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Jump Start Your Group Business for 2013
By Brenda Fields
As 2012 comes to an end, it is an opportune time to evaluate what worked and what didn't work, and incorporate those initiatives and practices to ensure the foundation for financial success. A smart and honest assessment and evaluation coupled with timely implementation, will place owners and managers in a stronger position to withstand economic uncertainties or situations that occur over which they have no control.
Properties that relied on group business were at a particular disadvantage in 2012 due to world wide economic conditions and, in the US, a "wait and see" attitude, until after the Presidential election in November.
The application of social media, mobile marketing, and technology, in all of their forms, has, in many cases, diverted attention from direct sales and its value. Direct sales is typically the most controllable and quantifiable part of a marketing plan. When structured and implemented effectively, direct sales can achieve the best ROI, even when the cost can account for 50% of the entire marketing budget. Social media metrics are based on soft indicators such as the number of impressions or the number of "likes", whereas, direct sales metrics are based on revenues, rates, and/or roomnights and are probably much more meaningful to a business.
Establish a Strategic Plan:
It is tempting to jump on every new social media platform with little, if any, understanding of the platform and who it actually reaches. More often than not, a lot of time and energy is spent with little return. But a well-founded plan is the key to staying true to the property's position, thereby ensuring that every initiative is well thought out and is quantifiable. It is the foundation from which all actions stem. The position determines what services and amenities are offered; to which type of business the property caters; and pricing. With the positioning in place, it is important to determine the most realistic mix of business on any given day, for a year out, as the patterns and demand for business change daily based on season, day of the week, holidays, and local factors. That level of detail will provide the basis of the sales plan and it will provide the basis for which market segments and the volume the sales department solicits, at what rates, and will identify rate opportunities and need periods.
Depending on the property, it may be wise to segment group business into all the various sub-markets i.e. corporate, association, SMERF, leisure, weddings, etc. The key to success is the understanding of each segments' demand periods and plan your budgets and goals accordingly. Otherwise, a "first come first served" approach to booking business will invariably displace revenues that cannot be offset with future bookings. Taking the time to quantify the business on a daily basis allows for well-founded goals for the sales team and for the individual sales manager and keeps the focus tight.
Stay True to Your Target Market(s):
One of the first steps of the strategic plan is one of the most basic. That is, identify your target audiences. Without that focus and understanding, it will be tempting to waste valuable resources on the latest tool or to just follow the competition. For example, wedding parties and corporate groups have different needs and different expectations in choosing a venue. A property can certainly cater to multiple markets, but having a clear understanding of those specific customer needs and a clear understanding as to how to reach them will result in a better ROI.
Once you drill down to what will really drive the targeted group business, look at what the actual customer/meeting planner or decision maker will require in making a decision. Did Tweeter feeds or Facebook "likes" generate group business? Many properties are spending countless resources to develop an avenue that does not generate group business and have overlooked smart uses of technology and resources. Does your website have "user-friendly" information that is clear, concise, and downloadable for each type of targeted customer? Is the group contract tailored to the group and sent in a timely manner? Do you offer amenities that the target market wants and needs? Free Wi-Fi in the meeting room may be more important to the corporate group than an iPad in the guest room for reaching the hotel concierge. But a bride may prefer a massage to free Wi-Fi. Identifying those needs, tailoring it to the target markets, and marketing it to those customers is key to winning those clients.
Most meeting planners and clients will still want to "see it, feel it, and touch it", regardless of how well organized the website is or how user-friendly it. Personal interaction is key to the sales process and is the primary component to make the sell. Not every need or every concern can be listed by a client in an RFP. It is the skillful approach by the sales person that will uncover those issues and resolve any concerns, resulting in booked business.
Many times, the sales person or sales leader is at a loss as to find new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect through cold calling. Company directories rarely exist for external use and unsolicited emails many times, end up in the spam file. But there is business to be uncovered and the smart leaders will take the right steps to ensure that their sales people can uncover group leads. Some tips are:
Take Stock of your Property and your Competitors:
Unfortunately, it is far too common that an established sales person has never been to a competitive property. Without that first hand knowledge, it is impossible to sell effectively if a customer is shopping your property as well as your competition. Information gained by a personal visit cannot be duplicated by a visit to a web site or an internet search. A thorough understanding of the competitors' properties, as well as the sales person's property, creates a position of strength for the sales person in negotiating rates or conditions of booking. A personal visit will enlighten the sales person on all the soft elements in a property. How was the person greeted? Were the public spaces clean? Did the staff appear professional and well groomed? Were the meeting room walls in good repair or in need of painting? That level of detail, combined with an honest assessment of his/her own property and good sales skills, will place the sales person in a better position to book the best business at the best rate.
Develop a Staff with Excellent Sales Skills:
Lastly, although the sales and marketing landscape has changed over the years, sales expertise is still critical for success. Owners and managers may find that the sales force books business at rates that are below the budget; or book business that unduly burdens operations and at high costs; or looses business to a less desirable competitor. But have steps been taken to arm the sales department with skills that will allow them to deal in a competitive booking environment?
It is the skilled and professional sales person that will develop loyalty and inspire confidence with clients, despite product deficiencies or outside factors over which the property has no control.
It is the excellent sales skills that will convert leads or inquiries to actual business and also excellent sales skills that will produce the highest revenues. How much revenues are left on the table just because the sales person does not possess the product knowledge or great sales skills to sell at a higher rate? It is the most successful sales person who has a good understanding of the hotel as a business. What does a 6:00pm group check out mean to the over-all business? It typically means that expenses are significantly increased to cover the additional labor costs required to clean those rooms long after the housekeeping staff has left. Armed with those sets of skills, the sales person is fully prepared to negotiate in the best interest of the hotel while simultaneously ensuring that the client's needs are fully met. That winning formula will help foster client loyalty and will help minimize any issues that may have come up during the client's stay.
So rather than follow the pack, the successful owner/manager will take charge and ensure that they customize expert plans and develop skilled sales people who can impact business regardless of market conditions and who enjoy the challenge! Let's enter 2013 with a new passion.
Brenda Fields is a marketing specialist in the lodging industry. Her experience includes senior marketing management positions in luxury, boutique, convention hotels, and conference centers.
Representing a "who's who" roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and innovators, from hotelier Ian Schrager and NYC real estate developer Harry Macklowe, to global brands including such as Starwood Lodging Corporation. In addition to major hospitality brands, Brenda's consulting practice includes a wide range of independent properties around the country, such as The Kitano Hotel, New York; Woodlands Resort and Inn, Summerville, South Carolina; Bel Age Hotel, Los Angeles, CA; Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA, and more. Brenda brings a hands-on approach to problem solving along with her three-decade long record of results as both a consultant and in corporate marketing to each challenge. She has honed a reputation for helping owners and operators achieve target revenues through development and execution of cost effective, workable strategic plans that maximize profits and build stronger, sustainable brands.
Brenda is Past President of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Chapter in NYC; served on the Americas Board for HSMAI, and was named one of "The Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing" by HSMAI". Brenda is an industry speaker and author and serves on the Editorial Board of Hotel Executive.com, is a regular contributing editor to international publications.
About Brenda Fields
From small boutique hotels to large convention properties, Brenda has created and implemented highly successful sales, marketing, and revenue management programs that enable owners to achieve target results despite market conditions.
With a "who's who" roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and real estate investment companies including Starwood Lodging Corporation, Vornado Realty Trust and Planet Hollywood, Choice Hotels International, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Olympus Real Estate Corporate, among others.
Brenda is a member of the invitation-only International Society of Hospitality consultants (ISHC); named "Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing, by HSMAI, served on the Americas Board of Directors for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, served as President of the Greater NY Chapter of HSMAI, and has written numerous articles for the industry.
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