Digital doctor: choosing your box office software

IAM’s digital advice columnist, Cat Leaver, answers your questions

Dear Cat,

I’m the executive director of a small regional arts venue in Scotland with a diverse programme. We’re looking to upgrade and digitalise our ticketing and box office software, which is currently out of date and means our customer relationship management is disconnected and confusing. We’re looking for an easy-to-use system that allows for fully integrated CRM. What options are available to us? Can you recommend any platforms or software providers?

Yours, Scottish arts executive

The greatest contributor to overall funding in the arts and culture industry remains earned income, meaning that you should always be striving to rationalise processes that provide revenue streams, such as your box office system. This year has seen a dramatic shift toward more online shopping and mobile web purchases. In fact, it is predicted that some GBP87bn (€105bn) has been spent online in 2013 alone, with every GBP1 in 8 spent via a mobile device. What’s more, the internet opens up your organisation to the world, creating an international shopfront that is not limited by time or geography.

However, some 64 per cent of consumers are currently failing to complete online purchases due to inefficient, slow or inconvenient websites and purchase processes. In order to remain competitive in this fast-paced digital environment, you need to implement an efficient and robust online CRM and ticketing solution, that integrates unerringly with your website. There are a number of companies offering advanced box office technologies, such as the Tessitura Network, Spektrix and Blackbaud with its Patron Edge product, to name but a few.

These technologies are products developed specifically for the arts and culture industry, offering an integrated database for online ticketing, donating, fundraising, membership and other forms of online transactions, whilst monitoring customer activity, administration and marketing. These sophisticated systems allow visitors to complete actions such as selecting a seat of their choice for performances, whilst simultaneously updating seating availability info. This technical capability creates real-time updated results for staff and customers alike and enhances overall synergy.

In 2011, over 10m inbound visitors to the UK engaged with arts and cultural organisations and performances, representing a massive 42 per cent of all inbound tourism-related expenditure, which amounted to a reported GBP7.6bn. This presents a colossal potential revenue stream, which can be better tapped in to via a simple, intuitive and accessible international online presence that engages visitors before they arrive in the UK.

The essentials: what to look for when choosing your software solution

Which system you choose will be wholly dependent on your organisational objectives, requirements and budget. But here are a number of things to look out for when choosing your CRM software:

  • Does it support you in meeting your marketing objectives? Thoroughly review the full features and benefits of the software to make sure it does everything you need it to. I’d recommend that it’s better to invest more in one central, efficient system now, than end up with multiple systems, which you then need to try to integrate results and data from.
  • Does it allow for a full integration with your existing website? The best systems will allow you to style up the online box office so that it integrates seamlessly with your site’s look and feel, providing a consistent user experience throughout.
  • Does it have a fully accessible web application booking interface (API)? This will provide maximum flexibility when it comes to integration, styling and optimising on advanced functionality.
  • Does the provider offer a suitable level of support and documentation with the system? The more willing the provider is to support your needs, the more you will get out of the system and the simpler the implementation and maintenance processes will be.
  • Can you track users from your site all the way through the online box office and through other key conversions online? You want to choose a system that supports your marketing objectives by providing access to rich consumer data and analysis of your online performance.
  • Is the solution simple and reusable? Developing a system that acts as a bridge between your content management system (CMS) and the booking API will allow you to reuse the solution with little required adjustments in the future.
  • Is the provider invested in advancing the solution on offer and how easy is it to upgrade in the future? The best solutions will come from companies who are invested in constantly developing their systems and software further to benefit their community of users. As part of this, being able to easily upgrade in line with new version releases is a massive benefit to implementing a cost-efficient solution.


Cat Leaver is marketing manager at Alienation Digital, which recently won Best Digital Agency 2013 at the ScotlandIs Digital Technology Awards. 

Got a question for Cat? Email her direct or contact the IAM team and we’ll pass it on.