Our fearless sales manager out protecting their castle
I know every person reading the title to this article will adamantly deny that they would ever take their top accounts for granted – but from time to time its worth reassessing just how well you treat those top accounts. We spend a lot of time in our business focusing on getting new business. Getting new business is really another way of saying “Steal someone else’s business” – right?! So every time that we score a new account someone else has managed to lose an account.
So how did they lose that account? As much as you would like to believe that it was entirely because of your superior sales skills – part of the reason they lost that account was because of bad account management. So how do you avoid losing accounts while you are out on the road trying to find new accounts?
For starters there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for a sales person to not be able to list their top 20 accounts. Yes that should go without saying… But where do you list those top 20 accounts? I know it sounds old-school but right above your phone in your office you should have a simple list of those top 20 accounts. The theory goes that if you have to look at that list every time you pick up the phone, then you are far more likely to pick up call those accounts to check-in more often.
Secondly, its not good enough just to have your one contact at that organization. You need to know EVERYONE there! Imagine your client wins the lottery tomorrow – suddenly you don’t know a soul at your top account! Next time you are over at their office, have your contact introduce you to everyone else over there. Make sure they all give you a business card. Now you have a whole bunch of other people to call on a regular basis.
Thirdly, you must entertain – and entertain often! Whenever you can, have these top accounts over for breakfast/lunch/cocktails/dinner at the hotel. This can be a whole lot easier when you have multiple contacts at the same organization. Remember that people in most other industries are shy when compared to us rowdy hotel people so being invited to lunch can be scary for them. At least when they get to come with other colleagues they won’t feel so intimidated!
Sometimes it can feel like you are pulling teeth getting your clients to come visit for lunch. So instead take lunch to them! I personally find this to be much more effective – and then you get to meet lots of other people in their office too.
So now that you are seeing and talking to these contacts on a regular basis make sure that you are asking them the tough questions:
· “How is my hotel treating your people?”
· “What can my hotel do better?”
You absolutely need to build the level of trust with your top clients so that you can be assured that you will find out if anything is wrong – BEFORE one of those other HotelSalesSuperStars swoops in to steal your account.
Imagine your top account as being a castle. You need to be patrolling that castle like a guard all the time – this means lots of phone calls and visits. You also need to be fortifying your castle from any damage so that it doesn’t spread – this means being available to solve problems as soon as they happen. And finally protect the castle princess (every account has one) – she (or he) needs to feel valued – pamper them!
Chances are that you probably ended up reading this article because of an update on facebook or twitter. Clearly these social media are a very quick and easy way of communicating to the masses. So are you using these media to help with hotel sales?
If you have not already done so, you must go ahead and create a facebook page for your hotel. Twitter as well. Facebook is my preference as it allows for greater communication with your ‘fans’. Make sure you send invitations to all your top transient guests, travel agents and meeting planners. These are the same people that you make consistent telephone calls to touch base with – so facebook updates can further facilitate this.
Furthermore, and most importantly, having your top clients being fans of your hotel via facebook helps further define their relationship with your hotel. This way they begin to see your hotel as more than just a venue for meetings or accommodations, but rather a business that they have a valued connection to.
Make sure that you send update to all your ‘fans’, but make sure your updates contain useful information. Information that will help to further strengthen the already-discussed relationship. This is also a great way to let meeting planners know about promotions and ‘hot dates’.
Now for this to happen you will probably need to point your IT department to this article so that they can unblock your access to facebook as they most probably already have done so!
Finally – there is a good chance that your clients will start sending you friend requests (i.e. to your personal facebook account). When this happens you need to categorize those ‘friends’ into a ‘clients’ category. Then go into your privacy settings and lock down the access to your profile that your clients have. This way you do not offend them by declining their friend request, but you are restricting what they can see. Personally I restrict access to my Wall and Photos.
In some respects getting a signed contract can turn out to be a piece of cake when compared to getting the details you need for the Banquet Event Orders or the Group Resume – right? At least that has been my experience. It often seems that meeting planners are so eager to secure the space but then drop off of the face of the planet when we need their menu choices! At least that used to be my take on it.
When was the last time you met a Professional Meeting Planner? The sad reality seems to be that they are a dying breed for all but that largest of conferences and conventions. Businesses across the country have eliminated the expense of using a meeting planner and now instead the job is handled by someone’s personal assistant.
So imagine for a moment that you are the Personal Assistant to the CEO and you are now suddenly in charge of planning a meeting. For many of these individuals this is unchartered territory. So now imagine 3-4 weeks prior to your group’s arrival date and just after submitting your rooming list, you receive a phone call from the hotel requesting your menu choices, AV requirements, instructions for how you want the room set up etc etc… If you have never done this before that is a pretty overwhelming request!
Keep this in mind next time you book a piece of business or receive the turnover. If you are the Catering person responsible for this group you need to do a little more than just make your introductory call. When you make the intro call it’s a good idea to give the contact a bit of an idea of the sort of information you are going to need from them, and give them dates as to when you will need that information. It’s often also a good idea to agree to a time and date for your detail/planning call.
Then follow up that call with an email. You should include a reminder about the date/time of the detail call as well as a detailed timeline for the planning of the group. This really helps the contact be prepared for each stage of the planning process.
Then trace yourself to send a follow up email a week prior to the detail call – in this email give detailed examples of the sort of information you will be seeking during the detail call. Naturally this is a good time to include menus if they do not already have them.
Not only will this make the planning call go more smoothly – but I guarantee it will reduce the number of revised BEO’s caused by clients realizing that they had made incorrect choices during the planning call as a result of being caught off-guard!
The point I am making here is that you really have to guide your contacts through the planning process. Tell them what you are going to need from them with plenty of notice. Your BEO’s will be ready well inadvance of distribution day, your blood pressure will go down, and your clients will love you for the guidance!
Now if we could just train our clients to give us their guarantees…. LOL
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Ok as kids I know we dreaded having to wear the hand-me-down clothes from older siblings! But we are in a recession here so hand-me-downs are a reality right?!
But this is not a blog about being frugal with clothing – this is about sales! So are you wearing Hand-Me-Downs when it comes to Sales???
I am talking about hand-me-down leads. You know – the leads that your competitors receive that they are unable to accommodate because they are already sold out (and this client is not flexible with their dates). Now your competitor could just respond to their customer and tell them they are sold out – OR they could refer them across the street to you!
So why on earth would your competitor want to help you out you may ask?
Well the first reason they may want to help you out is because you have managed to build a friendly relationship with them. Secondly, because they stand to lose nothing as they are already sold out. And finally (and this is most important), because they know that you will do the same thing in return for them.
The easiest way to start this is to tell them that from here on in you will be referring your leads that you can’t take. Find out from them which is the best way for you to forward those leads – is it via fax/email etc.
I personally think that if the property really is right next door or across the street then you should make a trip over to see them once or twice a week and take those unwanted leads with you to hand-deliver in person. What a way to build a relationship.
I promise you that you will start seeing leads flowing back your direction in no time.
Also worth thinking about – why not provide an incentive to the Sales Managers at your competition? Meal Vouchers, Commission payments, Drinks at the bar all provide the right incentive…
I know the promise of a free drink is all it takes to convince me to pass my unwanted leads over to my competitors!!!
I know this really sounds basic common sense (it is) but come on people just answer your phone!
Think of the number of times you have pulled out the Yellow Pages to call for a tradesperson of some sort. What do you do when you call the first number and you get their voicemail? That's right - you hang up and call the next one. GUESS WHAT? Thats exactly what your clients do too!
An incoming phone call is the easiest potential piece of business that you can have. They are calling you to book - how else can they do this if you don't answer your phone?! So for those of you that are so 'busy' that you have to put your phone on voicemail - well all I can say is you may as well just forward all your calls to me as I am quite happy to take your business!
I personally think there is never an acceptable reason for a customer to be sent to a sales person's voicemail - unless the sales person is already on the phone or it is outside of normal business hours.
If a client does get your voicemail, your voicemail message should absolutely include an option to press # and an extension to be transferred to someone else in your sales office that can help. Your voicemail greeting should be brief and really encourage the customer to press the number to be transferred to the person that is eager to assist them.
If you are headed out of the office to an appointment your phone should be forwarded to a colleague to handle any incoming inquiries while you are out (which of course you will do in return when they are out). Same goes if you are out on vacation or sick days - forward your calls to a colleague - that way you might actually have some prospects waiting for you when you return to the office! This really has to be a team effort. Everyone in your office has to be prepared to answer anyone else's phone if they hear it ringing.
Also, enough with this 3 rings crap! I know, certain hotel management companies mandate that per their standard all calls have to be answered within three rings blah blah. Problem with this is that to satisfy that standard, the hotels set their voicemail to answer the call after 3 rings. Change this right now - if your voicemail is picking up after three rings speak to your phone tech to change it to 7 rings. Yes you should always try to answer within 3 rings, but opening up this window a little further will at least give your colleagues a chance to answer the call if you can't.
Remember a miss call usually equals missed business.
Are you lucky enough to work at a hotel that forks out money for your competitor's readerboard information? Or do you have to actually go and stake at competitor hotels to know whats going on there? Or do you do neither?
I am lucky - like many of you I work at a hotel that purchases the readerboard report on a weekly basis. Now I know many of my colleagues moan and complain when that report comes in as they know our DOS is expecting us to call on those groups - but that is exactly why I love it!
This is the easiset way for you to steal another hotel's potential repeat business. But the key is you have to call NOW! That's right as soon as you get the report. You want to be able to seize upon the chance that they had a bad experience or their bill is a mess. There is a good chance that they are also getting all sorts of feedback from their group at this time too...
Calling a competitor's group right after they have departed is really the best time to start stealing them away. There is a very good chance that they have not signed a contract for next year at this time.
After I have introduced myself I usually tell the meeting planner that I was over at the XYZ hotel last week when they were there and that I noticed their group was meeting there. I then ask them how it was and start probing. From there its just standard sales stuff, but the key is using the fact that you know that they were at the XYZ hotel as your basis for starting a conversation.
Obviously make sure you are well aware of that hotel's strengths and weaknesses - but you already know these - right???? ;-)
I also go and create a Turn Down booking in my sales system for the dates that they had met so that I have a record of business we missed out on.
Can you honestly say that you are calling on every booking showing up on your readerboard report? You can bet your competitors are going through their readerboard report and calling on your groups!!!
So we all know from experience that getting every banquet check signed is not quite as easy as it sounds - or so we are told.... You know the excuses - 'the on-site contact left early', 'the event finished early and left without saying goodbye', 'we couldn't get the printer to work', 'the dog ate my homework' etc etc.
The debate over how to get the banquet check signed rages on in every hotel all over the world. Its a hot-button issue because revenue is at stake here. We all feel passionately about this as it is our numbers that we are talking about here!!!
So let's assume that your Banquet team bears the responsibility for getting the banquet check signed at the conclusion of each event. While it isn't your responsibility as a Catering Manager - maybe you can provide them with some guidance to getting it done... (its in your best interests after all - as we know for sure that the banquet check that is not signed is the same one that is challenged by the client once they get their final bill...)
Some pointers for Banquets:
1. At the beginning of the event when you introduce yourself to the on-site contact feel comfortable in advising them that you will need the banquet check signed at the end of their event. Ask if they are going to be the person to sign it. If they are not, make sure you are introduced at that point to the person that will be signing it so that they know they have to see you before they leave. Make sure they know your name and how to find you in case the event finishes early.
2. Always print up all the banquet checks for the day at the beginning of your shift. During your shift hand-write any changes on the banquet check (changes in quantities, added items). This way if the event finishes early and they are all in a hurry to leave you have a copy for the client to sign - and initial any handwritten changes.
As a Catering Manager you can also make the process easier on Banquets by providing a copy of the Banquet Check to your clients in advance as a Cost Estimate - because as we know our clients rarely understand the impact that the tax and service charges are going to have on the bill!
And finally here is a concept worth considering:
I know of a hotel that gets 100% of their Banquet Checks signed. As a result Accounting never has to adjust off catering revenue and the Catering Managers never miss out on revenue towards their goals. Their Banquet team literally gets every banquet check signed at the end of every event. How do they do it you ask?
EASY! They provide an incentive to the Banquet Captains! That particular hotel gives their two Banquet Captains each a $5 Starbucks gift card each month that together they get every banquet check signed.
Worth considering hey?!
You know the leads - we all get them.... The leads that you take one look at and know immediately that it’s not the right lead for your hotel. Often they are CVB leads, many times they are from websites like StarCite. Maybe they are asking for dates that you don't have available. Maybe they are asking for rates well below what you can quote. Maybe they are asking for ocean views when you are landlocked...
We all get these leads - so what to do with them? I know of plenty of Sales Managers that send those 'Immediate Turn-Downs' straight to the trash. As far as I am concerned let them keep doing that!
My first opinion on this matter is that EVERY lead should be responded to. Sure, responding takes time and may seem like a pointless exercise when you are unable to quote what the client is looking for. But how do you know their dates aren't flexible unless you ask? How do you know that they aren't willing to adjust their program to meet your hotel specifications? And here is the big one: HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY DON'T HAVE OTHER POTENTIAL BOOKINGS UP THEIR SLEEVE? The key here is you have to respond to every lead. Maybe it’s just a phone call or email, or maybe it’s a full proposal. I personally think a phone call or email is the best approach so that at least you get your hotel's name in front of the client.
I also just think it is polite to respond to every lead. Even if it is to an organization that shows absolutely no potential at all to book business with you, it is just good PR to always respond. Seems silly to have to say this, but there are a lot of sales people out there that are only responding to the leads they want... Now I just think that is RUDE!
Ponder this - that lead may not seem worth responding to, but how do you know that the meeting planner hasn't just gotten engaged? Any contact has potential for business of some sort....
So now onto the contentious issue of logging those automatic turn-downs....
My fellow sales colleagues HATE this part of their job. Believe it or not, there are some hotels out there that do not log their Turn Downs at all... I bet they wish they had now that they economy has taken a nosedive!!!
Sales people hate this because it gets us no closer to making our numbers for this quarter. But I tell you what - if you do get into the habit of doing this, it will absolutely pay off in the long-run. You absolutely should create a prospect booking (which you then Turn Down) for every lead that comes in. At a bare minimum that booking should have the arrival and departure dates, room block requirements, the rate they requested (or in the absence of that, the rate you would have quoted had you had availability), major events with average check revenue, contact details and the lost business reason.
You need all this information for the following year. If the reason you turned down the business was because you were already sold out then you need this information so that you can have an idea whether the lost business would have been better for your hotel than the business you originally booked. That being the case, now you have an opportunity to call on those bookings next year and book them before someone else re-books the crappy group!!!
Logging lost business is also the best way of showing the business you could have booked if it weren't for XYZ reason. I know I sure want this as backup for the months I don't make my numbers (which for the record is VERY rare!). It’s also the best way for you to force the change that you need to book more. For example if you keep turning down leads because your hotel doesn't have enough Double Double guestrooms, make sure that is a Lost Business Reason in your sales system, so that then you can put that is the reason you are turning down the business. Then over a year, you will be able to run a report showing how much business was lost because you don't have enough Double Doubles. No hotel owner will just fork over money to switch King bedded rooms with Double Doubles - but when they can see how much extra revenue you can bring in once the switch is made then they are more inclined to spend that money - which in turn helps you make your numbers - and make bonus!!!
I guess it all just requires thinking longer term than just this quarter...