Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sales Horror or Sales Hurrah?

Many friends and clients have requested we revisit this post from last year. We hope it resonates with you as it did with them!

Everyone in the hospitality industry works tirelessly throughout the holiday season: planning, cooking, trouble shooting, and managing hard-to-please clients. This is followed by a race to close the books before finally enjoying a well-deserved holiday break. Two scenarios are likely to follow:

Scenario 1: The Horror, the Horror!
  • Many hard-earned kudos and pats on the back for a job well done.
  • Down time from December 20th until a few days after New Year's.
  • A January filled with a belated office party, extra time chillin' in the break room, cleaning the file drawers, and posting pics of your holiday successes.
  • Snow day!  Stay home with hot chocolate and good movies.
  • A last minute getaway over Valentine's Day weekend.
  • Commerce hasn't stopped but you sure have....
  • No revenue in the sales pipeline.
Do the math. In this scenario, your company may have missed out on 2-3 months (that’s 15-25%) of the sales calendar! You missed the chance to beat the previous year’s numbers. You handed your competitors a big head start.

Small businesses must sell hard all year long and there is a way to do it:

Scenario 2: A Sales Hurrah!
  • Enjoy a much-needed rest and family festivities over the Christmas and New Year's weekends.  Even attach an extra day off on either end.
  • Consider the week between Christmas and New Year's a prime selling time.
  • Get on the phone and reach out to business owners (decision makers) directly. (Note: the executive staffs of many small businesses are in their offices during this week, working to get a jump start on the new year.  Therefore, they are accessible, have fewer pressing deadlines, and there are no gate keepers to hinder your sales efforts!)
  • Create aggressive sales activity quotas to kick off your new year.  Start a contest to reward the salesperson with the best first quarter sales.
  • Contact your holiday clients and inspire for referrals.  Offer them an incentive program.
  • Anticipate the flood of bridal inquiries that arrive at the first of the year.
  • Host intimate open houses for new brides, planners, and key clients - now that the holiday hubbub has died down, they'll be happy for a night on the town.
  • Prepare your specialty menus and marketing plans for the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Passover, etc.
  • Offer to speak at local business and entrepreneurial groups.
  • Fill your sales pipeline.
Everyone in our industry knows to anticipate a robust fourth quarter but that’s no reason to snooze through the first couple months of the year. The smart approach is to ramp up sales throughout the first quarter. This will set a pace for the entire year and, rather than the horrifying loss of 2-3 months of sales time, you can be well on your way to a meaningful increase over last year’s numbers.

That’s definitely a reason to cheer “Hurrah!”

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Morning After

For caterers, the frenzy of holiday planning is at its pinnacle. It’s all we can do to corral clients for last moment selections, secure rental and decor orders, fulfill staffing assignments, and ensure that, with a few deep breaths, a wipe of the brow, and many sleepless nights, parties go off without a hitch. But before popping the champagne in celebration of having survived the holidays, remember that the job continues until well after the last gingerbread man is served.

All too often, attentive customer service ends when the event ends. However, a proactive post-event strategy is as important as your pre-event sales process. It is a key to developing ongoing business and client trust. Here is a post event step-by-step strategy: 
  • Call client the next day to say "thank you" and include  a short event debrief.  For more involved events, schedule a conference call or meeting.
  • Call venue contact to review execution of the event.
  • Hand write a Thank You to the client.
  • Review event reports from Sales Executive, Chef and Supervisor.
  • Generate a P&L.
  • Create client/venue/vendor information files noting their preferences.
  • Evaluate the client using a grading system based on criteria for your Best Fit Clients.  Grading should be based on event revenue, profitability, frequency of events, ease of function, and client's willingness to promote your company.
  • Request a client testimonial.
Following these steps after each event will help nurture your relationships with clients and venue managers. You will quickly find that a proactive and comprehensive post-event program leaves the sweetest taste and wraps up each event with the prettiest bow.   

Monday, November 26, 2012

When Does Age Become a Problem?

Our Marketing Director, Melanie Spratford, shares her thoughts on when it's OK to talk about your (company's) age.

I’d like to suggest an experiment for all caterers: pull up the front page of your company website. Now open the site of the local company you consider your fiercest competitor. Let’s also look at the homepage of a local company you think is inferior to yours. Just for fun, pull up the sites of a few caterers in other parts of the country, too.

If my observations are correct, the majority of those sites mention a variation of the following statement (usually within the first couple sentences on the site): 
      - For 30 years, XYZ Caterers has been serving Anytown, USA....
      - Founded 20 years ago, ABC Catering Company is proud to be a part of....
      - In 1987, Chef John Smith started Smith Catering....
Almost every caterer uses the first lines of their website to state the age of their company. It’s a terrible trend. It does nothing to educate customers about your services and, unless you are the oldest or youngest company in your market, it does nothing to distinguish you from your competitors. 

I understand the instinct to “tell the story” of our companies. Catering companies are families, each with its own interesting history. As caterers, we pour so much effort into this all-consuming profession, and it’s natural to want to explain how dedicated we are. Plus, you have every right to be proud of your longevity. This is a grueling business and, let’s be honest, the past 10 years haven’t exactly been the easiest.

Trumpeting your company’s age, however, doesn’t address the primary interests of people visiting your website. Customers are interested in themselves. They want to know how your company can tend to their needs. That you’ve been in business since Reagan was President doesn’t necessarily reassure a bride that you can successfully cater her wedding. Don’t assume that a client knows the value of your years of experience. You need to connect the dots for her: “Our 3 decades in business have given us the operational expertise to create an event you will be proud to remember for just as long.”

It’s a subtle difference but one that will help a client understand how your years of experience have given you the skills needed to deliver consistently incredible catering. Simply telling visitors to your website how long you’ve been in business isn’t enough. You need to explain to them how those years set you apart from all the other caterers. Once you’ve done that, your website will stand out from the crowd.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Digging Up the Root

When coaching new clients I first ask how I may help improve their business. Responses are usually along the lines of “My chef hates the sales team” or “We can’t seem to hire and keep good staff” or “We're always getting beat on price.” Such critical issues are common to caterers and restaurateurs.  However, addressing those issues will not solve the root problem. When I dig a little deeper, 9 out of 10 clients eventually acknowledge they want to improve profitability, to decrease their stress level, and to create a culture where everyone works in harmony. Understanding these goals is the first step toward eventually fixing the day-to-day problems that are a blight on every company.

It is common for owners to believe that if they keep doing the same things just a little better then everything will improve. Or they think that if they throw more money at a problem, it will simply go away.  Sadly, this is never the case.  Real solutions come from understanding your objectives and constantly reminding yourself to value the activities that will help you reach them.

Therefore, if your goal is to reduce stress, the last thing you need to do is mediate a personality dispute between departments.  Likewise, once you define your company culture, identifying employees who will be the right fit for your company becomes much easier.  If your goal is to improve profitability, the next step is to assess your sales procedures and evaluate your cost of doing business.  You may even discover a new appreciation for the all the time and energy you spend on cost-saving operations.

There are many strategies for setting up more efficient procedures or strengthening a team’s unity.  Unfortunately, on their own, none of these quick fixes will bring lasting change or progress.  Owners and managers need to dig deeper to identify their goals and their company’s fundamental mission.  Once these have been unearthed, the whole team will find it easier to work together to help the company flourish.