How to capture group demand
 
How to capture group demand
08 SEPTEMBER 2014 6:03 AM
By conducting a sales audit, hoteliers will ensure their team is doing all it can to capture more than its fair share of group business.
As explored in previous columns, an ever-increasing number of meeting planners inquire electronically by sending emails; others use electronic request-for-proposal tools such as Cvent, Zentila, Convention Planit and others. At the press of a few keys a planner can now send his or her inquiry to dozens of hotels simultaneously.
 
As a result, it is now more important than ever to stand out from the competition by sending personalized correspondence, by using descriptions that allure and entice instead of listing, and by expressing sincere interest in securing the business. Yet, another way to stand out is by responding promptly and to follow up tenaciously.  
 
Most hotel sales directors and managers I speak with seem to know and understand these principles. Yet, when I talk to those on the demand side of the sales equation, meeting planners tell me they are receiving generic, template correspondence and that if they are really interested in a particular property, it is often they who have to follow up again to finally receive a response. 
 
Sales directors who are truly committed to excellence at every step in the sales cycle know the key to success is accountability. It is not enough to have a team that understands the principles of sales excellence or to have a top-notch lead tracking system. The most important part is auditing that system to ensure the sales team is sending the right information in a timely manner and is following up relentlessly to convert more business. 
 
Being in the hotel sales mystery shopping business, I think it is important to know what is said during telephone inquiries, which is the focus of most traditional sales training. Yet, sales audits dig deeper; they allow a director to look beyond the verbal exchange between the person who makes the inquiry. Audits allow directors to instead investigate what is being seen by the decision makers (who often are not the ones who inquired) and when they are seeing it. 
 
How to conduct an audit
If you have never conducted a sales audit before, the first step is to let the sales team know in advance you will be doing so and the purpose is to evaluate the overall team’s performance for the establishment of standards and objectives. 
 
After notifying the team, randomly pull a dozen or so inquires: about half from electronic channels and half from voice. Larger offices that have an administrative assistant screening and assigning inquiries can start with that individual’s list of leads; those using automated systems can pull a report of “new opportunities.”  
 
Next, look into the lead-tracking system and review the history of each point of contact for timeliness, and review the attached emails and documents for personalization. If you do not use an automated system this will take longer; just sit with each sales manager and ask him or her to check the sent messages, call tracking sheets and documents folder for the details you are looking for. 
 
Create your own “scorecard” to use as you review these details. Here are some criteria to consider for your checklist:
 
  • Salesperson availability. Was the salesperson available on the first call?
  • Timeliness of first response. If the salesperson was not available, did he or she call back same-day (if inquiry came in before 2 p.m.) or next (if 2 p.m. or later). 
  • Lead-tracking detail. Did the salesperson take copious notes showing he or she fully investigated “the story” behind the group/function? Or if the inquiry came in electronically and did not have detailed information, did he or she respond with questions?
  • Timeliness of proposal/contract. Did the salesperson respond with a proposal and/or contract within standard time frame? (Typically one business day.) 
  • Personalization of correspondence. Was the correspondence personalized? (For example, did the correspondence include references to what was stated in the original voice or electronic inquiry? Example: “Because you mentioned your group is looking for X, you will find our hotel is excellent at providing Y.”)
  • Confirmation of receipt. Did the salesperson confirm and document receipt of the follow-up correspondence? 
  • Reinforcement follow-up. Did the salesperson follow up to express interest after the proposal was confirmed? 
  • Method of follow-up. Did they alternate between phone calls and emails? Did they follow-up at least three times unless they heard “no”? 
  • Long-term follow-up. If a sale was not secured but the prospect could potentially generate future business, was the sales lead retraced for an appropriate future follow-up action step? 
 
By conducting a sales audit based on the criteria outlined here, you will ensure your team is doing all it can to capture more than its fair share of group business by outselling the competition at every step in the sales cycle. 
 
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly.
 
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