While the world holds its breath, waiting for signs that we can return to some sense of normalcy, the rise of virtual meetings and the adoption of hybrid events continue to be the primary tools of the market. However, the need to gather to conduct business will lead us into a new age of travel and in-person meetings. Almost certainly, once the restrictions begin to lift, we will see a race to come together unlike anything we have seen before.
Is your sales team ready to manage the pent-up desire to travel and meet face to face? Have you begun the training necessary to help your sales team deliver the results your property needs? Have you provided them with the sales tools they require to succeed in bringing group business back to your property?
If not, now is the time to set up your very own sales team “fight club” and provide them with new strategies and the training required for them to compete in these new times.
Delivering a Knock-Out Punch to the Competition
Embrace the hybrid meeting: Hybrid meetings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. However, is your team equipped to help plan a hybrid meeting? Now is the time to get them well-versed in how to plan fun and engaging hybrid meetings, including balancing the needs of in-person and online attendees. As planners get back to planning, they are going to need guidance in how to do this. Work with your vendors to educate your team on all the details of planning successful hybrid meetings. Consider putting together a “do’s and don’ts” piece on hybrid events.
Use social media to educate your guests: In a recent meeting planner survey by Knowland and ConferenceDirect, 58.9 percent of meeting planners cited being uncomfortable with travel as the biggest reason preventing returns to meetings. An additional 22.1 percent said they weren’t comfortable with meeting venues. As hoteliers, our job is to help them feel safe. But we can’t depend on our brands to do that for us. We have to step into the fray and fulfill that need.
Social media is both an efficient and a low-cost way to let your customers know how you are keeping them safe. Short informative videos of how your staff is working to keep guests safe can be effective. Or if you are in an exciting destination, try evocative posts with ideas of what guests would do first when they are able to visit. All of these create a sense of wonder and build the wanderlust that is growing among travelers.
Make sure your sales team knows where to sell: We are seeing Fortune 500 companies shift their travel policies to allow their employees to travel. While much of this travel may be transient business bookings, it is indicative of companies who will likely start to hold meetings first. Your sales team should be mining your daily market segment and rate code reports to see who is traveling. Make sure travelers from your key accounts are welcomed and have everything they need. Great service now will lead to meetings when they emerge.
Think local for small meetings: Small groups have returned to the marketplace. This is a time when your team will need to focus on micro segments and not macro. Legal, healthcare and financial industries are leading the way. Many of the companies in these segments may not have reopened their local offices. However, they have a need to meet face to face. Wouldn’t your hotel be ideal to fill that need?
Having your team start with these segments and work within them to connect with local companies to capture existing demand will broaden your reach and help create lasting relationships that will serve your hotel well for years to come.
Develop personalized messaging: Hard sales pitches are probably still a bit tone deaf. However, having a “we are here to help” message won’t go astray. For each type of outreach, your sales team should be armed with three tools:
- What to say if the customer answers the phone
- What to say in a voicemail
- What to say in an email
Each of these should be concise and meaningful and convey your venue’s value proposition. Purposeful messaging that piques the customer’s interest goes a long way in gaining trust and in turn opens the door for your sales team. While you might not like to “script” your staff, you will find having a basic guideline will help with consistent messaging and make your team come across more heartfelt than if they merely “wing” it.
As part of this process, don’t forget the cadence they should adopt when reaching out. It should always start with a personal call and a voicemail if necessary. If a voicemail is left, follow-up with your heartfelt email. Finally, and most importantly, it should include a call to action that details next steps. Follow-up to your outreach should occur in three to four days if the contact hasn’t responded.
Have people available: For the foreseeable future, booking windows likely will occur quickly. Make sure you have someone available during normal business hours to respond to inbound inquiries. Often meeting planners are calling and booking at the same time. Don’t miss an opportunity because there was no one available to check space and take a booking.
Celebrate the Wins Rocky Style—Even the Small Ones
As market dynamics begin to shift, the coming months may create myriad opportunities for your sales team. Those teams who are proactive with their prospecting will lead the way to recovery. However, in times like these, the mere act of prospecting is just plain hard work.
Encouragement will go a long way and setting expectations by communicating a solid game plan will be important in ensuring your team doesn’t get discouraged. Sales is about building relationships and new ones take time, but sincerity, compassion and patience will be key in helping your team succeed.
It likely will take more than a few rounds to get back into fighting shape. Dedicated sales teams view standing still as tantamount to fighting with their back to the ropes. The inability to travel and meet has most assuredly put a crimp in our sales strategies and left many of us feeling down for the count. But take heart, the end of this disruption will come, likely sooner than many of us think. And being in shape for the next round will position your sales teams to come out winners.
Kristi White is VP of product management at Knowland.