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Getting connected…

Black Rotary Phone
Talking on the phone for a living is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sure it sounds easy, just about anyone can pick up the phone. But how do they sound? Would you be nervous? Would you get tongue tied?

It’s true I have a call outline for every project I work on. But you can’t follow a script when you’re talking to real people.

What happens if the contact asks a question that isn’t rehearsed? And if I wrote something that sounds natural coming out of my mouth that doesn’t mean that ten other people could say it fluidly. That’s why I like a call outline that gives me the flexibility to make it my own.

But my job is more than that. I have to be able to pick out the most important things while weeding out the extra bits. I have to be able to jump from one line of questioning to another because that’s just how the conversation makes sense. And I have to make it sound like I’m not checking off boxes as I ask each question.

Not only do I have to connect with the contact, but with the person they are. Rapport is a big part of what I do every day. Sometimes you connect through humour other times it might be empathizing with a struggle the planner is having, which in turn could give you an opportunity to help them.

You have to be good at dealing with all types of personalities and knowing the differences between them. For example if you’re speaking with someone who is very laid back and has a lot of time to go into detail, you have to be ready to take the time. On the other hand if you’re speaking to someone who is reluctant, you have to be accepting of that and help them to elaborate in a way that isn’t offensive.

Something I like to do is research each project I’m working on to have a better understanding of what I’m promoting. This makes it easier for me to speak comfortably on the phone. But at the same time I have to be willing to admit my shortcomings and know when to say, “I just don’t know, but let me find out and get back to you with that answer.”

The important thing to remember is; you’re not just talking on the phone. You’re building relationships.

Strategies for Doing Business in a Challenging Marketplace

MPI Convivium Round Table
Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop at Convivium 2010, the biennial conference of the Montréal-Québec Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI).  The learning objectives of the sessions were to share market research, brainstorm and exchange field-tested advice and start participants on their own business growth action plan.

The session was attended by a total of 24 MPI members and guests.  The first order of business was a group discussion of the factors that have changed the meetings industry marketplace in the last two years.  The recession and the price/value consciousness of customers were of course at the top of everybody's list.  Other reported factors were not necessarily related to the economy.  These included:
  • Airport security concerns & passport requirements
  • Short-term group bookings
  • Smaller meetings: less revenue, same work
  • Doing the same/more with fewer resources
  • The impact of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Virtual meetings (Go to Meeting, etc.)
  • The "Expedia Effect": planners & attendees expecting same/lower rates than online, not understanding yield management
  • Access to information/customers being better informed
  • Planners' service expectations: there are no second chance
  • Planners' increased demands for concessions and contract flexibility
  • The need for relationship building with customers
  • Strategic Meeting Management (SMM)
We also discussed three main research papers of major consumer trends:
The discussion then turned to how changing trends and adverse market conditions should spur innovation.  Participants were challenged to brainstorm and come up with tactics that they could implement in their own business.  I shared 10 of the most effective tactics we have used at Greenfield to grow our business and our clients' business:
  1. Web presence not an option: with customers looking for more and better information online, businesses must invest in their online presence through Search Engine Optimization and client-focused content.
  2. Work your existing clients:  since tougher times make clients less inclined to try new suppliers, make sure you make the most of your existing customer base.  Ask for referrals and use client testimonials to build trust with new customers.
  3. Go out & network: rise to the challenge and go see customers in person!
  4. Build your social media profile: this tactic is especially important for sales reps within larger chains who do not have any say in their company's web content.  Build your professional exposure with a 100% complete LinkedIn profile!
  5. Offer value upfront: in this age of open source, rise above being "just a supplier" by providing customers with advice on how to do their job better.  They will love you for it!
  6. Know your numbers & get a coach: professional athletes and many entertainers have coaches and people to help them improve their performance.  My coach is Colleen Francis of Engage Selling.  She's held me accountable with my annual sales goal, breaking it down to "chewable chunks".  In my opinion, all salespeople should have a coach!
  7. Communicate every 30 days: another one of my coach's valuable advice.  If you don't communicate with your customers at least once ever month, you risk losing a minimum 10% of their awareness of your hotel/service.  The key is to vary the ways you touch customers each month.  A phone call, a personal note, a visit to their office, an email newsletter, an invitation to an event... Be creative!
  8. Create alliances:  participants at this session agreed readily that alliances should be forged not only with people who can refer you business, but even competitors.  One independent hotel sales rep mentioned how he has landed business by reaching out to his larger chain competitor around the corner.  And how else do you create alliances except by networking?  (see #2)
  9. Show gratitude: we can never do it enough.  Say thank you in a personal way.  Not by email.  Express yourself with a hand-written note, preferably on nice stationery or blank card.  You don't have to splurge for a gift, but if the matter was considerable, then by all means send flowers, chocolates or other choice item.  Just make sure the person is allowed to accept a gift, and that it is as personal as possible.
  10. Avoid the feast or famine cycle: prospect all the time!  I'm a living example of this practice.  Ensure you grow your business by keeping your funnel as full as possible.  This also helps when a client cancels unexpectedly or tries to negotiate a little too aggressively.
This was my first Convivium, and the first MPI Montreal event I had attended in quite some time.  I enjoyed myself so much that I need to reconnect with my new colleagues soon!

Objections? Overruled!

Overruling Objections
Can we possibly anticipate every objection? No, we can’t, but we can at least be prepared. Start with what you know. I ask myself “What would I object to?”  By being able to answer my own questions, I have a head start. I also take note of the objections I hear and work out an answer after I get off the phone.  That way I have a good response on hand for the next time it comes up.

What ever the objection, there is nothing wrong with asking for clarity. Let’s say you get a flat out refusal that they could never consider your property. There is no shame in asking why. So many times I’ve had calls completely turn around just because I asked, “may I ask why?”

A good example of this would be a call I had the other day. I was working on a project for a hotel group, and the person I was speaking with thought I was referring to one particular property. The objection turned out to be a misunderstanding!

Remember, objections aren’t always founded. Perhaps the planner only plans one event per year or their meetings are fairly small. Assure them, all events are important regardless of size and frequency. How can you go wrong by making your prospective client feel important?

Then there are the times when the meeting planner is “just blowing you off” because they’re not taking you seriously. Be prepared to prove you have credibility. I like to know something obscure or unique about the property I’m talking about, and often that helps me pique a planner’s interest.

There are also times when even though you’ve asked for permission and it’s been granted, you can hear impatience in the person’s voice. This might be a good time to ask what the most important things are they look for when considering a venue. I’ve had success with this as it gave the planner a chance to elaborate on what they look for and me the chance to prove my interest as well as their importance.

Not every objection can be overturned, but you can’t know that unless you’ve addressed them.

What's on the Meetings Industry Horizon for 2011?

horizon, binoculars
In the last few weeks I have been speaking with many hospitality and CVB sales & marketing executives about how 2010 was for them, and how they foresee 2011.  Here's what I have been hearing:
  1. Demand is improving. Since most hotels had severely downgraded their expectations going into the year, most managers are telling me they will either meet or slightly exceed their budget this year.  Regions across North America are reporting modest increases in demand, especially in the latter part of 2010.  This trend is reported by a recent Starcite e-newsletter and the U.S. Travel Association.

  2. Rates stay flat, at least for first half of 2011.  During most of 2010 meeting & event planners were able to drive a hard bargain and in most areas, they got what they wanted.  While suppliers in the Northeast and Canada are still cautious for the first quarter of 2011, many have told me they will be pushing up rates for the second half of 2011 or sooner if they can.

  3. Fewer concessions. What seems to be taken off the table already are the concessions.  In our Benchmarking Study this fall, planners were reporting getting fewer value-added perks.  Most affected seemed to be those who have higher meeting-space-to-bedroom ratios.  Throughout 2009 and most of 2010, they were able to find suitable space for their groups.  Now many hotels are holding the line and refusing to give up precious meeting rooms for small blocks.  For those planners, finding suitable space has replaced budget as their primary concern.

  4. Will planners still be able to pull things out of the hat? As the market shifts to a sellers' market and occupancy is tightening up, several meetings industry pundits were wondering recently how planners' ability to "pull things out of the hat" during the recession might come back to haunt them.  In the last few years senior executives were able to call last minute meetings, often for fairly large groups.  Planners would scramble, but usually succeeded in finding suitable space and at good rates.  One Helms-Briscoe Director I spoke to last week admitted that he hopes his meeting planner clients don't suffer their corporate bosses' wrath when space is either unavaible or at much higher prices.
What are YOU seeing on the horizon for 2011 and beyond?  Let us know what you think!

Database Management Tips for Meetings Industry Suppliers

Data Cleansing
With the dozens of data cleansing projects we do for hotels, CVBs and other meeting industry suppliers, I am often asked for tips on how to manage a sales database. Here are a few best practices:
  1. Reduce the number of accounts your sales reps are responsible for: We did a LinkedIN poll last year and found the majority of salespeople who responded had more than 250, some even 500+ accounts under their initials in their company’s CRM. That is way more than anyone can effectively manage. CSO Insights reports that 100 accounts is probably the maximum number of actively managed accounts a rep can handle PER YEAR. If you want your data to be better maintained, cut back on the number of records assigned to each person.

  2. Size should not matter: Do not allow a sales manager to earn a badge of honor for entering a ton of business cards after a tradeshow or event. Choose quality over quantity. Before ANY record is entered, make sure it is qualified; interest does not mean the ability to buy.

  3. Have a mechanism to track & flush: If your CRM is also used to send out regular communication to prospects and you must enter the data before it is fully qualified, make sure you assign a source code and date. That way you can easily send dedicated follow-up messages (e.g. Thank you for stopping at our booth…). This also allows you to query your CRM to assess response to any campaign, organize a follow-up call campaign and eventually delete the data if there is no response.

  4. Make sure to nurture: Communicate with your clients and prospects often and through varied media (not just email; snail mail too!). How often? At least every 30 days (click here for a great article about this). Maybe that big planner who was interested in your hotel for their annual incentive next year just got let go. How would you know unless you call as soon as you find out her email bounced? Make it the responsibility of one admin person in your office to call and update any undeliverable email record or address. (Do NOT assign this to the salesperson. You pay them to close.) When you do this monthly the task is less overwhelming.

  5. With your regular communication, offer incentives to self-update: Ensure all your eblasts offer an opportunity to update their information online. Publicly thank people who have updated (e.g. “Congratulations to Planning Office XYZ on their recent office move, and thank you Sally for updating your information. There’s a Starbucks card in the mail for your efforts!).
Keeping a database current is not a complicated thing to do. Unfortunately it is often the simplest things that don’t get done… If you are looking to organize a larger-scale clean up effort, check out our data cleansing tips. To ensure success, do the basics regularly and keep your database CLEAN.

Staying motivated

Team Huddle
As Meagan stated in her post “It’s not just about the money… ”, at Greenfield we start our day with a positive focus, to share something we liked about our previous day. This could be something that made us smile or brought us personal satisfaction. I’ll admit that at first I didn’t really see the point but as time went on I began to appreciate it; at least one person will make me smile. So I take that smile and make it last. I’ve had my share of days where I had to “fake it ‘til I made it”. But I made it.

Remaining positive is sometimes easier said than done. We’ve all been in situations where we had to really search for something nice to say about someone or something.  Take Seinfeld for example; the episode where the gang went to visit their friends who just had the ugliest baby. Do you say the first thing that comes to mind or do you focus on the best feature? The pediatrician’s comment was, the baby was breath taking and judging by everyone else gasping when they saw that baby, it certainly was.
You can use the same tactics at work:
  1. Find the one thing you really like about the project you’re working on or the hotel you’re representing and elaborate on it. Plain and simple: it’s easier to promote something you honestly like.

  2. Another thing that really works for me is goal setting. Depending on the project I’m working on, I will either set a daily or a weekly goal. I try to set different goals and keep them attainable but not too easy. A small goal may be reaching my completions for the day or making one really good connection. A larger goal would be getting more leads for a project than forecasted. To stay motivated, I keep in
    mind that no matter what happens on each call; go into the next one with a smile and a clean slate.

  3. Another tactic to staying motivated when prospecting is to imagine that you are the best call your contact is going to receive today. That you’re bringing them something they may not have considered or something they didn’t think could be done. Who knows, maybe its true!

  4. Find something that makes you happy, work-related or not, and make it a part of your day. If you really can’t think of anything at all, talk to someone, maybe they have something you can borrow until you find your own happy place.
So was I crazy about it when we began sharing positive focuses each morning? No.
Did I change my mind after I saw the result?  Definitely.

It’s a very simple thing to do and takes almost no time and little effort but it can make a huge difference on how you go about your day. And I highly recommend it.

Booking a Blitz? Remember to Qualify…

Sales Blitz Booking
When booking a blitz (or, Sales Appointments) to meet with prospects at their office & discuss future potential, a question often arises:  Quantity or Quality?  It can be answered a few ways.  An argument can be made that if you see and speak to enough people, you will end up getting some qualified business potential.  While this certainly is possible, some may say that this is like throwing things at a wall and waiting to see what sticks…

Personally, I believe that Quality is better.  Our projects of late show some interesting stats.  To book appointments with companies that have not shown activity with you in a few years, or that would be entirely new business, it takes 20-30 times the number of contacts to book 1 appointment.  What does this mean?  If your want a salesperson/team to see an average 5-6 appointments per day over a 2-day blitz, then you could potentially have to contact 360 contacts to fill their days with 12 appointments.  Now, multiply that with several Sales Managers, properties, etc.  The numbers can be daunting.
To create a successful blitz, you have to create a successful plan.  Consider the following steps:
  1. Identify your timeframe early.  Reserve the dates in your calendar, and reserve back-up dates if you can.  This will be helpful should you come across unexpected barriers (industry tradeshows, provincial holidays, etc).
  2. Know the markets you want to meet.  Whether it is Association, Tour & Travel, or a mix of everything, identify them and prioritize them!
  3. Find your data.  Whether you pull from your CRM, or you are purchasing a list, you will need to secure it early, because….
  4. Start qualifying calls early – 6 to 8 weeks out, even 10 if you can.  Confirming whether the contact is still the same, identifying if they want to meet and if the dates selected are a viable option.  Ask them on their business potential – all very important – the more you qualify the better!
  5. Nurture your prospect.  Between the initial call and securing the appointment, nurture them with a series of emails. Start with a thank you email (for the initial conversation) – start including links to your website and/or helpful information on your product/service.  The final email could re-direct them to book their appointment online, or to advise them to expect your call to secure the best time.  Once you have re-connected and booked the appointment, offer to send them an appointment for their calendar.
  6. Reconfirm appointments.  If you have someone doing this for you, or if you are unsure which participants are going to be on what team, ensure that you call them back to let them know who will be coming to meet with them.  I also recommend calling a few days before to reconfirm the appointment, so both can be done then!
Doing these things will help ensure that the meetings are valuable for all parties involved.
And, if you still have a few time slots open during your blitz, arm your salespeople with  prospects located near your existing appointments.  If your sales team has spare time, they can drop in, gather some information from the receptionist or even the contact herself and leave some information behind.  That’s the power of face-to-face meetings!