What can you do as a venue to attract more events? Rob Davidson is the expert on my bench today.
Hi Rob. Welcome to our studio. You’re an expert in the field of getting people to book events in a venue. So, this episode will be very interesting for venue owners. But let’s start with the basics: how do you get people to book your venue?
It’s a great question, and you know Kevin, it’s really more difficult now than ever, I would say. The problem is for all venues, that competition has grown so much in the last ten years. You know, if we go back, say, 20 years ago, most conferences, meetings, were held in conference centres or hotels. Nowadays, there’s so much competition from more of them. But also from new types of venues like museums, universities, tourist attractions like zoos and theme parks. So the actually supply of venues has never been greater. And that means much more competition for everyone who has responsibility for winning meetings and events for their venue. I would say that really it begins with looking at sources of business. That’s imperative. Venues need a good database. They need to know that they have a good list of potential clients. And building up that database with new leads is really crucial to the success of any venues. You know, most people working in those jobs finding clients, they think about finding new clients and adding to the database. Of course that’s important, but I think sometimes we forget about previous clients, companies, associations, any kind of clients, who already use the venue. Those people are important. They’ve used your venue, they know it. And I think venues sometimes need to ask the question: why did they not come back? Why did that client only use us once? And, you know, that could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they weren’t happy with the experience, but you hope it’s not that reason. It just could be that they forgot about you or that you as a venue haven’t done enough to keep them informed, about new developments in the venue, for example, refurbishments, extensions, that kind of thing. So I always say to venues, begin by looking at your previous clients. Find out why they only used you once, or why they stopped using you. And then there are the existing clients, clients who regularly use the venue for their meetings. Now, I often think, again, venues don’t make enough of those clients. And there’s a lot you can do. If you have a regular client, that means that they’re happy with your venue. So if they’re happy, they can give you a testimonial, a written testimonial, just a paragraph. Or maybe a short 30 second video testimony just to say how satisfied they are, and how they would recommend other meeting planners to use it. Because, meeting planners, they listen to each other much more than they listen to the people responsible for marketing the venue. Now, that’s testimonials. Referrals. Companies have many people organising meetings. Maybe you’re dealing with just one department in that company. So, can you ask them to refer you, to recommend you to other departments. Then of course there’s the new clients, which everyone enjoys finding, and that’s all the techniques that good salespeople know in venues. Desk research, of course, using the internet to look for potential clients. But I think I would say that probably the most important tool is actually your website, the venue’s website. That is the venue’s shop window. It’s where meeting planners go first. Long before they contact you in the venue, they want to have a look at your website to see what’s on there. And they will judge your venue by the quality of that website. So I always say to venues, make sure that you’re using your website well, that is easy to navigate. Meeting planners can find what they want very easily, like room sizes for example. But do more. If you have testimonials, I want to see them on the homepage of the venue. If you have recommendations, put them there so that meeting planners visiting the website see those very early on. Blogging. How many venues do a regular blog? Not many. And yet it costs nothing. Interesting blogs that are something useful to the client will always get clients to be visiting the website. Something useful to them. Not marketing messages about your venue, but something like, six tips on how to organise a green meeting, for example. Or, simply something like the chef’s latest recipes. People love that kind of thing. Give meeting planners a reason to drop in on the website regularly, and you’ll see the number of hits going up.
Okay, you found your customers, but then they come and the next big problem in these days is, they always want more for less money. How do you negotiate with them?
Yeah, it’s a perfect question, Kevin. This is the crux of the matter, the negotiation. Now, in my opinion, a good negotiation is a win-win situation. When both parties leave the table with an agreement that both parties feel they have given something, but they got something as well. So, it’s all about preparation from the point of view of the venue salesperson. A venue sales manager going into a negotiation needs to prepare, prepare, prepare. It always reminds me of the song by Abba, Knowing Me, Knowing You. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing it here. But it’s a great song… It’s a great song and it tells you everything you need to know. Knowing me, knowing your venue, the sales manager should know the venue inside out. Its strengths, its weaknesses, its unique selling points. They should be ready for all questions that will come up in that negotiation. But also, knowing you. Knowing you, the client. What types of venues have you used in the past? What kind of budget do you have? Of course, people won’t always tell you that. But you can guess from the kind of venues that they’re looking at, what type of budget they have. But most importantly, what are the objectives of the meeting that they’re planning to hold. No one in this day and age just has a meeting because, hey, it’s a long time since we had a meeting, we better have one. There’s always an objective, or more than one. So getting to know those objectives is essential as well. And then you go into negotiation with all your ammunition, all your good arguments about how, your venue is the most suitable one. You can go into that with good arguments. Now, you mentioned price, and of course it’s a big question. The buyer, the client, will always want the best price for them. My advice to venues on that score is try to move the focus away from cost, to value. Try to emphasise how your venue is going to add value to that person’s meeting. Now, the easiest thing in the world in that negotiation situation from the venues point of view is to begin to lower your prices. Everyone loves you when you lower prices. But it’s the worst strategy. Cost-cutting is never good. It’s not good for the venue, it’s not good for our industry as a whole. Because it simply leads to a race to the bottom with venues trying to undercut each other. Now, much better to focus on value and show what your venue can do to make that conference a success. Rather than cut the price; throw something in. A free cloakroom, or free car parking. Focus on adding value rather than cutting price, I would say.
Even if you have a new prospect, they want to see the venue, you should give them a tour on the location. How should you handle that?
Very, very carefully. I’m sorry to say, this is one of the things I think we do worst in venues. I’ve been to so many site inspections and show arounds of venue, and very often they’re disappointed. The person showing you around simply looks bored. They’ve done it a 100 times. They’ve done it a 1,000 times. Yes we know. But please, please try to make it sound like you’re doing it for the first time. Walk through before they arrive. Walk the tour that you’re going to take with them. Just to make sure that everything’s fine, the lights are working, the blinds are open, the temperature is right. Make sure that everything looks its best. Be in reception yourself when the guest arrives. Strong handshake, showing confidence. And if you can - and I know it’s not always possible - get the general manager to come out of his room or her room, just for two minutes to meet the person, shake their hand, say welcome to our venue, welcome to our hotel, your business is important to us. That makes a lot of difference. And then walk around, all the time emphasising the strong points of your venue. Take the tour that their delegates would take in the actual event. And the power of you is very important. Your delegates will arrive here. This is where your delegates will have their coffee. That’s getting the person already in the mindset of using your venue for their event. And then at the end, farewell, is there anything you’d like to ask? And a nice email, thank you for your time, thank you for coming. The follow-up is just as important as preparation. But there’s so much to do on better show arounds.
People who want to know more on the subject, I understand you wrote a book on the subject?
Well, yes, Kevin, with my cowriter, Anthony Hyde, who at the time was working in the Barbican convention centre in London. We put our heads together and wrote a book, and if I may?
This is it. This is our baby Winning Meetings and Events for your venue.
Okay Rob, thank you very much for your time.
It’s a great pleasure. Many thanks, Kevin.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.