KVO – Focus on hospitality

An interview with the 2 persons driving the change

KV Oostende (KVO) is sexy. KVO is hot. And when it comes to business partnerships, KVO is probably the most innovative club in Belgium.

At KVO “doing business” can be taken literally. Since its promotion to first league in 2013-2014, KVO has been focussing heavily on turning their club into a business hub for the many local and (inter)national entrepreneurs. KVO strives to achieve a perfect symbiosis between Sports and Business.

In partnership with the construction company, Versluys, KVO started early 2016 with the renovation of its stadium, a very ambitious project. Within less than 6 months the “Versluys Arena” had to be ready for the new season. The stadium became a landmark for the city of Oostend.

As “doing business” is of crucial importance to KVO, the main focus of the upgrade was to turn their club into a business hub for the many local and (inter)national entrepreneurs. KVO strives to achieve a perfect symbiosis between Sports and Business.

The club decided to increase its hospitality capacity from 350 business seats to 1800, up to 25% of its total capacity! The new stadium came with a totally new concept for business partners. Increased capacity, new hospitality formula’s, a totally new VIP experience.

Increased VIP capacity inevitably requires more sales efforts, not only to sign up new partners, but also to make sure all partners fully enjoy the totally renewed VIP experience. If your workload increases, but the team remains the same, only one option remains: increase your efficiency. It is no coincidence that KVO started implementing iXpole in the months leading up to the inauguration of the new stadium.

Instead of relying on old software, spreadsheets and manually maintained lists, KVO switched to iXpole. Sales leads, contracts, the sponsoring product catalogue, hospitality formula’s, ticketing, invoice generation and all other information related to business partners are now managed centrally in iXpole. The iXpole cloud service manages the business heart for the club.

In the past 2 seasons KVO and iXpole have proven to be a great match. Both companies are very innovative and strive to get the highest efficiency out of every action they undertake. KVO constantly challenges iXpole to improve the solution and add new features and iXpole assists KVO in trying to optimise their internal processes to get the most out of their business.

We decided to meet up with Tine and Frederik, two key persons in this success story. Tine (De Groote) is marketing manager. She constantly comes up with new marketing actions and approaches to allow KVO to thrive. Frederik (De Vuyst) is commercial management assistant. He manages the operational side and processes. Frederik makes sure the business partners get the best possible experience every game over again.

How would you describe the iXpole platform?

Frederik De Vuyst

Frederik: iXpole is a cloud platform that enables us to manage all aspects of the B2B operations in the club. It contains a catalogue with all products we sell to our business partners, from seats and parking, over sponsorship products like marketing activations, LED boarding, catering, to up-sell items like B2B merchandising. For each new customer, we create a contract in iXpole, assign the products, the subscription and catering options, then we configure the instalments and activate all of this on the VIP portal. The system will then automatically produce the invoices, make the tickets available, provide the caterer an overview of the orders and -if so desired- send out automated notifications to all these people. From our first contact with a prospective partner to the follow up of his latest hospitality experience, it is all registered in, and managed by iXpole

If you were to highlight the most important advantage of the iXpole platform, what would it be?

Tine De Groote

Tine: The major advantage lies in the end-to-end integration with our invoicing system. We no longer have to generate invoices manually. As a result, we know that every single service, from an extra seat to an extra meal, will always be invoiced. It is impossible to initiate a service without scheduling the associated invoicing actions.

Frederik: Over the past 2 seasons, we have worked hard to fine tune the automated exchange of data between iXpole and our accounting package. We even switched to a different accounting package to ensure we could automate all aspects. As a result, we have now fully automated the issuing of invoices as well as the follow up of overdue invoices. So we do not only have 100% certainty that our partners are invoiced, but the follow up of the payments is automated as well.

Tine: On top of that there are no more mistakes due to typo’s. Every invoice is 100% in line with what has been logged in the contract. In the past 2 seasons we saw the number of credit notes decrease drastically, to virtually zero.

If invoices are generated by the sales team, is the 4-eye principle respected?

FrederikActually, the sales team is responsible for the content of the invoice: the management of the catalogue and related prices, the creation of the contract and associated instalments. But it is not the sales team that creates the invoices. When an instalment is due, iXpole provides -through the automated interface- all invoicing information to the invoicing software, where the invoice is created. It is then up to accounting to first give the green light, before their software releases the invoice. So the 4 eyes principle is applied correctly and accounting fulfils its controlling role.

Apart from the automated contracting and invoicing, what else do you use the platform for?

Frederik: The tool manages all operational aspects related to sponsorship and hospitality. The product catalogue allows you to manage stock of the articles. Seats and parking are obvious stock articles, but LED- or fixed boarding are stock items too. When KVO plays a home game, the KVO bus is not used to transport the players, so the business partners can rent it to make the KVO-experience complete. But we only have one bus, so this is also a stock item; we can only rent it out once per home game.

We also use the tool to plan the operational aspects for each game: per game we can determine as from when tickets are made available, up to when catering can be ordered and add content to the ticket.

iXpole offers interesting dashboards so we have an overview per game: how much of the hospitality capacity has been sold, how many free tickets have been distributed and what the occupation rate is of the business seats or skyboxes.

You mention dashboards. Are there multiple dashboards and can you use iXpole for reporting or business intelligence?

Tine: Since iXpole is a central system containing all data for the B2B operations, you can extract a lot of interesting information from it. We use it for all kinds of purposes.

There is a nice dashboard which we use nearly daily for the commercial budgeting. It shows how much has been sold to date, invoiced to date and paid to date. It allows us to benchmark our actuals with the budget.

Each product is assigned an intrinsic value. We can analyse per customer what he is getting for his money and ensure all our partners are treated equally.

With this clear and correct reporting, it is possible for us to be more pro-active and targeted. I can create more and better targeted marketing campaigns. We have more contact moments and do more up-selling, which increases our profit and productivity.

Was there any impact on the organisation when you implemented iXpole?

Tine: There was definitely an impact on the organisation. We work with external sales and have decided not to give them access to the platform. As a result Frederik has to coordinate everything.

When we configured iXpole for the first time, Frederik spent a big portion of his time on inputting data in the system: seating and parking plans, product catalogue, customers, contracts and mailing templates. After 2 seasons Frederik really knows the in’s and out’s of iXpole and really gets the most out of it.

At the beginning of a season, we log all contract renewals in the seating plan. As from then the sales know what else can be sold. Frederik provides them with regular updates per game on what is still available and what not, as well as specific actions to boost the sales. We could also have opted to give each sales person access to the system and allow him to create the contracts, but we have strategically decided not to work that way. We have learned that data is extremely precious and needs to be controlled properly.

You mention seating plans and parking plans. Does that mean you use iXpole for ticketing?

Frederik: Yes, iXpole is a great tool for B2B ticketing. At KVO we make a clear distinction between business partners and regular fans. All business seats and skyboxes have been removed from our regular ticketing system and tickets for these area’s (as well as the associated seating plans) are managed in iXpole.

Contrary to regular ticketing systems, iXpole allows for adding specific B2B content, like the name of the partner who is inviting, the name of the invitee. Such personalisation gives a personal touch which is highly appreciated by our partners. Further to that we ensure the planning for that person is put on the ticket. This planning will depend on the hospitality formula he has selected.

Tine: As a matter of fact, we don’t always have a relationship with the people attending the game. Some people have been invited by our partners, so we don’t know them and have no means of communicating with them. The ticket is the most suitable place to exchange that kind of important information.

These tickets can be downloaded through the VIP self-service portal. Do you still manage paper tickets or seasons cards?

Tine: We don’t. We are a small club and have a very close relationship with our partners. When we deployed iXpole we were afraid that business partners would keep on contacting us, demanding to print the tickets for them and make them available for retrieval at the hospitality desk. To our great surprise, none of this occurred. The acceptance rate of this self-service ticketing solution was extremely high. Granted, we made sure there was a clear manual, but after about 2 games, we got no more questions.

Frederik: I think we underestimated the power of our business network. When our partners spoke with each other, they started convincing each other of the many benefits. Very quickly they all embraced this concept. And convenience is the biggest driver. When a partner can not attend a game, with a few clicks he can transfer his tickets to someone else. And if something has come up for that invitee, the partner can re-assign to yet another person.

That is also one of the reasons why we no longer use (plastic) seasons cards. Transferring tickets to other people was hell for both the partner and the club. Very often this resulted in seats not being filled and thus less revenue, less atmosphere. Our partners seem to have embraced the convenience of the self-service portal. Now we have much higher attendance rates and thus generate more up-sell.

Tine: Another inconvenience of the plastic seasons card is that we would have less contact points with our partners. Through the VIP portal we have at least 1 contact point per home game with our partners. More contact points create a closer relationship and potentially more up-sell.

If I understand it correctly, you use this self-service portal for more than just ticket management?

Frederik: Indeed. We were the first club to pilot the catering module with iXpole. In Belgium we try to offer different hospitality formula’s depending on the needs/expectations of our partners. The more formula’s we offer, the more catering we sell. Our partners are requested to order or confirm catering at the latest 2 days before each game. This allows us to properly plan and avoid waste. Since we are sure that every order will be invoiced, we can offer a higher range of services and thus generate higher margins.

Tine: We also piloted the up-sell possibilities via the self-service portal. When our partner is online to manage his tickets and catering options, we propose certain up-sell items (catering or merchandising). If the partner wants to offer his invitees the best experience ever, this is where he can fine-tune his demands. All invoicing happens automatically and the logistics are optimised thanks to automated reporting made available to the caterer, the shop or the sales team.

If I am a sales director and I am considering implementing iXpole, what would be your advice?

Tine: The biggest strength of iXpole is also the biggest attention point: quality of data. You can only benefit from an automated system if you consistently safeguard the quality of the data in the system. It starts with the initial configuration. Don’t go light about this. Every piece of information you register in the system will be re-used n times. If it is wrong, you will make n mistakes. But, if it is right, you will reduce your workload with a factor n.

So the users should always be consistent in their use of the system. The team should agree on rules and always respect them. Being a small club, this is difficult at first. You want to be the most flexible. But we made a switch in our mind. A bit less flexibility but a lot more quality. And that is in the end why partners come back.

Frederik: I can imagine clubs are afraid that their partners will resist to change. We had the same fear. But in the end convenience and quality rule. In the past 2 seasons we have received so many positive reactions about the increased quality of our service. If we win and our partners win, we know we are on the right track.

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About Luc

Luc is Business Development Manager at iXpole. Luc is on the constant lookout for ways to grow the iXpole community. This means of course a lot of evangelisation with sports clubs, fixed venue event operators and other potential users of the platform. Aside from that Luc also forges strategic partnerships of all kinds and looks after our marketing and communication.

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