Social Media – The Hotel Sales Tools that NO Property Can Ignore.
By Carol Verret
Saturday, 8th January 2011
The biggest challenge for hotel sales professionals is actually integrating social media into their sales processes rather viewing social media as just one more thing to do!  Just as Google has become an indispensible sales tool, social media offer tools that can make the sales process faster, more efficient and ultimately, more productive.

"Interest in and usage of social media will continue to display explosive growth in terms of theoretical reach (the ability to connect and engage sheer numbers of active travelers):  almost half of all travelers now have a page posted on a social site, 91 percent of which are posted on Facebook" (YPartnership, 12/28/10)

Changes in customer buying behavior in terms of venue selection and researching not only the hotel but also the sales team make it imperative that social media is part of every hotel sales department's sales  plan.   In a survey during an i-Meet webinar a poll of nearly 200 planners indicated that social media are important in venue selection.

The sales process has evolved from a linear, transactional process to a collaborative, interactive one.  The impact of social networks implies a collaborative conversation – a dialogue that leads to mutual understanding and benefit

A prospect or client should be able to get a 360° view of the hotel and the sales team on social networks.  They need to be able to click on links to the sales professionals' profiles or Fan pages.  Hotels should ensure that the settings, especially on FaceBook, separate the sales team's personal pages from their ‘Fan' or professional pages.   Links to the web site, blog, etc should also be prominent so that the planner never has to leave the ‘circle'. Once they move out of the circle, they may be tempted to visit other properties' social media or web sites. 

How then do sales people integrate social media into the sales process:

Social Media Strategy by Market Segment.  Which social media are the most appropriate for which market segments?   Defining activities on social networks for each market segment and sales manager means providing guidance for developing individual profiles for personal branding and a strategy for developing Fans and networks.  With a defined individual strategy activities fall within the strategy and avoid the ‘trap' of spending too much time on activities that are not targeted.  However, don't assume that LinkedIn contacts don't have SMERFE groups – they all have lives outside of their business activities.  The same goes for Facebook which is being adapted and used a business tool.  This is an excellent opportunity for cross promotion between segments.  

Prospecting.  A professional meeting planner indicated on a recent webinar that her LinkedIn is always open as it is her primary prospecting tool.   Social media discussion groups are a useful prospecting tool.  Discussion groups are selected on their composition of potential prospects and clients.   They are also a good way to build a network on LinkedIn.  Anyone can invite someone in a group that they belong to  into their network without having a recommendation.   Search on both LinkedIn and FaceBook is a powerful tool.   Searching for a targeted company provides not only info on the company but a list of employees, one or more of whom may be the contact that plans travel or meetings.  FaceBook search is great for locating SMERFE groups, weddings and other social events.

Referrals and Introductions.  Circles of influence!  Can someone in your network or in your Fan group refer you or introduce you to the contact you need to reach?  Recent statistics from a company called uRefer indicated that referrals close at a rate of about 50%, far higher than many other methods of prospecting.     The recommendation feature on LinkedIn is also a perfect tool to have your expertise validated by a third party. 

Qualifying.  How can you find the contact that plans meetings, groups or travel for the company.  A search for the targeted company on LinkedIn reveals not only information about the company including locations and other pertinent info  but also a list of employees both present and past and how many degrees of separation the sales person is from adding that planner to their network.  A search for an inquiry caller on LinkedIn or FaceBook can provide information about that person's responsibility within the company and a picture so that when the call is made it is possible to visualize the person you are speaking to. 

Joining and Creating Communities.   A little known  and useful feature on Facebook permits a sales person or hotel to create or join a group. "Facebook groups allow you to further connect with friends on your network, creating a close-knit social network within the larger Web site. You can join any group on your network or create your own." (How to Create Facebook Groups | eHow.com, 11/12/10) This means that you can form tight groups of clients or potential prospects with whom to communicate.  LinkedIn also offer this feature but groups on LinkedIn are so diverse and targeted, it is a matter of deciding which groups to join and participate in.

Posting on the Wall, Profile or Discussion groups.   Putting the ‘social' into social networks! Many hotel sales people push out promotions on their wall or profile without interspersing them with information such as links to relevant articles that may be of interest to the their Fans or network.   Posting activities that are relevant but interesting gives their network or Fans a way to get  to know them better.   Asking questions and giving answers on LinkedIn is a powerful way to establish credibility and maintain top of mind awareness so that when prospects are ready to buy they think of the sales person and their hotel.   

The key with social networks is that the sales person has access to many more potential prospects than they could locate using traditional methods.  Social networks are also a place to get know and have a little fun communicating and interacting with prospects. Post videos, have contests for your Facebook Fans – everyone likes to do business with people that make them smile now and then!  

Do social networks replace the personal interaction – no!  But they are a way to establish connections so that when the conversation moves to a booking conversation,   a relationship has already begun and the potential for moving it to close may be greater!

The Best of Hotel Sales & Revenue Management Caffeine – the EBook! Weekly Shots of Hotel Sales & Revenue Management Caffeine has been delivered to more than 500 Inboxes every week with a mix of sales, revenue management and motivational tips and trends.    Now it's an eBook.  At $6.99 it is the perfect gift for the sales and revenue management team!  The book is in a PDF format, downloadable into most eReaders.   Click here to get your copy!   Volume discounts for ten or more copies are available – contact Carol Verret at carol@carolverret.com. It will soon be on Amazon, formatted for Kindle.
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