The ultimate objective of all marketing is to drive revenue. While selling on social channels is often less about direct sales and more about influence and driving loyalty, hotel owners, GMs, and directors of sales want to see social media marketing pay off with corporate accounts and group contracts. How can hotels navigate the complex world of tweets, posts, blogs, and more to position their properties for large group bookings? Here are some actionable ways that sales people can engage with strategic social media to learn more about potential customers and expand their social networks to drive sales.
The cocktail party concept
A recent story on NPR’s Marketplace made the analogy that social media marketing was like working the room at a cocktail party. “You don’t walk in with your megaphone blasting your marketing message and say buy my stuff,” says Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer. Doing so would mean alienating your fellow party guests, your customers. Instead, “you listen to conversations and find the ones that make sense to you and introduce yourself, network and grow relationships over time,” says Falls. The story goes on to say, “the value of social media is about getting people to trust you or think you’re cool and — when those people need something — to think of buying from you because they trust you or think you’re cool.”
Understanding this concept can dishearten sales managers who are often focused on monthly or even daily sales activity, but social media still has a place in the tool kits of high performing sales teams. The trick is not to get stuck doing social media activities because they feel safer than pounding the proverbial pavement. This is a trap that even the best can fall into. So, how can owners, GMs, and directors of sales encourage engagement through social media so that big groups know and trust your hotel? Learning the answer will mean that when a big group needs to choose a venue, your sales person and your property are top of mind.
Joining the right cocktail party
The importance of networking has been a central focus of sales training since before the internet existed. However, it is important to encourage your sales people to work smarter rather than longer when networking online. Focusing their online activities on sites with the highest probability of gaining new qualified contacts can prevent them from falling down the social media rabbit hole to the detriment of traditional sales approaches. Here are a couple of great places to have your salespeople spend time online:
Local Tourist Board pages– Landing a big event like a regional conference or trade show often means knowing when a customer is looking for new venues in a specific region. Contacts within local tourist boards can be a great source of this information. Liking or following a tourist board such as Hawaii’s Convention and Visitors Bureau allows a salesperson to engage in a very subtle way with potential customers and the staff at the tourist board. A quick look at their Facebook or Twitter page daily can keep your salespeople informed about upcoming conferences, festivals/concerts, networking events, news stories, and more.
Vendor Pages- Planning events, such as weddings or conferences, often include choosing multiple vendors in addition to the venue. Liking or following top local photographers, event planners, wedding cake companies, florists etc., can lead to great word-of-mouth marketing. Posting sincere comments about a vendor’s work at your hotel or something they posted on their page if you haven’t worked with them before can further cement those relationships. This takes very little time, but can really help get your sales person’s name and your hotel’s name out there. This is especially effective in smaller markets.
Your hotel’s social media pages- Hotel pages that advance social media goals can be a great place to showcase your group sales team. For example, say that a past group customer posted a positive review on a 3rd party travel site, such as TripAdvisor or your Facebook page. Allowing a salesperson who managed that customer relationship to comment back shows continuity of customer care. This can also drive future customers to contact that sales manager because they are visible and approachable. Obviously, this should be used in moderation and your marketing staff may need to oversee the posts to maintain brand compliance, but it can be very effective.
Also, announcing group sales wins can be a great way to drive future group sales. Large companies want to know that your hotel is meeting the needs of other large companies and that your rates were/are competitive. However, make sure that you clear the post with your customer first and don’t include specific dates. Announcing dates might cause other groups or individuals to avoid your property during a large conference or event.
Prospecting via Social Media
Social media can give a salesperson many opportunities to find new prospects or research prospects quickly. Here are some ways that monitoring social media can help a sales person spot opportunities for large group sales:
Social media sites of prospective customers- You can learn a wealth of information about perspective customers such as their brand preferences, values, and future events from following them on social media platforms. Monitoring a Facebook page or Twitter account of a prospective corporate customer can help you learn where and when that company holds conferences, the locations of their major customers, and what types of prizes and giveaways they feature to engage their online community. For example, a look at Intel’s Facebook page shows that they have regional Facebook pages. Monitoring these regional pages can help salespeople locate information about a large company’s activities in your region. By learning about contests that they sponsor, you could try to partner with them by offering a few free nights which might grease the wheels for a future relationship, event, or booking agreement. Learning about mergers, new customer wins, etc., could help a sales person see a possible area of need for that customer. This can make a cold call not so cold, because your sales team is informed and potentially known to that company through their online relationship.
Competitors’ sites- Don’t call the ethics board, but valuable information about your competitors’ customers is freely available through their own social media sites. And believe me, the same information is probably available about your hotel, but that is a topic for another day. Watching a competing property’s large wins, customer reviews, renovations schedules, etc., can trigger an opportunity for your hotel. Clearly, you don’t want to have your top competitors show up on your like list, but you can learn a lot about competing hotels this way. Just keep this in mind with your social media touch points as well.
Blogging- A group sales blog can be an effective way to communicate with potential customers about what your hotel and sales team have to offer. Keeping your blog fresh with posts about local events, hot restaurant openings, and new customer wins can lead to buzz about your hotel. Noticing who is following your blog can be a valuable source of qualified customers or powerful influencers. Posting information about unique configurations of meeting spaces, or themed parties at your hotel can also be a great way to trigger the creative juices of potential customers. A blog is also a good place to engage with travel agents or meeting planners who could send a lot of business your way.
Brand Exposure and Social Media
When considering social media’s impact on group sales the importance of your hotel’s online reputation is amplified. A string of negative reviews can win or lose a large group deal just as easily as it can win or lose a single room booking. With stakes this high, management of social media and online reviews becomes even more central to success. However the good news is management responses to reviews are more likely to be considered. An event planner wants to know that the venue being evaluated is well run, and that impression can come directly from how management reacts to poor reviews. When a professional deals with hotels all the time, they realize that poor reviews happen, but they are more interested in how the management handled the input. However, obvious trends in reviews such as rude employees, high parking costs, slow service, etc., can become part of the negotiations in a group deal. Monitoring review trends can ensure that your sales force isn’t blindsided by these issues. Knowing about past complaints can mean your sales people are ready to overcome objections in a way that can limit the damage of negative reviews on group sales.
Evaluating your use of Social Media
As with all new sales or lead generation efforts, an honest and thorough look at the effectiveness of your activities should take place periodically. Some questions you should ask yourself include:
- Am I seeing more engagement on social channels today than a year ago?
- Do current customers check in periodically with my social media interactions? Do they mention our social media efforts in offline conversations?
- Is there a payoff for customers that engage with us in the form of insider information, valuable news or loyalty rewards?
- How can I use social media to make it easy for my customers to build a relationship with my company?
- How many new leads am I generating per month related to social media?
Answering these questions can turn your sales efforts into a sophisticated mechanism that uses social media to establish the key relationships that drive sales. However, don’t be tempted to slam the door on social media too quickly if it takes awhile to start working. This is a long term approach that with careful management can complement your traditional sales efforts and ensure that you are invited to all the best cocktail parties!