Three Answers to One Question: Proven Ways to Grow Sales, Part 2

At Catersource 2018 in Las Vegas, our Michael Roman Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Bill Hansen, CEO, Bill Hansen Luxury Catering, moderated two sessions, asking caterers of small, medium, and large scale revenue for insight based on their own successful experiences, as well as the hard knocks they learned throughout their catering careers. Seated on this panel were:

• Greg Hicks, Owner/Senior Event Specialist, Impressions Catering

• Joanna Sherriff, General Manager, The Waterview

• Kris Reinhard, Partner, Fifth Group Restaurants; Bold American Events

This is part 2 of his session presented on the Catersource tradeshow floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Due to its length, this recap was split into two parts, with the first part posted yesterday.

Return next month (June 4) for Bill Hansen’s second session, “Proven Ways to Find Money Hiding in Your Business.” Click here for Part 1.

QUESTION: How do you compensate your sales team? Over and above salaries and commissions, do you offer bonuses?

Greg Hicks: I will begin this year offering commissions on sales. 5% of food, floral, and rentals that have been marked up a minimum 30%. To date, I have only had hourly sales people.

Joanna Sherriff: Our compensation is a mixture of a solid base ($45-55K) and commission on event sales and station sales. We do offer end of year bonuses for reaching the annual sales target.

Kris Reinhard: We are 100% commission with a draw. For the first year we do a combination salary and commission, but after year one it is commission only. We offer bonuses for them hitting their sales, production, and gross profit targets, for selling over $1M and for selling design. We also offer a five-day trip to Napa for our top sales person each year.

“We walk them through the process of asking them where they like to eat, and we compare restaurant pricing with catering pricing, coupled with the expense of rentals, etc.”—Greg Hicks

QUESTION: How do you go about getting your clients to reveal their budget?

Greg Hicks: More than likely, they know what they are interested in spending before they talk to you, even if they say they have no idea. There are of course times that they don’t. We walk them through the process of asking them where they like to eat, and we compare restaurant pricing with catering pricing, coupled with the expense of rentals, etc. Sometimes when we put a proposal together, we ask them what their “heart attack number” is.

Joanna Sherriff: Our pricing structure is helpful in this regard. We offer one package, and then vary the pricing for the package based on the day and time of day that the client is looking for. So, a Thursday might be $75++ and a Saturday evening might be $125++. I use the phrase: if you are looking for a particular date, I can price that for you. Or, if you are looking to stay within a budget, I can provide dates within that budget.” Typically, this can get the client to reveal their budget.

Kris Reinhard: When clients say they don’t have a budget, we will give them a rough dollar amount for what they are asking for and ask them how that sounds. Typically, if they don’t want to spend that amount they will suddenly speak up with their budget.

“I wish I had learned earlier that sales does not have to be pushy or awkward. It can be a conversation. I love learning about our couples and their vision for their wedding day.” Joanna Sherriff

QUESTION: What one thing do you wish you learned earlier in your career with regards to selling?

Greg Hicks: 1. Packaging menus/menu items and finding where the client fits best. This increases the proposal and booking process, as well as overall profitability. 2. Stop saying, “that won’t work in my area” or trying to get business by offering what someone else is offering at their pricing. We are who we are—not our competition!

Joanna Sherriff: I started out in marketing and moved into sales later in my career. I was always afraid of sales as I am not what I thought was a “sales person.” I wish I had learned earlier that sales does not have to be pushy or awkward. It can be a conversation. I love learning about our couples and their vision for their wedding day. I’ve learned that I can have a conversation about what we offer, educate them a little bit about the business of weddings, and, if we all agree, help them on their wedding journey. Sales does not have to be scary—it can be a dialogue and a journey.

Kris Reinhard: New inventory is really the key to priming the pump. Weekly new inventory goals and accountability for hitting those targets, will help you build your book of business very quickly. Also, it is important your sales team’s compensation is directly linked to your company goals.

“It can be tempting to be a Monday morning quarterback when the sales team books what might seem like a difficult or too deeply discounted event. But once you’ve been in the trenches selling and know how hard it can be to land that business, there’s less Monday morning quarterback, and more focus where it should be—on execution.”—Joanna Sherriff

QUESTION: What one thing would you do differently when you look back at your career?

Greg Hicks: Hire some employees sooner, versus being a one man show for the first 11 years. Be a better student of my numbers.

Joanna Sherriff: I wish I had done more selling earlier in my career. It is the best place to learn what your customers want. Their needs and desires inform everything that we do, and it is the best place to spot trends. It is also very humbling. It can be tempting to be a Monday morning quarterback when the sales team books what might seem like a difficult or too deeply discounted event. But once you’ve been in the trenches selling and know how hard it can be to land that business, there’s less Monday morning quarterback, and more focus where it should be—on execution.

Kris Reinhard: Focus on proactive business development earlier in our company history not just growing through farming and repeat business.

“When we send our thank you note by email we include the links to social media. We have been very successful in getting people to comply.”—Kris Reinhart

QUESTION: How do you go about motivating your clients to post reviews on social media?

Greg Hicks: Simply put, we ask them to. We also have a link that we send them to our Google review page, Facebook, etc. Most people are more likely to click a link that you send them, and then have to go find it on their own.

Joanna Sherriff: We have found the tools provided by The Knot and Wedding Wire to be wonderful in asking past clients to review us. On social media, we take a more organic approach and encourage our brides to share their photos on our Facebook page. When we then re-share them, it prompts the bride or groom to comment or write a review. Also, we encourage our brides and grooms to like us on Facebook when they book. We give reasons such as, we tend to share a lot of photos and ideas that are helpful. Then we spend a year building a relationship with them on Facebook, through fun posts, educational posts, and information about the venue. We never try to directly sell them anything. Then, once they’ve had their event with us, they are more likely to return to the page and write a review. Sometimes, they even stay on the page for years interacting with new couples. It builds a great community.

Kris Reinhard: When we send our thank you note by email we include the links to social media. We have been very successful in getting people to comply. I think this is mostly because of the relationship we develop with them during the process and they genuinely want to help us.

“Good indictors of troublesome clients: If the client emails at 10:00 p.m. and calls at 8:00 a.m. the following morning wondering why you have not responded yet… If the client won’t tell you a budget and when you present something too high, is only interested in you reducing the cost vs. negotiating.”—Greg Hicks

QUESTION: How do you tactfully inform a client that he or she is not the right client for you? How do you know when to run from a troublesome client?

Greg Hicks: After qualifying them, we pretty much know where they will be in terms of profitability. If at that point it does not look like they would be a customer we were interested in, we would politely say, “Our menus start at $X/pp plus other rentals, etc. What you’re asking for, (repeat back to them their guest count, rental needs, etc. because for some reason they don’t do the math of total $ in the budget and their guest count, i.e., $4000/150 guests = $26+/pp all inclusive) is really going to cost approximately $X. Do you think this is within your budget?”

Good indictors of troublesome clients: If the client emails at 10:00 p.m. and calls at 8:00 a.m. the following morning wondering why you have not responded yet… If the client won’t tell you a budget and when you present something too high, is only interested in you reducing the cost vs. negotiating.

Joanna Sherriff: For many clients, we are either too expensive, or they do not like the idea of sharing the event space. For those clients who say that they were able to find a cheaper venue price than ours, we tactfully reply that yes, we are not the lowest priced venue around. What we do offer is the best experience and service for what we charge. When those clients push back and say, “but venue B offered this price!” we counter with “that’s a great deal! You should take it!” And we wish them all the best on their wedding journey.

For troublesome clients who are not yet booked, we use similar language, e.g., we understand that we may not be the venue for you. We do have sister properties which we can recommend, which helps. It is a combination: we understand, and here is a next step… which makes for a less awkward goodbye. For troublesome clients who are booked, we have occasionally refunded their deposits. We found that if a client truly does not want to be at our venue, we are not going to make them stay.

Kris Reinhard: When clients say they don’t have a budget we quote them what our average price per person is and see if they would still like a proposal. We also quote higher minimums on our more in demand dates (Saturdays and holidays). When a client tries to keep negotiating after we have given them our best offer, we tell them we may not be the best option for them because this is the best we can offer. We also offer a referral better suited to their needs.

Pop back next month (June 4) for a recap of Bill Hansen’s moderated session, Proven Ways to Find Money Hidden in Your Business.”

Click on the logo above for information on Catersource 2019.

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