in Mexico. One of the things Rodrigo reports is that the Mexican marketplace "generally" is not as sophisticated as in Europe, parts of Asia or the States or Canada.
Whenever anybody says this to me I always wrinkle my brow. What do they mean? It's not that it's a right or wrong statement ...it's just that I'm not ever sure what they really mean.
Why do I even bring this up? Simply because the next statement Rodrigo makes is that he has learned that if he offers a good value, he gets a good response!
On the surface, this seems to indicate that there is a level of sophistication. And even though the word "value" can have different meanings to different people at different times, there is certainly no misunderstanding here.
And even though Rodrigo had a lot to do with the education of the marketplace, fact is the Mexican marketplace, as in most marketplaces around the world, is certainly willing to do business over the phone.
They do not want to be taken for a ride. They do want to be provided with what they order when they order it at a fair price and in a reasonable time frame. They have learned that the telephone can be a marketing tool as well as a communication tool. And Ticket Master has certainly proven all of this with their success.
Another thing learned was that credit card information can and will be provided over the telephone. With the same security requirements that apply anywhere and everywhere.
The fourth thing I find most interesting. Nancy and I absolutely love Mexico. It is one of our favorite places on earth. We visit frequently. And we enjoy it. One of the things we have learned is that the Manana theory...let's put this off until tomorrow...let's wait as late as we can...is just not true. The Mexicans are exceptionally hard working people. They are in an economy that is growing and developing. There are about 90 million of them strong in a large geographical area. Mexico City, the city, is now the worlds largest city. So, if anything, transportation around that city is something you want to eliminate. You can do that with the telephone. And you don't have to wait until tomorrow. You can do it today.
Rodrigo reports that the entertainment industry as a group felt that Mexicans were not sophisticated. That they would not use the telephone. That they would not give them their credit card. And that they would wait until the last possible minute to make a decision.
Ticket Master has proven all these theories to be old fashioned.
Success is contagious. And success breeds success.
Rodrigo noticed early on that the slow growth of the business was strictly because of a lack of understanding. Not a lack of brain power. Not a lack of willingness. But a total lack of understanding.
So, what did he do about it? He established an educational system. He was a founder of the Telemarketing Association. And when he began his own business that became known as Ticket Master Mexico, he did it right. All this has paid off. Now business is coming to him.
Not only ticket business. But other kinds of total service direct marketing business.
Now Rodrigo is establishing a second division. A direct marketing division. The number of telephone lines will grow to 210. His hardware and software are being updated and expanded. The kinds of people that he is bringing into the organization are coming with experience in a number of arenas other than Mexico and other than Telemarketing.
The direct marketing division of Ticket Master will be the first "full service" direct marketing agency offering these services:
An on line system providing information, ...providing inventory controls ...will take orders ...will accept and confirm credit card data ...will provide a full tracking service ...will handle fulfillment/shipment of a wide variety of products ...handle confirmations ...and all billing on behalf of the client.
Some of the Direct Marketing Divisions early customers include the Frequent Flyer Program for Mexicana, Mexico's leading airline. This is certainly a natural for a program that is already a niche market direct marketing effort.
Other clients include some local banks, a special program for Procter & Gamble, which was a tie with a consumer oriented television commercial, a couple of newspapers and some people in the electronics business.
Rodrigo ends his report by sharing with me some "facts" which have yet to come to pass. The key one is that the Direct Marketing Association and the Asociacion Mexicana de Telemarketing are coming together as one. The best of both together.
And although there are certainly things to be worked out when the merger of two independent organizations come together, it is obviously the right thing to do for Mexican marketing. And will prove a benefit not only to the individual members and the members company, but to the marketplace.
And then Rodrigo shared with me three thoughts about anybody that wants to do business in Mexico:
- If the Mexican marketplace is unsophisticated compared to yours, the Mexican marketplace learns quickly!
Yes, there has not been as much media exposure and new ideas "tested" in Mexico. And some will say that with the poor marketplace and a less educated marketplace the opportunities are not as great. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Why? One of the reasons is that there is a high level of appreciation of good ideas. They like new things. And the new quickly becomes old. The Mexicans as a body learn very quickly. They learn to accept and to try.
And once they've done that then they learn to expect. Rodrigo is learning this. 50 to 60% of all his customers are repeat buyers. They learn very quickly the value he offered in his product line. And this is not unusual...many other companies are learning that the Mexican marketplace will respond when a high quality product or service is offered against value.
- That worn out, over used, never ending phrase, "customer service" is the second item on Rodgrigo's list.
This is not surprising. Everywhere I go I've learned that people are beginning to learn they do have a choice and they can get better service. And they want it. And they expect it. And if they don't get it they will go someplace else!
This is also true in Mexico. This is good. It is not bad ...because when you offer a quality value product, an excellent service to go with it, everything else becomes less important. Including price.
Rodrigo emphasizes to me that price is not an issue in Mexico. Sure, price is always a factor in every buying decision. But it is not the issue.
Service is more important in Mexico than it ever was before.
- Those coming to Mexico to operate for the first time have to bring a quality product.
It might have been in the past that you could "dump" something you couldn't sell someplace else in Mexico. Not anymore. If you come with that as your objective you will have minor to zero success. You have to bring a quality product that meets the marketplace need. Just like anywhere else.
I trust this is not a surprise to any of you who have not had the opportunity to visit and work in Mexico. And to share your ideas and your interest with someone like Rodrigo Gonzalez. Who have not had the opportunity that I had to meet such an outstanding young business man who is doing so well.
It is obvious to me that Rodrigo is living by his own motto. He offers value and is willing to find new ways to present it. Service is mandatory. It is not an option. He understands that. And makes certain everything that he does lends itself in that direction.
And he offers a quality product that meets the customers needs.
The next time you're planning a holiday someplace maybe you should try to tie it in with a visit to one of the Americas countries...Mexico. Rodrigo Gonzalez, Executive Director, Ticket Master/Mexico will be happy to show you around.