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5 Steps to Inbound Marketing for Meetings Industry Suppliers

In our last post we concluded that preventing a slump in your sales means that you should always be prospecting.  But in the new sales process, to “always be prospecting” means having an inbound marketing approach and the infrastructure to support it.

What does this mean for meetings industry suppliers such as hotels, CVBs, convention facilities and other meetings industry services?  This post aims to demystify inbound marketing and identify the components of a sound strategy. 

First, Some Definitions

According to Wikipedia, “inbound marketing” was a term coined by Brian Halligan, the founder of Hubspot in 2005.  It’s a process by which a business seeks to pull or attract prospects to their website with useful content.  With inbound marketing the potential client drives the process because he/she finds information and controls when and how the message is consumed.

This is in contrast to outbound marketing, which pushes messages to prospects.  This would include most traditional marketing vehicles – TV, radio and print advertising, along with direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing all attempt to interrupt prospects and grab their attention.  Even though it is several years old, the poston Hubspot’s blog provides a great perspective.   

Step One: Focusing on “Being Found” First

But why is inbound marketing such a big deal?  Why all the emphasis now on content to attract prospects to your website?  It’s because of the growingimportance of the online world; buyers, whether consumers or B2B, now want control of the sales process.  They investigate potential purchases online first.  They expect to find the information quickly.  And if they don’t find it they may reach out to friends or family through social media.  It’s the self-serve mentality.  So if a company is not easily found online, or if its content is lacking in what prospects are looking for, it is out of the game.

This means your website MUST be properly optimized.  Unfortunately, search engine algorithms are always evolving and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing art and science.  One day a particular practice is recognized and encouraged; the next day, it is frowned upon.  But it is important that your site have the “bones,” the right SEO architecture, to get found. 

Step Two: Developing Content to Reinforce SEO

Putting flesh on those bones, one of the best ways to build your site traffic is to provide informative, educational content that both users and search engines find helpful.  This is when you choose to create resources such as blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, white papers and other helpful material for your various target markets.  

It is important that this content be factual and non-promotional in tone.  And that you regularly update and add to that content so that you have something to talk about with your social media strategy with step three:

Step Three: Using Social Media to Share Content

Once your site is optimized and you have a foundation with solid content, you use social media to share your content and events.  The right social media strategy will provide helpful information to prospects and followers, striking a balance between posting your own content, sharing industry news and articles, promoting your own events or special offers, and engaging followers in relevant conversations.  

The above visual provides a great example of what is required to be found online today: being found on the internet entails formulating a solid SEO strategy, steadily augmenting your site with relevant content, building interest and generating inbound leads through social media.  

Step Four: Capturing and Nurturing Leads

The fourth component that often gets overlooked in the above scenario is integrating a marketing automation platform that allows you to capture leads and nurture them until they are sales-ready.  That's because according to many experts, only 5-15% of leads are considered to be "sales-ready".  The rest must continue to be nurtured with information to "ripen" until they are ready to buy.

Marketing automation may involve integration with your existing CRM.  At a minimum this platform should capture leads: requests for downloadable material (where you ask prospects for basic information in return for the free information), subscriptions for e-newsletters and promotions, registrations for any live events or webinars, etc. 

A proper marketing automation platform also will enable you to segment prospects (is the contact an established planner managing a large trade show, or a volunteer looking to market a local fundraising event?), and regularly disseminate nurturing communication to stay top-of-mind and spur engagement.

Step Five: Allowing Prospects Self Identify When Ready

The above-described process is largely one that takes place without the intervention of a salesperson.  Prospects browse online and choose the information they need.  They raise their hand when they are ready to talk to someone in sales by emailing, clicking on a chat window, or calling a toll-free number.  While this should not eliminate the need to proactively contact prospects at the appropriate moment, this does mean that the salesperson is now more of a guide for interested prospects, and less of a prospector “dialing for dollars,” looking for business from raw sources.

So there you have it, the basic architecture of an inbound marketing system to help your hotel, CVB or meetings industry business attract potential clients and generate leads.  In our next post we will explore how successful sales team leverage inbound marketing efforts. 

Business Slump? The 3 Rs of Sales Recovery

As Greenfield conducts lead generation campaigns for meetings industry suppliers such as hotels and DMOs, I often field calls from prospective clients who are experiencing a business slump.

Unfortunately, the slump is often a looming, immediate crisis: We need business in the second quarter! (And the call comes in from the hotel at the end of February). Next year is way behind pace! (And the CVB calls me half-way through the summer).

I realize often we are their solution of last resort.  But it's difficult to really make the needle moves in the very short term.

So if the business slump is on your horizon, how can you prevent having to press the panic button? Here are my three Rs to recover your sales:

Reactivate: contacting past clients, refused business and lost business is often the first thing hotel director of sales will direct his/her sales managers to do. But what about past prospects? People who never gave you an RFP or a piece of business, but at some point in time expressed interest in your property? Are they still there? When was last time you contacted them? If there has been no contact in the last 18 months, re-activate the conversation! That’s right call them. They expressed interest in the past, there's a bit of history, so this is not a cold call. Admittedly, older data maybe a waste of your time. But if you don't try you don't get it.

Referrals: So perhaps existing clients and prospects don’t have business for your right now but why not ask them about their friends or colleagues? Asking for referrals is one of the easiest ways to extend the reach of your database.  But don't limit it just to your client database.

Ask for referrals from your staff. You'd be surprised to find out that the part-time front desk agent has a father who is a senior executive at a corporation that can bring you a series of training groups. Or that housekeeper who always says hello when you pass her in the hallway is a member of a church group looking for space for their monthly revival.

Ask your suppliers. The food distributor, the audiovisual rental rep, and the linen company all have an interest in seeing you and your hotel succeed. Have you asked them if they have business or know of organizations that do?

Roam the neighborhood: whenever I go back to Toronto, my old haunt from my Sutton Place days, I am amazed at the growth of new neighborhood, with new businesses springing up everywhere. The same goes for when I drive to Montréal. I always see different logos of companies that I never knew existed. When was the last time that you and your team walked or drove around your hotel’s vicinity? Are there new businesses in surrounding buildings? This is a great source of new prospects.

By the way all of the above don't apply just to hotels. Convention and visitors bureaus and their reps would do well to look at their processes for exactly the same reason. Especially "roaming the neighborhood" for local businesses that can bring them more short-term groups.

One example is the user group conference I attended last October in Atlanta. The corporate planner was someone with little meeting planning experience, and she had no idea she could have had help from her DMO to find hotel space and organize off-site activities. I'm sure the Atlanta bureau would have loved to have heard from her! They likely don't even know that this little computer company, who has recently merged with a much larger entity, is bringing their city 300 to 400 delegates for three days in October.

We hope the above 3Rs will help spur even more creative ideas on how to overcome a slowdown in your business. And if you need any help with data cleansing or lead generation, we’d naturally love to help.

But the best way to prevent a slump? Always be prospecting, as my sales coach Colleen Francis would say. And these days this means implementing an inbound marketing process for your organization.  Stay tuned for next week's installment on what this could mean for your hotel or CVB.

A Winning Tradeshow Booth Idea at #CanadaHBS

Unique Tradeshow Booths
After attending tradeshows in the last few months, I have been dismayed at the extent that some exhibitors have gone to attract traffic at a meetings industry tradeshow.

Well, I was at the new Canada Hosted Buyer Show in the last two days, and I saw it again: aesthetic services as a means to attract traffic at a tradeshow booth.

Canada HBS Partners Shot
Left to right: Oliver Tabarez, ScribbleLIVE; Dominik Bergeron-Talbot, GES; Véronique Pâquet, Agora and Mélanie Des Ormeaux, DX Design
But this time it was different.  The booth I am describing was the coalition of partners consisting of AVW Telav,, GES, Agora Communications and DX Design.  The booth was an ingenious two-story structure.  Partners were side-by-side, under the canopy.  Attendees collected a card which was stamped by each partner after they had a chance to have a conversation with you.  

With a card stamped by all partners attendees could go to floor #2 to have their photo taken by a professional photographer.  And attendees had the option to have their make-up re-done/touched up!  The photographer took 16 shots of me, and had me select my preferred one.  The attention to detail was commendable.  Both the make-up artist and the photographer were very engaging young professionals. I was told to expect my photo by email the day after the show.

So how is this different from some of the other tradeshow booths I have seen?  

First, the outcome adds value beyond just looking good.  Who today doesn’t need a professional head shot for their social media accounts or website? Tradeshow Card

Secondly, this booth was employing young people from a professional aesthetics school, Parisax Académie, who hope to go into theatre or special events.  There’s a tie-in there and a bit of CSR by encouraging young, local talent.

Thirdly, this was gender-neutral.  I saw lots of men going up there, who never would stop at a booth to get their nails buffed, but they got their photo taken.

Getting Made Up at the Tradeshow
And last but not least, the whole thing got conversations going!  

I had a great exchange with all the partners.  I can’t give them business, but these conversations led me to write this blog.  And hopefully this increases their exposure and drives more business their way! So for those readers who thought I was a humourless purist, there you have it.  

You can do something like this.  Just make sure it ties back to business and that you provide solid business value.

#Eventprofs Learn 3 Marketing Lessons from Céline Dion’s Debut in China

As North Americans were watching the Grammys, Canada’s best known diva celebrated the Chinese New Year with millions of new fans by performing in Mandarin on Chinese state television.

For those who had dismissed Dion as a has-been, take note: she’s just re-inventing herself.  Just like she did when she began her original 2003 Las Vegas show as star-in-residence at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.  

So what does this have to do with marketing and the meetings industry?  Plenty.  Consider this:
  • Go where the competition isn’t: Dion and her team are astute business people. Looking at the crowded entertainment scene in the West, they chose to enter a market that is hungry for Western entertainers, and where few competitors have dared venture. This is something that meetings industry suppliers should consider: are you hunting where the business is?
  • Step out of your comfort zone: Mandarin is reportedly a very difficult language and Dion has stepped out of her comfort zone by trying something completely new.  With B2B sales shifting in favour of more inbound marketing practices, hoteliers, destination executives and other event marketing professionals are wise to learn a new way to converse with the marketplace (for background on the changing landscape of B2B sales, read Advice for Meetings Industry Sales Reps: Understanding the NEW Sales Process).
  • Seek partners with the inside scoop: But Dion is not doing this entirely on her own.  In this debut performance she partnered with Chinese soprano Song Zuying to sing a traditional Chinese folk song. This likely will earn the star major brownie points as she vies for this new audience.  The same applies for event professionals; when stepping out of your comfort zone to attract a new market, leverage your odds of success with partners in the know.
The world of meetings, conferences and special events is changing at an accelerated pace.  What are you doing to stay ahead of the curve?