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!