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!
How Quickly Can You Fix a Leaky Pipe?
Are you converting all of your leads into definite business? That would be nice – but more likely you have plenty of leads that you respond to, only to never hear from them again… (If you are converting ALL your leads then I want to know what your secret is!)Remember the days when an RFP would come through on the fax machine, the lead coordinator would log the lead and then assign it to a Sales Manager who would then put together a proposal and mail it out to the prospective client? That procedure has changed somewhat with the advent of technology but the principle is still very similar (side note: if that is still your exact procedure then you definitely need to read on!!!)There is a range of mind-blowing statistics being floated around the industry but the underlying theme behind all of them is that increasingly, small to medium sized group business is booking with the first hotel to respond. Some statistics state that up to 75% of group business is booking with the first responder!Translate this to mean that quite simply if you are not the first responder then you ARE losing business!To illustrate my point let’s talk about plumbers. Imagine you leave work this afternoon and go home to find that you have a leaky pipe in your bathroom and you have water all over the floor. Your initial reaction is “I just need someone to get here fast and fix this so I can instead focus on preparing my dinner” – or something to that effect. If you are like me you are not interested in spending all night researching all the different plumbers in town – you just want someone to fix the pipe, fast! So you pick up the phone directory and call the first plumber that catches your eye. Imagine you get that plumber’s voicemail – what do you do? That’s right, you probably hang up and keep calling plumbers until you get a hold of someone who is able to come and fix the pipe at a reasonable price in a reasonable amount of time.Many groups are a lot like leaky pipes!Remember that as we have discussed before, a significant number of groups are not booked by professional meeting planners. Instead they are booked by Personal Assistants, Admin staff, Managers, Trainers etc. For these people booking groups is not their primary work responsibility. Quite simply they have other more important tasks to get back to. Just like you wanted to get the pipe fixed with the least amount of work on your part (so you can cook dinner instead) – they too want to get the group booked and that task crossed of their to-do list as quickly as possible.So as you can see if you are the first responder (with a proposal that meets their requirements) the odds are stacked heavily in your favor to win that piece of business!So what can you do to make sure you are being the first responder?
I am going to be talking about the above points in more detail in future articles – but one thing I can guarantee you is that right now there are hotels in your competitive set that ARE responding to leads faster than you. You know that lead that is sitting in your inbox? Maybe your competitors have already begun responding to that lead, whereas you chose to read this article instead – so get back to your RFP’s!!!!
- Reevaluate your lead assignment procedures. You need to look closely at your processes to see if anyone (or thing) is slowing down the lead from getting into the hands of the Sales Manager that will respond. Remove the middle-man if possible.
- Can you better utilize your existing technology to improve the lead assignment process? Will new (or additional) technology help?
- Set a response time target and then over time gradually reduce this time. Some brands already have response time targets in place, but can you do better than the brand-standard?
- How do you handle leads when the assigned Sales Manager is away from their desk? Can those leads be handled by someone else so as to ensure a faster response?
- Review your procedure for quoting rates and reviewing business. Can you set up free-sell guidelines so Sales Managers are not forced to wait for a Business Review meeting before sending a proposal?
- How do you respond to telephone leads? Is it possible to streamline your processes so that a client can actually be quoted a rate and space availability over the phone? Don’t let them hang up the phone until they have a verbal quote (just like a car salesman hates to let a potential customer leave the lot).
- Examine your proposal process. Is there a faster way for you to respond? Plenty of technologies are available to assist with this. Is a full-blown proposal necessary for all responses?
A Site Inspection without Clients
Recently I wrote about different ways to make your site inspection stand out from the pack. Certainly it is very important to be creative to ensure that your property is the one that the client remembers first when they return to their office. But what about the rest of your prospects that simply cannot get to your property for a site inspection?
In today’s economy, the number of meeting planners that actually travel to visit properties before booking is dwindling at an alarming rate. Resort locations have struggled with this for years, but now many inner-city hotels face the same dilemma. It is one of the greatest challenges that modern day hotel Sales Managers face – how to actually get the client to your property in the first place?
Many hotels rely almost exclusively on their proposals to give their clients the best idea of what their property looks like. Many hotels have added pictures and videos to their websites to give prospective clients a better feel for the property. Visually stimulating proposals and websites are an absolute must , but they certainly don’t replace the hands-on approach of a site inspection in terms of effectiveness.
So what’s the solution? Simple – go into the movie business! What do you mean you aren’t a movie producer? Anyone can be!
All you have to do is have a colleague film you doing the client’s site inspection! Next time a client tells you that they would love to come to your property for a site inspection but they simply don’t have the time or the budget tell them ‘No problem, I will film conduct the site inspection anyway and have my colleague film it for you’.
Go ahead and plan the site inspection just like any other. This means that all the normal rules of site inspections apply – ie. be creative, plan the tour, tailor it to the client, involve the team etc etc. Then enlist a colleague with a video camera to film you doing the site inspection. Obviously your client is not there, so all you need to do is pretend that the video camera is your client!
Then when you have finished you just need to email the video file to your client.
1. Don’t use the same video twice. The whole point of this is to tailor your site inspection to the client and not be generic.
2. Put the same amount of time and effort into doing your video site inspection as you would for an “in-person” site inspection. This should not be more work than a normal site, but it deserves as much effort.
3. Don’t get too hung up about the quality of the video. Remember that the whole point is to make it very clear that you understand that your client couldn’t get to the property so you produced a short video just for them.
4. Don’t try to edit the video – this will only make the client think that you have cut out the parts of the hotel you don’t want them to see. Keep filming the entire site inspection.
5. Think you don’t have access to a video camera? Think again – there is bound to be someone in your office with at least a video camera on their cell phone!
6. File too big to email? Transfer it to a memory stick and mail that to your client (a hotel branded memory stick would have an even better impact!)
7. Follow up with your client on the phone to see if they want you to film any areas in more detail. Maybe they have a question about how far the walk is between meeting rooms – go ahead and film yourself walking it!
And finally – have fun with it! Your clients will be amazed at the effort that you have gone to – when in reality you have put no more effort into the site inspection than if they had actually come to visit.
So while your competitors are complaining that they are never able to get meeting planners to their hotels for site inspections you will be able to smile knowing that EVERY meeting planner gets a site inspection at your hotel!
So get to it – try out this approach and let me know how it went!
A Pre-Con for EVERY Group
It’s standard practice within most hotels that prior to the majority of the group’s arrival at the hotel, a pre-conference meeting is held with the meeting planner (or their equivalent). Most meeting planners are used to the ritual and will readily tell you that the ritual is the same in most hotels!
For those of you not familiar with the term ‘pre-con’, it is a meeting held just prior to the group’s arrival, with the meeting planner and representatives from all hotel departments that will be involved in servicing the group. Usually this involves introductions, a review of the group resume, a run-through of the BEO’s, and then a tour of the function space.
The purpose of the pre-con is to ensure that the meeting planner has met all the key players involved in the execution of the group’s events, as well as to iron out any last minute changes and lingering questions.
The thing is though, we often reserve the pre-con meeting for large (or VIP) groups only. Why is that? Surely the concept of a pre-con should be applied to all groups? Many operations people will tell you that it’s most commonly NOT the large groups that are the problem groups, instead it is those small groups – not coincidentally, the groups that also don’t have a pre-con!
So predictably, my recommendation is a pre-con meeting for all groups. That’s right – every single group! Sounds impossible – but it’s not – I promise!
The key here is to re-examine what defines a pre-con. For many people, the concept of a pre-con means blocking a function room, setting it U-Shape, inviting every department head, ordering hot beverages etc etc etc… This concept is absolutely unnecessary for a 20 person corporate group, that doesn’t even have a professional meeting planner involved. However, the on-site contact needs the orientation to the hotel just as much as a meeting planner of a large group would. They also need a thorough review of the group resume and the BEO’s. And they most certainly need introducing to the key players involved with their group.
So the best way is to have a second style of pre-con for your hotel. Keep doing the formal pre-con exactly the way you have been, but keep that type of pre-con just for your large (or VIP) groups. Then the second type of pre-con should be your ‘Informal/Small Group’ pre-con.
For my small group pre-cons, I arrange to meet the on-site contact in the lobby, where I introduce them to the General Manager, Front Office Manager, Banquet Manager and occasionally the Chef (if their F&B is extensive). We excuse the GM once he has said his welcome, and then all go and sit in the lounge where we review the Group Resume as well as a print-out of the rooming list. If there are no questions at that point we excuse the Front Office Manager, and then we review the BEO’s. We finish the Pre-con by walking the space and making sure the client knows how to contact the key players and is familiar with where all the group’s events will be.
All-told, this small group pre-con takes no more than 15 minutes in total, but the amount of time it saves in the long run is many times that – not to mention great customer service.
So it may sound ambitious to aim to do a pre-con for every group, but it really isn’t if you re-define the term ‘pre-con’ so it is just as appropriate for smaller groups. Your clients AND your operations teams will thank you for it!
A recent discussion on the HotelSalesSuperStar LinkedIn group about the make-up of the SMERFE market (thanks Tiffany!) got me thinking more about SMERFE versus SMERF and all the different definitions…
For those of you outside North America, SMERFE is an acronym used to describe group business that does not fall into the traditional market segments of Corporate, Association, Government or Tour & Travel (no, not the little blue men). The most common definition I have seen is as follows:
· S – Sports
· M – Military
· E – Education
· R – Religious
· F – Fraternal
· E – Ethnic
Some hotels will switch out the S for Social, other will replace one of the E’s for Entertainment – that’s ok, its up to each hotel to define their own market segments. Essentially the meaning behind SMERFE is the same – what Sports, Military, Education, Religious etc all have in common is that they are groups where it is highly likely that the attendees are paying for themselves and are attending outside of their regular work hours. In other words, being part of this group is not their job. This is a big generalization, but SMERFE groups are usually the most rate sensitive which is why we look to often use groups as ‘fillers’ during time periods where we would otherwise be slow. This often works out well as the dates and times that a SMERFE group is looking for is often the opposite of when your Corporate groups are looking for.
The point that I am getting to, is to not lose sight of the fact that what truly defines SMERFE is far more than just an acronym. If your hotel merely uses an acronym to define what SMERFE is then you are bound to have some conflict at some point in the future.
Think not? Consider this.
Military is the M in SMERFE, but isn’t the Military part of the Government, so shouldn’t that go to the Government market instead? What about a Teachers Association – that’s Education so is it SMERFE or is it the Association market? What about a training company – is that Education or Corporate? What about a State College – they are Education, but if they are owned by the State aren’t they Government? If S stands for Social does a Corporate Holiday Party count as SMERFE? If S stands for Sports then a visiting school’s football team counts, but what about a professional football team – aren’t they a business, therefore Corporate?
There is no faster way of ruining the morale of a Sales team than by having unnecessary conflict over which Sales Manager the lead goes to. Understandably so, we are talking about people’s numbers, therefore goals, therefore potential bonuses here. We have all seen a Sales Manager who is struggling to make their numbers (for whatever reason) who is then grasping at straws trying to claim every incoming lead as their own.
For this very reason it is so important that hotel sales teams clearly define SMERFE -and all market segments for that matter. Don’t assume that everyone on your team knows what your hotel’s definition is, as every hotel’s definition varies ever so slightly. Directors of Sales – don’t leave yourself open to accusations of preferential treatment by always being the adjudicator where there is questions over who the lead goes to.
My recommendation – take the time to sit down with your Sales team and put together a document that clearly details exactly what type of accounts fall under each market segment. In an economy like this it is especially important and will only help in harmonizing your sales department.
As Papa Smurf said: ‘Enough fighting! Lets all have a Smurfy day!’
It may be Friday afternoon – but before you head home…
I know everyone is just itching for the weekend and Sales people are just about headed for the door, but consider this before you shut down your computer and head to happy hour.
How many of your top clients have you spoken with this week?
The week may be almost over, but surely there is time left to make 2 or 3 more calls. Go ahead, just pick up the phone and call 3 of your top clients that you didn’t get a chance to speak with this week. If you didn’t speak to them, there is a good chance that one of your competitors did, so don’t let them start poaching that top producer from you.
Pick up the phone – end the week on a high note (and then head to happy hour)!!!
Ok admit it, for a long time now we have all felt a tad uncomfortable knowing that for many of us, our hotels have been collecting a service charge on catering and not distributing the entire amount to our banquet service staff in the way that our clients are expecting… Yes it feels wrong but we tend to just pretend we don’t know about it right?! For those of you unaware of what I am referring to, let me explain…
Typically catering charges will accrue a ‘Service Charge’ for all Food and Beverage. Some hotels will also apply this charge to Audio Visual and Room Rental charges. Many years ago this amount used to be 15% but over the past decade or so it has crept up significantly - the going rate for service charges in the United States seems to be somewhere between 18-22%.
Traditionally, the entire service charge on a banquet check was considered to be the ‘gratuity’ and was distributed amongst the banquet wait-staff. However as hotels have increased the service charges, most have not increased the allotment that is distributed to the banquet team as their gratuity.
This in and of itself does not seem like such a big deal. Surely a hotel should be allowed to increase service fees at its own choice – and whether it chooses to pass on increased profits to its employees in the form of raises is also a decision for an employer to make.
But the area that makes many of us nervous is the knowledge that our customers are concluding that the service charge goes to the wait-staff in its entirety. Ask any of your meeting planners, brides or any other clients what they are expecting will happen with the 22% Service Charge they are paying and I bet you that almost all of them will tell you that they are expecting that it will go to the banquet servers as a gratuity. Heck, ask the rest of your catering and sales colleagues and most of them probably don’t know that the entire 22% isn’t going to the banquet servers!
So the issue here is with disclosure. Our clients have a right to know that the ‘Service Charge’ that they are paying is only part gratuity. They deserve to know what percentage gratuity they are actually paying to the servers. If your customers know that they are only paying a 15% gratuity to the banquet servers then they can elect to pay more if they feel the service warranted it.
For this reason, I personally believe that BEO’s should all state what the breakdown is for the service charge. It’s just a simple change required in the header of a BEO, and possibly also in the verbiage used in contracts. This has also been the advice recently given to a lot of large hotel groups recently but legal counsel – but I am no lawyer, I just believe it is ethical to give full disclosure…
And for those of you who think that this is something that you can just brush off, I suggest you do a Google search for ‘Banquet Service Charge Lawsuits’ and take a look at the court cases that are springing up all over the country regarding this very issue. I am not going to name names, but there are some pretty famous hotels in New York, Boston and Hawaii currently facing the threat of class action lawsuits over this very issue.
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It’s a phrase that one of my first bosses used to say to me and it’s forever stuck in my head – and I think it’s a wonderful approach to take in life in general. Think about how it applies to our sales and catering world..
Many times we become hung up on the little things in our day-to-day work that frustrate us or impede our performance. But how often do we actually sit do and determine a solution? It really is so much easier (and quicker) to just complain to colleagues about a problem than it is to fix it.
The speed of printing banquet event orders has been a major issue for my catering team. For some technical reason which I am unable to fathom, printing (or emailing) more than 5 BEO’s at once seems to take a long time at my hotel, with the worst part being that it locks up our computers through the printing process. The IT team is involved and is ‘working on it’, but in the meantime everyone has been losing productivity and complaining.
The problem is that everyone has just been focused on one solution – and that is that IT will fix our computers ASAP and return the printing speed to an acceptable level. While waiting for the solution everyone complains and the printing issue is now the go-to excuse for any other task not being completed! Sound familiar?
So it was time for us to do a reality check. The reality is that the printing problem is a problem that is not going away for us right this moment so it was time for us to deal with it and find an alternative solution.
“Oh but finding an alternative solution is so much harder than just complaining – can’t I just continue to complain instead?”
The solution in our case was pretty easy. We located a workstation that was not being used each day (as there is pretty much always someone out of the office on sales calls) and made that the printing/emailing BEOs workstation. So until IT gets our problem fixed, whenever we want to print BEOs we go to the other workstation and start the print job and then head back to our normal workstations. Is the solution ideal? No. But is the solution better than sitting and staring at a frozen PC for 5-10 minutes? Absolutely!
I know this seems pretty basic but the point is simple. Instead of focusing on the problem all the time, we should be focusing on ALL the possible solutions. We ask this of our clients all the time when we ask them to shift their dates, move function rooms etc so we need to use our collective minds a little more and focus on solutions – not problems!
I think it’s fairly safe to say that typing up Banquet Event Orders is probably the single most time consuming task for any Catering Sales Manager, Convention Services Manager etc. After years of doing the job, many of us have our little routine and believe that we are fast as possible in doing the BEO’s, but I think it’s worth revisiting processes every now and then to see if there really is an easier way…
Are you copying old BEO’s as much as you could?
We all love repeat bookings because (among many other sales reasons) they offer the opportunity to copy last time’s BEO’s. Crafty meeting planners often suggest copying last year’s BEO’s because they know that there is an increased chance that when we do this that we will forget to change the menu prices on the BEO – which probably have gone up since last year’s event! So a little piece of advice – ALWAYS print up a copy of any BEO you are sending to your client and look it over before you email it out. You are far more likely to catch any errors that way. I personally prefer the method of having a buddy in the office that you swap BEO’s with before sending to your clients as it’s much easier to catch other people’s mistakes. Its one thing to leave the flip chart off of the BEO, but it’s another thing altogether to charge last year’s prices for the coffee!
Ok, so repeat bookings are the obvious chance for saving time through copying BEO’s. But have you ever considered creating template bookings in your system with template BEO’s purely for the purpose of copying to new events?
Think about how many of your events end up looking so similar to each other. Consider weddings. A wedding BEO is probably the most detailed BEO that is prepared, yet most wedding BEOs contain pretty much the same information. I suggest creating a template Wedding booking, with a template Wedding BEO. Spend quite a lot of time putting this template wedding BEO together as its going to become your standard for all future weddings. So put insert all your standard setup information, and include items like ‘Flowers being provided by:…’ and ‘Napkin Fold:..’ – leaving space to fill in the blanks when you are working on a specific wedding. From this point forward, for every new wedding you work with the first thing you will do is copy over the template BEO and from then just filling in all the blank spaces.
Once you have copied over the template BEO to the wedding you are working on you can print it up and take it to your meetings/tastings with the Bride so that it’s a pretty easy worksheet/checklist. Never again will you leave your menu tasting and realize that you forgot to ask the bride which color table linens she wants!
The other advantage for using a template BEO for weddings is that it creates consistency for all future weddings. Obviously consistency makes it much easier for the Banquets team.
Now think about what other events you could create template BEOs for. If you do a lot of day meetings that are set u-shape, with a projector, water station, AM and PM breaks etc – then go ahead and create a template BEO for day meetings. Same would apply for Bar mitzvahs, Breakout meetings, Holiday Parties – any area that you see a trend.
So let’s be clear – a template BEO:
· Saves time
· Creates consistency
· Decreases the likelihood that you will forget something
· Makes it easier to provide more detail
Seems like a no-brainer right?!