Training: I Can’t Afford the Time or the Cost
One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear Directors of Sales complain that they are unable to provide training to their Sales & Catering team. The same old excuses are always given. “They cut training out of my budget”, “My team is too busy responding too leads to attend training” and (my personal favorite) “My team are already fully trained anyway”.
All of those statements are complete cop-outs, and none of them hold true no matter which property you work at.
Let me speak to the “My team is already fully trained anyway” point first. Do you seriously think that every member of your Sales and Catering team is so well trained that they have absolutely no room for improvement at all? Where did they receive all of this fabulous training? It must have been pretty darn effective if now they are perfect in their job! We all know there is room for improvement; it’s just a matter of knowing your team well enough to know exactly where the training need is.
So what about if you think your team is too busy for training – or you have no budget for it?
First of all, who says training has to cost you money? In addition, who says you have to pull your team away from their work (i.e. selling) for extended periods of time to attend training?
The best training that your team will ever receive is the training that you as their Director of Sales can deliver to them. No outside sales trainer will ever know your business as well as you – quite simply because you are the one battling it out in the trenches alongside your team each day. And best of all, training doesn’t have to cost your inordinate amounts of time or money.
So here is something really quick you can do today. Draw up a chart that lists all members of your team and what their 5 biggest strengths and weaknesses are in their current role. That’s the easy part out of the way. Now you need to determine how you are going to deliver training targeted to your team’s weaknesses.
So here are some tactics that I have seen work really well.
1. Turn every meeting into a training opportunity. Meetings are a golden moment to provide training to the team. You already have the whole team together, so why not go through a training topic. Training topics inserted into meetings should go for 5-10 minutes only, so keep this training short and sweet. Examples of short training topics might be ‘ways to be effective at making a prospecting call from a readerboard report’ or ‘how to pull a client listing from you database’. It may not seem like much time to deliver training, but if you have a short training topic at every week’s sales meeting then you can get through a lot of training in a year. Draw up a list for the next few months and let your team know in advance what the upcoming topics are.
2. Use your team to deliver training from their strengths. So we have just said that you should insert training topics into meetings – well who says the DOS always has to be the trainer? You have already established that different members of your team have strengths in different areas, so have them deliver the short training sessions on topics that they know well. For example, if you have a Sales Manager who is particularly strong at Site Inspections, then have them deliver a short training session on their tips and tricks for conducting the best site inspection.
3. Have your team deliver training from their weaknesses. This may seem completely counter to my previous point but one of the most effective ways of learning is to actually have to train someone else. To explain something to another person you have to organize your thoughts into such a way that others can understand them. I once had a DOS who would have a different Sales Manager present the Pace Report to the Sales Team at the monthly Sales productivity meeting. By having to present the report to the team it forced the Sales Managers to actually analyze and understand the report rather that just be passive participants in yet another boring meeting. I can tell you for sure that every member of that team understood how to read and analyze the Pace Report.
4. Observe observe observe! When was the last time you took one of your junior Sales Managers on sales calls with you? When was the last time they accompanied other senior members of your team? Apart from being a tremendous opportunity to build your professional relationship one-on-one with your team, this is a great way for you to meet their key clients as well. Have your Sales Manager see how you do a sales call. The alternate and have them lead the sales call. Then give constructive feedback and then switch back to you delivering the next sales call and continue the rotation. The same approach should be used for client entertainment, site inspections, trade shows etc.
These are just a few ways that I have seen the most effective sales leaders deliver training. I know there are many more ways. But the main point is, just because you don’t have the budget for training doesn’t mean that you can’t train. Training should and must be a continued focus for every sales team – regardless of current skill set. Once it becomes routine it’s easy.
Sell me a Themed Break – See if you can!
If you have function space at your hotel then I am guessing you have catering menus of some sort. The packet of catering menus is often this huge listing of different buffets and plated meals, themed events, a la carte (consumption) items and bars. The catering packet is often one of the first things given to an event/meeting planner after they have signed their contract. And then the process of planning their events begins.
Which leads me to the point of this article – how well do you know your catering menus? Sure, you can tell me that your hotel has Sandwich/Deli Buffet lunch menu with sandwiches and salads. So what! I already knew you had that menu! How do I know that? Because almost every hotel on the planet has that menu! Just like the Continental Breakfast menu and the Break Menu with cookies, soft drinks and coffee.
We all know those menus intimately because so many of our clients request them.
But how well do you really know your Continental Breakfast Menu? Sure we are all capable of reading the menu where it says that for $XX you will serve up Assorted Breakfast Pastries and Muffins, Fresh Fruit, Orange Juice, Tea & Coffee. Your clients are just as capable of being able to read the menu too, so they already know this much. But let’s go further…
Is your Orange Juice freshly squeezed? If yes, is it bought that way, or squeezed on property? Or is the Orange Juice made from concentrate? How do you serve the Orange Juice? Is it individual bottles presented in an ice tray, or pitchers of juice? If it is pitchers, how do you keep the juice cold? How about the Pastries and Muffins – are they made on property? If yes, are they made from scratch, of do you buy them pre-made and just have to bake them? If they are bought from outside do they get delivered fresh each morning, or does your Chef freeze them? Where are they bought from? What types of pastries are included? Are the Croissants plain or do they have chocolate inside? How many calories are in the muffins? Do you have sugar-free muffins? How big are they?
I could go on and on! Can you safely answer every conceivable question about every item on your entire catering menu? I doubt it!
We spend a lot of time talking about how important it is for catering to continually upsell clients as much as possible, but how can we even begin to upsell a client on the ‘Deluxe Continental Breakfast’ if we are unable to fully describe all the contents of the menu. If you want me to spend $3 more per person to upgrade to the Deluxe menu then you better be able to tell me why I should!
When was the last time you sold a client on one of those themed breaks? You know the ones – the themed break menus that always sound fabulous but never get sold. Of course the ‘Decadent Chocolate Lovers Break’ never gets sold - you don’t truly know all the parts of the menu. If you did then you would probably love the chocolate macaroons dipped in coconut icing that taste just like your Grandma used to make.
Are you hungry now? Well you are hungry because I know those macaroons intimately and they are delicious. Because I know that to be a fact it is so easy for me to sell that themed break to you.
Think of it this way – would you attempt to sell a group your guestrooms without knowing what the interior of your guestrooms looked like? Every hotel has guestrooms – so what sets yours apart from the rest? This is second nature (hopefully) to sales managers, yet for some reason we just brush over the catering side of things.
Maybe its because we figure that they have already booked with us by the time they go to pick out menus, but my biggest point here is how can you up-sell if you don’t full know the menus inside out.
So what can you do to get to know your catering menus better? Well first of all, be present when the food comes out. Ask the kitchen questions about the food coming out. Questions like how it was prepared, what the ingredients are, and what it tastes like.
You should also definitely get to taste the food. I am not suggesting that you ask the Chef to prepare one of every dish for the catering team to sample (although that does sound like a fun afternoon), but just make sure that the Chef knows that next time he is preparing the Chicken Parmesan for a group that you would like to give it a try.
All good Chefs will welcome you wanting to know their menus better – they know your increased knowledge of the menus is actually going to help their food cost!
So are you just going to be an order taker (if so, then totally disregard this article) who just responds to their clients requests, or are you going to be a Catering Sales Manager who actually sells (there is a concept) their clients on the best menu for their needs based on your full knowledge of the catering operation at your hotel?
Now see if you can seel me that Decandent Chocolate Lovers Themed Break!
How Do You Train Your New Sales Managers?
I work at a hotel where we use a certain Greek character named computer program for sales and catering. When it comes time to hire a new sales or catering manager one of the key qualities that we often look for is experience in this specific system. It's not particularly hard to find candidates who have used the system before as it is also used by the vast majority of our competitors.
Certainly we don't require experience in this program as we have the capacity to train someone on it, but many times we view experience on that system as a plus for that candidate. I know most of our competitors view things much the same way.
So here are where things often go wrong. Hotels hire a new sales manager who comes with vast experience with the same computer program and they just give them a login and let them loose in their database. What a surprise that months later they discover that they have been doing things the "wrong" way!
You see, no two hotel companies use any computer program exactly the same way. Thee is no right or wrong way, but rather an "ABC Company" way to use the system and an "XYZ Company" way to use the system. Meaning that that new Sales Manager is using the system the way they were trained over at another hotel - ie. not per our hotel's standards and procedures.
The perfect example is lost business. In our system we have two lost business statuses, Cancelled and Turn Down. My property defines Turn Down as a piece of business that we as a property decide not to bid on or book, and Cancelled as a piece of business that decides not to book with us (regardless of its previous status). It really doesn't matter whether you agree with that definition or not, it's my hotel's definition. I know that many other properties use this definition, but many others define it differently. Irrespective, if a new Sales Manager is hired at my property we have to make sure that we educate them on our definition, otherwise we invariably end up with a mess in our system. Trust me, I have learned this the hard way!
So what this really boils down to is training. Just because a new Sales Manager tells you that they know how to use XYZ system that you have at your property doesn't mean that you get to skip that part of their training and let them immediately start booking business. I know it's tempting to just let them loose, but restraint is needed here!
Another potential pitfall is to rely almost entirely on computer based training. Computer based training is a great tool for teaching the basics of a new system, but again it doesn't train your sales team YOUR hotel standards and procedures for using the system.
Here is my hotel's approach to training a new Sales Manger on our sales and catering system.
After they have completed all the new hire rigmarole we have them work independently to take the Accounts and Contacts portion of our system's computer based training. Following that, we have one of our seasoned Sales Managers sit with them and run through our hotel's standards and procedures for Accounts. They review the database entry standards, expectations for parent/child accounts, inquiry accounts, weddings accounts etc. Once they are done, the new Sales Manager is given a few Accounts and Contacts to enter into the system as practice. Leading up to this training we have asked the rest of the team to hold off entering any new accounts and had them put them to one side for the new sales manager to enter (as you can imagine the rest of the sales team love this part!)
The next day the focus is on bookings. Again we start with that portion of the computer based training, followed by a one-on-one session on SOP's followed by practice entry. We continue this approach for Activities, BEOs, Reports etc.
Our particular computer based training has a quiz at the end which they then take at the end of the training. We also have a quiz on our property SOP's. Once both quizzes are passed we feel comfortable setting this new user free in our database.
The only part that we modify is that if the new hire has considerable experience with the same sales and catering system then we have them take the computer based training quiz at the start and if they pass we skip the computer based training and just train on SOP's. We still have them go through the motions of entering in the practice accounts, contacts, bookings etc, and they still have to pass our SOP quiz.
I am not suggesting that our way is the best way, I am merely using it to demonstrate one way of training a new Sales or Catering Manager. Our database is one of our most valuable assets, so I want to guard the integrity of all that data from improperly trained Sales Managers, or Sales Managers trained the "wrong" way ie. the way our competitors do it!
Somebody help me!
At lot can be said for hotel sales and catering people attending meetings at other hotels from time to time. By attending an event at another hotel recently my eyes were opened to the potentially frustrating process event planners often have to go through to get assistance.
I am referring to simple requests such as needing an extra flip chart pad of paper, or needing a coffee refresh or lowering the room temperature.
At this particular (nameless) hotel the meeting planner simply needed an extra marker for the whiteboard that the trainer was using. To request the marker she had to find a Banquet Captain. Being as it was a large property with not a lot of events going on, the banquet captain was not always around - and naturally they never are right there when you need them. So the meeting planner picked up a house phone and called the operator. After telling the hotel operator she needed an extra marker, the hotel operator said she would page the banquet captain. So then 5 minutes later the banquet captain arrived and the meeting planner requested the marker. By the time the banquet captain had walked back to their office and returned with the marker at least 15 minutes had passed since calling the operator.
Why couldn't the hotel operator have passed on the message to the banquet captain?
Imagine the frustration of a meeting planner that is holding meetings in multiple function rooms - having to wait in a designated location for the banquet captain to arrive just to make a request is sheer madness!
Other hotels handle this with finesse. I once worked for a hotel that had all the function room house phones automatically call the banquet captains radio so requests were made directly to the captain. I also once worked for a resort that had all function room house phones go straight to the hotel operator who would take the request and then radio it directly to the banquet department.
I would suggest it's probably worth your while examining what procedure your meeting planners need to go through to make simple requests. Now imagine you are a banquet captain introducing yourself to the meeting planner prior to the event and explaining to them how they can get in touch with you. The procedure should be as simple as picking up a phone and telling the person that answers exactly what you want - if it isn't then you need to change the procedure - for the sake of your meeting planners and your service staff!
A Change Log Your Chef Will Love!
They say that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. But if you ask a hotel catering manager they will add one other thing to life's list of certainties: BEO changes!
I could (and will one day) write a whole other article on great ways to prevent those last minute BEO changes made by clients, but even the world’s best catering managers end up with BEO changes that need to be communicated out to the operations teams.
So how best to communicate those changes? The old-school way was always to print a fresh copy of the BEO (often on colored paper - and why pink?!), stamp it "Revised" and then distribute it.
There are a few things that I don't like about this method of communicating changes. First of all, it is a terrible waste of paper. Secondly it is a very labor intensive way of communicating. But what I hate most about this method is that it becomes way too easy for the operations teams to not fully acknowledge the actual changes that were made.
You see, what happens is that when the operations teams receive the revised BEO more often than not they just pull the old BEO out of the binder and replace it with the revised one. Yes it certainly is true that a good Chef of Banquet Manager will go through the BEO and read the changes but not all are so fastidious. Even if you circle, highlight, star etc the actual changes, nothing can really force them to read actual change.
Many a time I have had a chef complain at the last minute that they didn't know that I had switched out pastries for donuts for the continental breakfast, even though it was on the revised BEO. Yes this was their fault, but surely this is conflict best avoided...
So I prefer using a change log.
All good computerized sales and catering systems come with a BEO change log report that can easily be distributed daily to the ops teams. From a catering standpoint it is easy. As you make a change to the BEO you then just manually type a summary of the change onto the change log. The change log is then distributed once or twice a day to the kitchen, AV, Banquets etc. The receiving departments then read the report and handwrite the changes that relate to them on their own copies of the BEO.
I love this method as for the following reasons:
1. It actually forces the departments to read the changes at the time you are communicating them.
2. The departments may not want a new copy of the BEO as they may already have their own notes written on the original BEO.
3. It is easy to see how many changes each catering manager is making each day, which in turn may help identify learning opportunities for catering managers to prevent so many changes.
4. There is a paper trail of all the changes and when they were made (CYA).
5. It cuts down time and paper.
Now I am well aware that many of you reading this have tried to move to a change log in the past but have faced push-back from some of the departments. I don't seek to point fingers, but yes that push-back is usually from the kitchen. This may surprise you but I totally get their opposition to the change log. They hate the change log as they waste a lot of time having to read about change that have nothing to do with them. Why should a chef have to know that you have added two extra flip charts to the meeting room?
So here is how I win over the kitchen!
My compromise on the change log is to start each entry on the change log by typing in CAPS the abbreviation of the section of the BEO that the change relates to. For example when I replace the danishes with donuts I type the change as follows:
"FOOD - replace danishes with donuts"
By starting out my change with the section of the BEO it means that the Chef (or other departments) can just quickly scan through the BEO and stop to read just the changes that relate to them. Not having to read through a whole paragraph about flip charts only to find that it has nothing to do with food will surely appease the Chef somewhat!
One final point on the change log - be consistent with the time that you distribute it, especially if sending it via email. If the operational departments know that the change log comes out promptly at 4pm each day then they are not wasting time going back and forth to their computer to see if it has arrived. This also means that you should send an email notification at the same time if there were no changes for that day, so they are not left wondering if they didn't get the change log.
Perhaps it's true that the operational departments will never be completely happy unless there are no changes at all - but at least with these little tips in mind then the relationship between catering and operations might be just that little bit more harmonious!
How Well Do You Know Your Top Accounts?
We all pride ourselves in building our relationships with our top customers, and many of us do that part of our job really well. But it can be very hard to keep abreast of all the constant changes that go on with our top accounts.
Companies get bought and sold on a daily basis. Mergers, Acquisitions, even name changes happen all the time. It can be very easy to be on a call with a top customer and have no idea that their company has just been acquired by another.
Knowing such information is important if you want to be sensitive to your client’s feelings. Conversely, this information is also useful when soliciting for more business.
So how do you keep abreast of all the latest news regarding all of your accounts?
My favorite way to do this is to use Google News Alerts. I had already been in the habit of using Google to look up the news on my top accounts, but this feature takes all the work out of it for me!
After you set up a Google News Alert, Google will email you with an alert next time your account is mentioned in the news.
It really is that simple!
So let me step you through how to set this up!
1. Go to the following website: http://www.google.com/alerts?hl=en
2. Enter the name of your account in the ‘Search Terms’ field.
3. For ‘Type’ select ‘News’ from the drop-down.
4. For ‘How Often’ I would suggest you select the weekly option to avoid being inundated with emails.
5. Leave ‘Only the Best Results’ as the option for ‘Volume’
6. Enter your email address
7. Click the ‘Create Alert’ button
That easy! Give it a try and your will never be left out of the loop with the goings on at your top accounts!
ENOUGH of the Data Entry Already!
Probably the most common topic that hotel sales people complain about is “how much work it is to enter a new booking into <insert sales and catering system here>”. Often this is voiced as a complaint when discussing time constraints or the banality of loading bookings. “Why am I paid a Sales Manager salary when all I seem to do is data entry” is often a common complaint.
The complaint is generally even louder for those that work at branded properties where the number of incoming leads requiring responses can be huge.
I hate entering leads! I find data entry to be one of the most mundane parts of my job. I really wish we could return to the ‘good-old-days’ when I would’ve had an assistant to enter my bookings for me. But alas we all know those days are not going to return!
After years of staying back at work late into the evening loading these leads, I decided it was time for a rethink. There really must be a better (read: faster) way of getting those bookings into the system
Good news: there really is a better way!
The method that I am about to describe is based loosely on one particular sales and catering system (which for those of you that know me, will instantly know which fabulous Greek-character-named-system I am referring to) but I am sure the concept can easily be replicated in all systems.
The idea is based around having template bookings that you always copy from when creating a new booking. Template (or ‘dummy’) bookings can be created purely for the purpose of copying.
I generally create an account in my name, and then load template bookings of a Turn Down status. I rename the booking with my name and a descriptor of the booking. Common examples might be:
- Template Conference Group Booking
- Template Training Group Booking
- Template Wedding Booking
- Template Family Reunion Booking
When I create the template bookings I fill in all the fields, then load the typical room block requirements, and common rates, and then most importantly load all possible events for the maximum number of conceivable days.
Then whenever a new lead comes for a Conference, I just open up my Template Conference booking and copy it to a new booking. All I have to do is then delete the events that don’t apply and make the necessary tweaks to the room block. Many people complain that loading all the events ( breakouts, breaks, lunches, general sessions etc) is often the most time-consuming part, so being able to just delete the events that don’t apply is a huge time-saver.
Obviously you could create different templates based on length of stay – there really is no limit to the number of templates that you may way to use. Many people are accustomed to copying bookings, but most have overlooked the possibility of creating bookings purely for the purpose of copying from. Maybe it’s because many people are unaware it is possible to copy a booking from one account to another.
This method it also ensures that I am never in trouble for forgetting to fill out certain fields or not enter all the details as they are already loaded in my template.
I suggest you give it a try – you will be amazed at the amount of time you will save, just by taking 15 minutes to create a few template bookings that you can copy over and over again. I know it sure rescued me from data-entry-induced-insanity more than once
Less time doing data entry
more time to book business
finally making my numbers again!
Yes I am Quoting Rack Rate!
There is a barely a day that goes by that General Managers, Directors of Sales and Revenue Managers are constantly reminding us of how many rooms we have left to sell on any given date. So much is the focus on filling the group ceiling, or indeed filling the entire hotel, that we seem to constantly miss the more important question.
Forget how many rooms you have left to sell – the important question you should be asking is “How many rooms do my competitors have left to sell?”
Think of it this way – if you had a spy in the sales department of all your comp set hotels it would be wonderful to know how many rooms your competitors had left on any given day. Imagine you receive a lead for a nice corporate group for 3 months from now. Then, prior to sending your proposal your spy tells you that none of your competitors have enough rooms and function space left to house this group. Would you still quote this group the same rate – or do you think you would quote higher than normal?
If all of your competitors closed for renovations at the same time you would do the same thing (don’t we just wish)! It is basic economics that we want to charge what the market will bear. And if you are the only provider left with availability then you have the ability to charge whatever you like. Similarly, if you know that all of your competitors still have availability then that tells you that right off the mark you need to be competitive if you really want the piece of business. Or if you knew that only one of your competitors still had availability then you would know exactly who you were selling against…
But the chances are that you don’t have a spy working in the sales department of each hotel in your comp set. Nor do you own a working crystal ball or magic mirror. (Side note: if you do happen to own a crystal ball there is a job opening in my sales team that I would love to talk to you about!)
So, short of infiltrating the sales teams at all the other properties in town how are you supposed to find out your competitors availability three, six, nine months out?
One of the best ways of doing this is to absolutely make sure that you are logging ALL lost business. You should be logging every single lead in some way. You should then have some form of calendar notation that people can easily access when they go to check availability. I know of some sales teams that create calendar entries that list the names of the potential bookings that were lost (or turned down) for each date. That way when a Sales Manager goes to check availability that calendar date is flagged as having lost business.
I know of one sales team that goes so far as to have an Excel spreadsheet that lists all lost bookings by hotel for each date subtracted from their total number of guestrooms. Other properties I know have a large ‘lost business calendar’ in the sales office where they color code lost business with a different color for each competitor.
This means that it is critical that every lost piece of business is tracked with the following important details:
And this probably means you need to loosen your definition of ‘Lost Business’. Lost Business is truly the opposite of ‘Won Business’ – meaning that if you find out of a group that has booked at one of your competitors then you should be logging it as lost business. Yes, even if they never send you an RFP it is still lost business as you didn’t win it!
- Number of guestrooms per night
- Amount of function space needed
- Name of hotel they ended up booking with
I am not necessarily suggesting you put the same amount of detail into loading all these lost bookings, but as long as you have the three pieces of information I listed above then you will be armed with some very interesting information. However you do it, you need to keep track of every group that has booked with your competitors.
Arm yourself with this information and you will be ready to maximize your revenue when you know that your competitors are unable to take the piece of business. When the day comes that your competitors are sold out, you want to know it as far in advance as possible so that you can fully maximize your rate – or even (gasp) sell rack!
You Have a Lead – The Clock is Ticking!
No discussion over responding to leads can avoid the topic of lead response times. We’ve already acknowledged that a ridiculously high percentage of business books with the first responder, so whatever you can do within your sales office to ensure your team is the first responder is necessary.
One way to do this is to set lead response targets or deadlines. Use whichever term you feel comfortable with – I just find the word deadline sounds a little negative, but maybe you feel your team needs a bit of a bomb under them!
The first thing to point out is I recognize that this shouldn’t be necessary! If everyone on your team understands that being the first responder also equals more business then they shouldn’t need a real-life clock ticking – they already have their own. But until your property is the first responder all the time then a lead response target is probably necessary.
So what is an appropriate lead response target? Well if you want an example – ever heard of Crowne Plaza’s “2 Hour Response Guarantee”? Yup that’s right, if a Meeting Planner sends a lead to a Crowne Plaza, the brand guarantees that they will have a response from the hotel within 2 hours or they will receive a 5% discount off their final bill. I just recently noticed that Omni Hotels has exactly the same policy.
At first, 2 hours may sound pretty ambitious. Just ask the folks at any Crowne Plaza how they felt when their 2 hour response was first put in place! I am not suggesting that you need to start today with a 2 hour response time target, but your first step should be to at least ensure that you have a target at all! Then you should gradually start reducing that response time target.
So after setting your response time target you will then need to devise a plan as a team to ensure that you actually meet that target! When putting together your plan you will certainly need to discuss the following points:
1. What type of response is needed within the deadline? Is a verbal response ok, with a formal written response later? If a verbal response is satisfactory it needs to be more than just acknowledging that you have received the RFP – rather you need to be letting the client know that you want their business, have availability and provide them with rates.
2. Who is the responder? If you do not have a central person to respond to all incoming leads (worth considering), then who will respond to a Sales Managers leads while they are away from their desk? If a lead response target is to be met it will need all hands on deck all the time for responding to all leads.
3. How will you respond when you need more information from the client? Surely any lead that needs further qualifying should be responded to via phone call immediately to gather more information and potentially respond verbally at that point.
4. Do all leads require a response within the deadline? Maybe it is necessary at your property to exclude citywides or other very large business from the lead response target. Bear in mind that our goal here is to win the business that is likely to book with the first responder. This is typically not citywides (or weddings).
Finally – all leads and their response times should be tracked and tied to performance. I know of lots of hotels that provide incentive payments to Sales Managers (separate to their revenue goals) based on meeting established lead response targets. In my opinion a team goal is the best approach to this as it will encourage the whole team to jump in and respond to any lead to ensure the hotel is the first responder on all business.
Whatever your approach the point is that if you don’t have an aggressive lead response target in place, then you need to. Your competitors already do!
Cut out the Middle Man!
In my previous article I talked about how it in today’s business environment it is absolutely critical that you are the first responder for all incoming leads. First response equals significantly increased chance of winning the business.
In recognition of this, most hotels have written in to policy that Sales Managers must respond to all leads within a given timeframe (eg. Crowne Plaza has the 2 hour response guarantee).
It’s all well and good to require Sales Managers to respond within this timeframe, but what can frustrate this process is if there are roadblocks that hold up the lead from getting to the Sales Manager as fast as it should.
Many hotels have all leads coming through to one centralized person who then assigns them to the Sales Managers. But what happens when that person steps away from their desk? Maybe they only go to the bathroom and are gone 10 minutes, but that is a 10 minute head start just given to the completion!
Even if you have a sales admin whose primary responsibility is to assign these leads, you are still adding valuable minutes to the lead response time. Because even if they work at lightning speed they are still not faster than the lead going directly to the correct Sales Manager immediately.
In many cases that I know of, that central person is often the Director of Sales. Surely with all of their additional responsibilities this is the worst possible person. If you are Director of Sales you are the last person that would want to be holding up the lead response!
I know there is no simple answer, but the goal always needs to be to get the lead to the responder as fast as possible. MeetingBroker (yes I know I am biased!) has fabulous assignment rules that automatically send leads directly to the appropriate Sales Manager (eg. assign all leads with a Corporate market segment with more than 50 rooms on peak to John).
One other way is set up your online lead channels to send the leads directly to a Sales person rather than a lead catcher. Sites like theKnot.com are a no brainer – this site should absolutely be sending the leads directly to your Catering Sales Manager who handles the Weddings market. If 90% of your StarCite leads are for the Association market, then you may as well have them go directly to your Association Sales Manager.
One other solution that is a little more out of the box is to give the responsibility of responding to all incoming leads to one dedicated individual. I have seen this managed in a many different ways and all have worked well. One hotel group that I know of split their sales team in to two separate teams – Reactive Sales and Proactive Sales. That way the reactive sales team is entirely focused on responding to those incoming leads – which in turn means a faster response. Other properties give the responsibility for responding to all leads to one person each day and rotate the responsibility around.
One other hotel I know of has all incoming electronic leads come through to a generic email address. This email inbox is then shared (possible if you use Outlook) with all Sales Managers so everyone can see if there is a lead sitting there that needs a response.
However you achieve this will depend on your sales team dynamic, but the goal absolutely has to be on minimizing the number of people that have to handle the lead prior to its response. If you have people that are receiving leads and then passing those leads on to other people to respond then you are definitely slowing down the lead response time.
So have a look at your lead assignment process today – cut out the middle man so that your Sales Managers can receive the leads as fast as possible. One less excuse for not responding to the lead FIRST!