7 min read

The Seven Principles of CRM for the Arts

A toy hero figure looking victorious on a tabletop

CRM in the arts tends to be based around a simple set of processes:

  1. Look at your audience and work out which customers buy tickets for the different parts of your programme.
  2. Match those people up with your programme and make an informed guess about what they’d like to see.
  3. Send those people marketing communications that are crafted around their likely tastes with an appropriate call to action.
  4. Hope for the best.

Depending on your point of view, point 4 might make you tut indignantly or smile with recognition. Either way, that method of using data is still pretty common.

At the same time, CRM strategies have trickled into the arts, like basket offers, customer recommendations and loyalty schemes. While there’s nothing wrong with this, those isolated mechanisms do not form a customer relationship management strategy.

So what does? Customer relationship management is basically a system for managing lots of personalized micro-interactions with customers at every stage of their engagement with your organisation . But for a good customer relationship management strategy to succeed, it also needs to stick to these 7 principles:

7 principles of CRM in the arts: Begin with box office data, work from a single customer view, be data-driven, be customer-centric, embed digital tools, choose agile technology, strike while the iron is hot.


1. Begin with box office data

As soon as a customer is added to your database, that’s when your CRM strategy kicks in. Whether they buy online, over the phone or at the box office, you should have the correct online mechanisms and the staff training in place to capture customer information. It’s not possible to over-emphasise this point.

At the same time your box office and marketing team should be working on building a database of contactable people for those who either haven’t given you their email address or haven’t given you permission. In both cases it’s about reminding people that you want to send them interesting information that you think they’ll like when dealing with customers over the counter, over the phone and online. Your box office system should highlight to box office staff those customers who haven’t given you permission to contact so that when they call you up, you can talk to them about their communication preferences.


2. Work out of a single database across the whole organisation

Having a single database of customer records for your whole organisation is essential for having a full picture of your customers. A good database will allow you to see how a customer has interacted with your venue across every touchpoint, from clicking on a particular link in an email, to seeing how they’re connected to major donors. Having this ‘single customer view’ allows you to build a complex picture of your customers.

What’s important about this kind of single database, is that you can make decisions based on the value of the data. It’s easier to manage timed communications and avoids overlaps and miscommunication. For example, it avoids targeting some of the potential supporter database with a membership campaign instead of a donation ask which could be far more valuable. A single customer database therefore not only requires a good system but a solid organisational strategy to use it wisely too.


3. Make data-driven decisions

You know you have a rock solid CRM strategy when you always measure the success of your marketing, sales and fundraising activities, feeding back the results into your future activities. Essentially, it’s a cycle that looks a little bit like this (thanks to Katy Raines at Indigo Ltd for introducing us to this):

  1. Gather data on your customers.
  2. Analyse and segment your customer data into groups of people who share the same needs.
  3. Implement and test your theory.
  4. Measure the results. How many people went on to book a ticket because of your marketing? What’s happened to the bounce rate after you redesigned the What’s On page?
  5. Then test and refine, going back to step 1.

Measuring the results of your CRM activities is the best way to power your CRM strategy going forward, cutting costs in the right places and redirecting your resources to other activities that will help you to generate revenue and grow audiences more effectively.

This process is what we like to call an iterative approach and should absolutely be at the heart of how you treat your email marketing, your social strategy and your website. In fact, when it comes to your website, it’s especially important. How often do you tweak your print design and think about the layout of your promotional emails? From our experience, venue marketing teams tend to do that quite a lot, whereas they might only think about changing their website once, maybe twice a year. Unless your venue exists in a vacuum, your website is going to be read many more times than your print.

Never consider your website as ‘finished’. Create capacity in your team to regularly review and improve your site based on the feedback from your customers and the metrics you collect from visitors. Not sure where to start? Take a look at Google Analytics – free, Adobe Analytics – paid, Glassbox (formerly Session Cam) – free. Help from experts like Chris Unitt can pay dividends if you need a hand understanding the value of analytics data.


4. Choose good technology that encourages speed and agility

Good CRM needs good technology to automate personalised service and make activities like segmenting your customer data much faster and easier. CRM is reactive, so speed and agility are super important. The technology you depend on for your box office, marketing and fundraising operations should be spurring on innovative CRM techniques in your organisation – not holding you back.

In practice, that means a software supplier who can regularly push out upgrades to your system without too much downtime or extra cost, who has their finger on the pulse, developing features in response to the industry and who goes to painstaking lengths to develop an interface that is easy to use. The kinds of things it should be really easy to do are:

  • Sending emails to customers before and after they attend your organisation with content that dynamically updates in order to be personal to the recipient.
  • Recognising customers on your website as unique individuals when they log in to their online account by applying membership discounts and priority booking to their order automatically.
  • Sending out reports to keep everyone informed with the right information at the right time without any manual intervention.
  • Segmenting your customer data into meaningful groups that you can work with straightaway for fundraising and marketing purposes.


5. Be customer-centric

CRM considers the customer experience holistically, from their first interaction with your venue, to being inside the building. When a customer gives you their email address, do you start sending blanket ‘what’s on’ emails on a weekly basis and a season brochure? Or do you send a friendly welcome email that tells them a bit more about your venue and what you do? If it’s the latter, you’re probably not too shabby at thinking about how your customers feel when they interact with your organisation and developing communication to match. Being customer-centric should extend throughout everything you do – from the way you design your web pages, to the tone of voice you use.

A great example of being customer-centric and responding to potential pain points is The New Wolsey Theatre, whose website tackles potential checkout drop-offs with a chat window that pops up during the checkout process. If a customer gets stuck at any point or has any nagging worries, there’s always the option of getting help from the box office.

One way of discovering opportunities for becoming more customer-centric in your organisation is to experience everything about your organisation from a customer’s perspective. Go through the online purchasing path on your website in exactly the same way a customer would, attend a show and take a good hard look at your building entrance and facilities and do this regularly. If you’re not seeing your organisation from your customer’s perspective, how can you expect to provide them with a good experience?

Social media is another great way of finding these opportunities. People talk about their experiences in the arts all the time on Twitter and other social platforms so make sure you’re not just using social media to market out to your customers. Listen to what they’re saying. Here are a list of ideas of things to monitor on social media:

  • Track mentions of your organisation and work out if there are any common themes.
  • Track what people are saying about their experiences at the arts more generally.
  • Track common pain points that people experience at the theatre.
  • Track the kinds of content your followers like to share – could you replicate this on your blog?

6. Embed digital tools into your CRM strategy

Basket abandonment happens. Whether you’re a small theatre in a village or the National Theatre, potential customers will change their mind about booking something or forget their good intentions to come back later all the time. But the difference between good CRM and plain old bad CRM is how you handle it. Do you thoroughly examine your booking process for drop-off points? Do you set up basket recovery?

Basket recovery works on the premise that reminding people of what they nearly bought will make some people go on to make a purchase. Typically that will be in the form of a display ad that the customer sees on a different website, after they have left yours. It might be a ‘you recently viewed’ section on your homepage or an email that’s automatically sent to your almost-bookers 30 minutes after they leave your site.

Amazon, John Lewis, Argos, and our very own Spektrix client Dundee Repertory Theatre all do this – so why aren’t you?  There are many tools on the market to do this at just a few pounds a month. Take a look at VE interactive, Abandonaid and Optilead for starters.


7. Strike while the iron is hot

Finally, it’s a lot cheaper getting an existing customer to come back than trying to get a whole new one. It’s around five times more expensive to acquire new customers than it is to retain customers, yet as our 2017 Benchmark Report shows, arts organisations retain on average just 32% of their customers in the year following a visit (year two), and just 27% in year three.

An existing customer is already aware of what you have to offer, so convincing them to take a look at your programme and buy a ticket doesn’t cost as much as convincing an uninitiated stranger on the street. You should also already have some data on them that allows you to market to them more effectively.

The incentive to get this right is huge: across our client base, we see that those customers who reattend 2 or more times proportionally provide a lot more revenue than those who only come once. By contrast, once-ever attenders tend to make up the biggest proportion of the audience but contribute the least amount of revenue for their size. It’s key therefore not only to ensure you’re looking after your more loyal audiences, but also to reactivate customers who are attending for the first time. That means sending them timely communications immediately before and after attending and maybe even offering them a financial incentive if they book for another show right away. Don’t let these hot prospects go cold. Strike while the iron is hot.

So there you have it. Write them out and stick them to your computer, pass them around your organisation and tell anyone who’ll listen – these are the seven guiding principles for a CRM strategy that gets results in 2018. If you’d like to ask us a question about CRM strategy in the arts, or if you’ve seen any other great examples you’d like to share, leave a comment below.


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Ben Park is Global Head of Marketing & Communications at Spektrix

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