As a creative business, the music industry is not one to regularly take cues from the traditional business world. It’s rare that we see MBAs succeed in (or even enter) the field—not only because there are countless safer bets elsewhere, but because their expertise is often seemingly rejected by music industry insiders. We seem to consider ourselves in our own universe, subject to a completely different set of laws and market dynamics.
One key area of study that is vastly overlooked by music industry professionals when talking about building audiences is the importance and art of the sell. At our core, we are all salesmen in this business, no matter how dedicated we are to music as art. Whether we’re selling a track, a tour date, a t-shirt, or an album, we’re all working towards one fundamental goal: selling our brands.
As an artist (or as a part of an artist’s team), you are selling yourself to your fans throughout every activity of your career. But this process is vastly different from “selling” as we may commonly perceive it. It’s not tricking people into buying your music, as a used car salesman may try to sell you a lemon. Instead, it’s about building lasting relationships with fans who form deep, trusting connections with you, your music, and your brand—it’s consultative selling.
Consultative selling is a key concept taught to business students worldwide. The basic concept is this: rather than focusing on trying to get a prospect to purchase your product through a brief, one-time interaction, you should treat your prospects as if you’re their consultant, helping to guide them through the purchasing process by asking questions to determine their unique needs and using that information to help them find the best possible product (whether or not it’s yours). This fosters a unique level of trust, making prospective customers (and fans) feel that their interests are your top priority, rather than your own. It also fosters a stronger emotional connection between you and your potential buyers, because you’ve taken the time to get to know them and shown genuine interest in who they are.
This approach to sales is an evolution of relationship selling, which places an emphasis on listening, solving a prospect’s problem, and treating the product not as the physical good you’re selling—but as the outcome your prospect will achieve after purchasing the product (e.g. relief, happiness, etc.).
This concept is incredibly powerful when applied to how you approach building your fan base as an artist, and it should guide your fan engagement and marketing strategies. Prioritizing your fans’ needs in terms of how you release new music and sell concert tickets, how you interact with them on a regular basis, and what kinds of merchandise you offer can have a dramatic impact on not only your immediate sales, but also your long-term career health. While it’s not always the most important priority for an artist—every artist has a unique creative vision for his or her future and business, and catering to fans should never be the sole driving force of that vision—it should always be in your mind when making decisions about how to progress your career.
A few key takeaways (adapted from RSVP Selling’s 10 Laws of Relationship Selling):
- Fans are far more likely to buy from likable artists who they trust. Let them know that you genuinely care about them, and they’re far more likely to give back by handing over their credit card information.
- Listening is the most powerful form of influence. Let your fans know that you’re paying attention to them and their needs, and they’re going to form much stronger, more trusting connections to you and your music. Those connections will keep them invested in your career for the long haul, rather than on board for just the latest single or album release. This can include everything from recommending other artists and brands you think your audience will appreciate, to responding to specific questions and requests.
- The product is not the physical good you’re offering, but the experience fans will have after purchasing it. Fans are buying your music for the feeling they get when they listen to it, and buying concert tickets for the sense of inclusion they feel when they’re a part of live music experience. Focus on communicating these tangential and experiential emotions, rather than the value of the good itself.
- Focus on creating value for fans before naming a price. Getting fans excited about an upcoming release, teasing new product images, announcing tour dates and making them think about the experience they’ll have if they decide to purchase can dramatically increase a fans’ willingness to buy. Follow it up by keeping price points reasonable, and you’ll see fans thinking less about the transactional cost and more about the long-term value you’ve let them know they’ll get from their purchase.
- Attitude is everything. Selling is difficult, and selling music is even harder. Maintaining a positive attitude with fans (your prospects) will make you a lot more likeable (see the first key takeaway above), and keep them coming back to interact with you and buy from you on a regular basis.