There is a shift in how events are planned for organizations around the country, resulting in an un-named and un-paid role, the non-professional meeting planner.
Let us explain; in the past few years, more and more organizations have had to downsize their meeting planners due to budget constraints, which has put pressure on other employees, such as administrative assistants, executive assistants, and others, who have been tasked with planning company meetings.
While these non-professional meeting planners may be competent in organizing their companies' day-to-day operations, they often lack experience when it comes to the intricate details of event planning.
This is where hotel sales teams have a real opportunity to shine.
Cory Falter recently had the opportunity to chat with Kristi White, Hospitality Leader & Consultant on the InnSync Show, about the rise of the non-professional meeting planner and what that means for hotel sales teams.
How the Non-Professional Meeting Planner is Changing the Group Sales Process
What is it, and why is this a new trend?
Non-professional meeting planners are typically employees from within the organization who have been given the responsibility of planning company meetings due to budget constraints or other reasons. This is becoming an increasingly common trend as organizations are turning to their own staff instead of hiring outside specialists.
It’s a shift in how companies are doing business.
Kristi adds, "And with a pending recession looming, it’s likely going to continue for some time to come. Meeting planners were as decimated as hotel sales due to the pandemic. And it’s one of the last positions that’s going to come back. What it’s being replaced with is planners off the side of their desks. This is their in-the-job “side hustle.” As a result, they are going to need more support from your hotel sales teams in order to be successful. And here’s the secret sauce. The seller that makes them look like a rock star is the seller that gets their loyalty."
Hotels open to educating non-professional meeting planners on the different aspects of event planning will benefit them by gaining new customers but will also help companies create successful events at a minimal cost. The payoff for this educational approach is building long-term relationships that result in long-term business. It's a win-win.
Why should hotel sales teams pay attention?
Kristi says, "Because this isn’t going anywhere anytime soon."
She adds, "These planners aren’t coming to you the way you are accustomed to. They aren’t going through a traditional RFP process or platform. Their preferred platform is Google. These individuals are more likely to do research and then reach out directly."
Here's where hotel sales pros have a real opportunity to educate, inspire and create loyal fans.
"Could you imagine if you're an executive administrative assistant and know nothing about meetings, and your CEO comes to you and says, Sally Sue, we've got this corporate retreat coming up." Cory adds, "You need to find us a great place to have this team meeting. Imagine the amount of stress that would be on that person's shoulders. This how properties can shine, by taking away that stress through education and inspiration."
So, hotel sales teams need to be ready to have those conversations and educate these non-professional meeting planners. They should also take the time to understand their needs and provide the right solutions.
What should your team do to meet this growing demand?
Hotel sales teams should start by educating themselves.
It’s important to understand the challenges non-professional meeting planners face and what solutions they are looking for. Then, you'll want to make sure you have the tools to address this important segment of individuals.
Here are four ways to set your team up for success.
1. Optimize Your Website for This New Audience
Make sure you have the correct marketing strategy to speak to them.
Start with your website. Ask yourself these questions:
- Where do they land on your site when they enter their Google search?
- Do they land on your generic site, or do they land on a specific meeting site that helps them know what you can do for them?
- How easy is it for them to quickly get answers?
Cory says, "If you go to almost every hotel website, it speaks only to the seasoned meeting planner, making the assumption that you're there to immediatly plan your meeting with a dozen questions to be submittd through a RPF. Where you could be Sally Sue, the administrative assistant, and you have no clue how to start and the details being requested are completely overwhelming. I see this huge RFP form with my Social Security number on it and my children's date of birth on it. I'm so confused. I don't see any way to ask a simple question here."
Right off the bat, you're alienating this growing segment of potential customers.
For each click they have to make, there is a likelihood they will abandon the process and move on to the next facility.
Kristi adds, "Also, make it visual. These planners may not understand a capacity chart. But images that show what it looks like will tell a story."
To attract more direct booking business from the fastest-growing segment of meeting planners, you must critically look at your website from their perspective.
2. Remove Any Barriers
Make it easy to do business with you.
Those professionals who have taken on this "side hustle" don't have much time to hunt down information.
Kristi says, "If you’ve given them the tools to make a decision on your website, also give them the tool to book it if they want."
She recommends having a strong group and meeting booking engine on your website. Often these meetings are smaller, so the individual will feel comfortable planning it all online.
Kristy says. "Have a way they can fill in a form if they need more information or book directly. A lot of hotels are scared of this because they feel like the hospitality goes away when meetings become self-service. That isn’t true. The hospitality is still to come with the follow-up on their booking, how you service them, and how you follow up with them after the event."
Cory adds, “If hotels were able to reimagine the buying process and do it themselves, they could capture more direct business. If you can develop that relationship with the planner and make them loyal to you, that’s a winning, long-term strategy.”
Have a process for this so you turn new prospects into customers, then into long-term raving fans.
3. Lead with Education
Educate yourself and your sellers on how to guide these novices.
They may not know a rooming list or why it’s needed. They may not know the difference between a pre-function space and a ballroom. Your sales teams should be prepared to provide education, then follow up with the necessary tools to make it easy for them. They also need to know what to communicate to their attendees to ensure they have the best experience at your hotel. This can be done during the selling process or after they have booked.
But if you don’t have a process, it likely won’t happen.
4. Continue to Prospect
Lastly, you still need to prospect (in addition to responding to RFPs).
Chances are, most of your old contacts aren’t with those companies any longer, and there is an even greater chance they were replaced by in-the-job side hustles aka, the non-professional meeting planner. These individuals are going to be more dependent on relationships, and the first one they form is likely to be the one that lasts.
The novice planners will learn. Until then, making sure your hotel is doing everything it can to make it easier for these individuals to work with your hotels will also mean you are developing strong relationships that will last for a long time.
Your best foot forward will be your website and making sure someone is answering the phone. This means it’s time to look at your sales team and marketing strategies to ensure you are doing what you need to do to capture these non-professional planners.