When almost every client interaction has gone digital, it’s critical to add personal rapport to every faceless communication—whether email, video chat, or texting. It’s easy to move quickly through the day firing off proposal after proposal and email after email. But, in the midst of hustling to meet our sales quotas, we still need to pause to build genuine connections. Below are eight tips to build and maintain personal relationships with meeting planners in a digital world.
Know Who You’re Talking To and About
Research everything you can about the meeting planner and the event, including how long they planned events for the company, where they went to school, the company or group itself, past meeting locations, etc.
Use LinkedIn to your advantage. You’d be surprised how many hotel sales managers don’t review LinkedIn profiles and spell a planner’s name incorrectly. Check out the company’s Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter feed, and other social media accounts so you’re aware of their latest activities. Arm yourself with the data to create a custom-fit proposal and to show the meeting planner that you care enough to devote extra time to research.
Get On the Phone or Video Email
After doing as much research as you can, pick up the phone and introduce yourself. Even if it is only a voicemail or a video email, your message will lend warmth and personality to your digital bid. This also gives you a chance to gather insight often left out of the RFP, including the final decision maker, attendee characteristics, what has or hasn’t worked in the past, desired event outcome, etc.
Bring Up Life Outside of the Office
While you research, make note of things you have personal experience with or can relate to. This can be your initial ice-breaker. For example, “You went to college in Seattle? I lived there for three years. Do you miss the trees and hiking as much as I do?” Pay special attention to comments revealing personal aspects of their lives. When they are ready to visit your hotel, ask about their favorite foods, beverages, music, and hotel comforts and include them in your experience.
Diligently prepare a carefully-crafted proposal based on your conversations and research with the planner. When you get the RFP, send a quick reply that you have received it, are working on it (let them know you are working to address their specific needs), and will have the proposal in their hands shortly.
Tailor Responses To Their Specific Event
This may be obvious, but nothing sours a potentially profitable, personal relationship more than a generic response that doesn’t address the specific event criteria or the meeting planner’s preferences outlined in the RFP.
Offer Help Anyway, Even If It’s Not a Fit
Offer suggestions and alternatives if your hotel can’t provide what the meeting planner needs. Position yourself as a trusted destination expert and offer options they might not have thought of, but might be open to.
Tell Them Why You Decline
Whatever the reason, let the meeting planner know why you can’t accommodate their group. Is there a competitor in-house, or a lack of guest or meeting rooms on their dates? Did you decline because of an unfavorable ratio between guestrooms and meeting space? Though this specific event might not be a good fit, future events may, and building a relationship for these can be more valuable and lucrative than simply saying, “no, thanks.”
Following up is crucial in healthy business relationships and can help win business down the road. Keep notes on the meeting planner and relevant personal details whether you win the business or not. This can include tidbits like pets, birthdays, their kids, etc. Follow up every couple of months with a short, personal email including one of those relevant details. Send an article that might interest them and see if there’s anything in the pipeline.
Building relationships requires personal communication both off- and online. Don’t get caught up in digital protocols and forms so much that you lose touch with the human side of booking meeting business.
About the Author
Kemp Gallineau is the CEO of Groups360, a hospitality company bringing transparency and simplicity to meetings transactions. Gallineau is the former CSO for Gaylord Entertainment, and SVP and GM for three of the largest hotels in the US.