In case you hadn’t heard, Beyonce has a new album out. It’s very good.
Which is bad news for her fans, and a major headache for one well-known and often-reviled company.
It’s bad news for fans because it will now be an even bigger challenge getting tickets for her world tour, which kicks off tomorrow in Miami. And it will be a major headache for the company selling those tickets: Ticketmaster. If the past is any guide, there will be much howling and rending of garments as demand overwhelms Ticketmaster’s IT systems. Fans could be left hanging as the servers try to keep up. And what will all those would-be ticket buyers do with all that free time while they’re put on hold or waiting for their screens to refresh?
The usual: Complain bitterly on Twitter, Slack, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever it is the kids are using these days. Ticketmaster will apologize. The promoters will apologize. Fans will retweet their apologies with appropriate snarky commentary, prompting more apologies, etc., etc. Sure, Ticketmaster will earn more money in ten minutes than a third-world country makes in a year, but still it hurts.
Or maybe it will be different this time, says Simon Tarry, Ticketmaster’s director of engineering strategy.
And if it is, you can thank sales training — not for the poor customer-service reps who must endure the wrath of fandom, but for the software engineers who design and manage Ticketmaster’s IT infrastructure.
Speaking at the Cloud Expo conference in London a few weeks ago, Tarry described what happened the last time the company prepared to release Beyonce tickets, several years back. Visits to the Ticketmaster Website spiked to previously unseen levels. The servers could handle about 300 users a minute. Everybody else had to sit in the queue. That was “not a great experience,” Tarry conceded. Trouble ensued.
So when do we get to the part about sales training?
You may be wondering if I’m ever going to discuss sales training in what is, after all, a sales training blog.
Patience, dear reader. I’ll get there. But in my own sweet time. Like Ticketmaster.
So here’s what happened after the last Beyoncemageddon:
Ticketmaster realized that it needed to vastly increase its capacity to handle peak volume. Which, in turn, meant a massive IT project to migrate its operations to the cloud. That project was expected to take two to three months.
Alas, an IT project is sort of like ordering concert tickets: It always takes longer than you think.
Ticketmaster encountered some unexpected technical bottlenecks, but those were relatively easy to solve. Much harder to address were human bottlenecks. The biggest of these bottlenecks occurred, Tarry said, when software engineers were told “no.”
Turning “no’s” into “yeses”
Like poorly trained salespeople, many software engineers didn’t know what to do when others dragged their feet. For example, when investigating a problem, these engineers often needed information from other teams. If those people put them off — saying they didn’t have time to collect the information or didn’t know where to find it — the engineers would simply move on to other problems that needed to be solved. Because they took “no” for an answer, the toughest problems kept getting pushed off, leading to huge delays.
So Tarry’s engineers started doing what good salespeople do. They learned the art of moving the sale along. When other teams held them up, they gathered metrics and went back, showing the foot-draggers how they were delaying the project and the consequences of doing so. It turned out, of course, that the other teams weren’t intentionally sabotaging things. Once they understood the urgency, they made time for the project and got the engineers what they needed.
Tarry doesn’t want to turn his IT guys into salespeople, he said, but he would like them to learn something from sales: persistence. According to a report in Comupter Weekly, he told the conference: “Software engineers make terrible salespeople because we keep accepting no from someone else…. If your salespeople accept a no all the time, you’d make no sales and have no business, and this is very much an engineering mindset we apply to problems.”
There is a larger point to be made here. As Daniel Pink points out in his book “To Sell Is Human,” salespeople aren’t the only ones who need to know how to sell. Sales and sales training are all about influence — getting others on board with your vision and enlisting their support to make that vision a reality. Tarry’s vision, ultimately, is to create a better experience for ticket buyers. And sales training, he believes, can be an essential tool to achieve that. We’ll soon see if he succeeded.
And if he’s right — if sales training can help Ticketmaster reduce wait times for Beyonce tickets — consider what might it do for your organization beyond the sales department.
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