Most meeting planners don’t want to work with a typical salesperson. They want a reliable partner in planning. Someone who can brainstorm ideas, come up with realistic solutions, and bring value to the table day in and day out. Delivering value is vital to building this type of relationship clients want. However, most group sales managers wait until they’re actively wooing the client to deliver value – within their proposal, during the site inspection or at the negotiating table. You need to start proving your value much earlier than that, right at the beginning of the sourcing journey.
The key is to routinely offer meeting solutions through advice and education that will build a planner’s confidence in your property from the start – even before they need you. This will make it easier for them to buy down the road.
We spoke with David O’Donohoe, SVP of Hospitality Sales & Strategy for Groups360, on how hotel sales departments can best offer meeting planners value from day one, in ways that are both efficient and scalable:
Audit Your Digital Meetings Content
Most hotels don’t create enough relevant digital content for meeting and event planners. Instead, hotels pour most of their resources into crafting content for the leisure and business travel segment. Do an honest assessment of your own website. How much content is aimed at transient travelers versus meeting planners? If you discover that your digital content serves an imbalanced audience, start boosting efforts to create relevant content for the groups market.
First, consider what meeting planners want – they want to know about meeting space flow, venue capacities, in-house restaurant buyouts, as well as a curated list of nearby restaurants and venues for any off-sites. So, provide photos of past events, 360-degree virtual site tours, and room diagrams. Just as importantly, share what attendees can enjoy and discover in your city.
A quick and efficient way to create meeting destination content is to repurpose content already written for your leisure audience, such as blog posts. Then, tailor the title and contents to put a groups ‘spin’ on your content.
Turn Old Data Into New Business
Hotels should consistently review their pipelines and actively prepare for need dates. “Identify the most critical patterns that need focus and develop an action plan to fill low-occupancy dates,” O’Donohoe advised. This is where data can mean a million dollar difference in plugging in those gaps. There are technologies that can identify past business and even business that you lost or declined. Consider it as old data with new opportunities.
“Hoteliers should be leveraging their loyal customer base to assist in driving business over need dates,” said O’Donohoe. These groups have already established contact with your sales managers, hopefully, have engaged in a trusted relationship, and even better, may have already visited your property during a previous site inspection. Our research has shown that ‘old’ data can produce up to 95 percent of NEW group business. And, that these turned down/lost contacts are vital to driving sustainable group revenue.
Leverage Your Hotel’s Website Data
Your website holds a goldmine of potential business, but you must have the technology in place to capture these clicks and views. Marketing automation tools can now help you determine which users or what businesses are visiting your website and on what content they are clicking.
Follow-up Based on Activity
Did the user spend a considerable amount of time looking at the weddings section or did they read about your executive retreat options? Did they take a virtual tour of your ballroom? By capturing their email, sales managers can proactively develop a relationship, qualify the prospect, then send customized campaigns and relevant content to match the planner’s interests throughout the year.
This data also paves the way for successful retargeting ad campaigns. This tool will put your digital ads in front of meeting planners who once visited your site, yet didn’t leave an RFP or fill out a ‘contact us’ form. The idea is to remind them that your hotel is a viable option for their event and to stay top of mind.
Maximize All Networking Opportunities On LinkedIn
At the minimum, group sales managers should be routinely building connections with meeting planners within their geographic territory or market segment. But, it’s not enough to simply boast a large network of planners. The key is to consistently nurture these relationships and become a trusted industry advisor.
Participate, Don’t Sell, In Industry LinkedIn Groups
With LinkedIn groups, you can connect daily with event and meeting planners who are seeking advice, resources, and feedback. In fact, there are more than 200+ LinkedIn groups focused on our industry! Join and participate in groups like Event Planning and Event Management and Event Planning Professionals.
Publish Thought Leadership Content
Repurpose your hotel’s meeting-related blog content and turn into LinkedIn articles. Or, vice versa. The idea is to provide relevant tips, share updates to new industry innovations, and give recommendations to assist meeting planners throughout the entire planning process.
“If a hotel salesperson is able to strategically transition from an initial contact to a trusted advisor, they will increase the likelihood of one day winning business from that client,” O’Donohoe said.
Offer tips on boosting engagement among attendees, choosing room configurations, budget-saving inspiration, your destination’s best off-site activities, etc.
The most successful hotels and hotel sales managers offer value long before they connect with a prospect. From now on, consider yourself not as a salesperson, but a knowledgeable trusted advisor. By playing this role from the beginning, you not only set yourself up for sustainable and profitable relationships but also eschew the traditional seller-buyer dynamic that other hotels are engaged in.