*EINTKABILFR: Everything I Need To Know About Business, I Learned From Rock
Sales is one of the hardest aspects of business for a lot of people to learn, because the methodologies and strategies are rarely cut and dried. Instead, the prevailing way to view sales is that it is the province of “naturals” and con-men; that simply being a fast talker can make or break you as a salesperson. This leads to both fear of the actual process, and contempt for people who are truly good at it among those who aren’t.
Managing a band requires a lot of sales skills, and they can be tough to learn and practice. For one thing, if you’re in the band, your ego is at stake; you’re not just selling life insurance or something else that originates from somebody else, you’re selling your art! Here are the lessons I’ve learned from the experience:
- Avoid discounting; either give something for free or charge your rate. The first time a band ever plays, and many times after that (particularly for “big” opportunities), they’re grateful just for the opportunity to perform. Add to that the fact that most clubs and other purchasers of music are, well, kind of poor, and it sounds like discounting would be a great idea. It’s not. The problem is that it changes the perceived value of what you’re selling. Not only will you get paid less than you’re worth, but you’ll have to deal with sub-par performance on the buyer side everywhere. Back in my college days, we played frat parties for $100 and beer, and others for $1000. The difference? At the $100 gigs, we’d have to scrounge up a PA, play without a stage, load our own gear in and out, and fight out way through the lines for the aforementioned beer. By any reasonable measure of time and effort, we were operating at a loss, and it wasn’t helping our public image or marketability at all. At the $1000 gigs, we’d have a pro soundman there to make us sound great, a stage, and a horde of fraternity brothers to move our stuff and bring us drinks. We were treated like rock stars because they were paying for rock stars. Their parties were also much bigger, since they wanted to get their money’s worth out of us. They just cared more. We probably could have gotten that caring out of the $100 gigs if we had just said, “look, our rate is $1000, but we like you guys. Just provide the PA and we’ll play and make sure everybody’s having a good time.” Either way, you’re a $1000 band; it’s just a question of whether a particular night would pay.
- Promise and deliver big. It’s often said that you should “under-promise and over-deliver”. This may be true if you are well-known, or operating in a very protected or stable market; but most of us aren’t. In the music business – and most others – getting people’s attention is a critical first step to proper selling. And to do that, you have to make some big promises. You don’t necessarily have to be “better” than the alternatives, but you do have to be exceptional in some (positive) way.
- Be willing to negotiate the extras. For most business relationships, it’s only the first interaction that “feels like” you’re selling. Once your band has played at a certain club, you know the people there. Assuming that neither you nor the club’s management are impossible to deal with, and the first gig was at least a moderate success, you will be able to play there in the future. (This coming from a guy whose band was banned from several clubs in the mid-Atlantic for various reasons…) So that first time, recognize that – while you shouldn’t discount (see #1 above) – you should at least be flexible on the non-essential parts of the relationship. It’s really not THAT big of a deal if a club insists that you use the drugged-out house soundman the first time you play. With any luck, you’ll build trust in the future and be able to make other requests in the name of making your shows there successful.
- Have faith in what you’re selling. This one may or may not be within your control, but… it’s a lot easier to sell something that you know is worth what you’re asking. A lot of people get nervous when asked to sell because, at heart, they know it just isn’t that great of a product or service. This is doubly-complicated in a “knowledge-worker” kind of job, like music or consulting, since the value of the service is so subjective. At the risk of sounding preachy: If you don’t believe the product is good enough, then work harder on it or find another product to sell. There aren’t a lot of shortcuts around this.
- Be nice. The bottom line, as hinted in the earlier tips, is that just being a pleasant, easy-to-deal-with person is half the battle; maybe more than that. The reason is simple – as soon as you cross the threshold from “person trying to get the business” to “person who can reliably deliver what they promise or better without being a prima donna or other variety of pain in the ass”, you can build on that and your need to do “sales”, per se, goes down to just a bare minimum.