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!
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!
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!!!