The s-word—sales—has been the bane of many catering companies’ existences this year. The post-pandemic boom is slowly subsiding, ghosting is becoming more prevalent, and many are seeing a slow down.
So, this month the International Caterers Association’s monthly educational webinar in July was all about, you guessed it, sales! The webinar was presented by Jennifer Perna, Principal of Fulton Market Consulting, whose company helps catering companies cultivate stellar company cultures and increases sales in the process.
Today, we’re sharing the round-up as this is an industry-wide pain point right now. After reading, we know you’ll be reinvigorated and full of ideas to ramp up new business for Q4!
The current sales landscape in the catering industry
Perna opened the session by sharing all the pain points that the caterers she works and networks with have shared with her–and all attendees were nodding their head in agreement as she ran down the list.
Caterers across the globe are currently struggling to:
- Get clients to say ‘yes’ to proposals
- Compete on price with other companies that are much cheaper
- Generate a sustainable funnel of leads
- Rebound from a slow down in business
- Keep up with the increased competition in the space
- Understand why they’re being ghosted by clients and prospects
- Sell …
Over the past three years, the landscape was different. A year was spent pivoting and rebooking, and the following two were overflowing with three years worth of business jammed into a year. No one has had to really sell in years. But now, Perna shared, we’re going back to the pre-2019 landscape where people truly had to hustle for business, not just sit around and act as account managers as leads flowed in from venues and booking platforms.
So, what’s a catering company to do? Perna shared the ways to move forward and start selling again.
Ways to boost your sales strategy
While there are a million and one ways you can sell your catering services, Perna focused on four specific areas. Focusing on these areas will help eliminate overwhelm and help your team create a plan to move forward!
1. Do a base client business review
If you haven’t heard it before, this is a good rule of thumb:
80% of your business comes from 20% of your client base–your base client.
Your base clients are easy warm calls. Their businesses are filled with contacts who love your company and your work with already that are willing to give you more and spread the word–you just have to ask.
So, how do you leverage these connections? You can:
Ask for referrals
Create some sort of incentive program and release it. Or literally just ask for a favor and ask if they’d be willing to share your contact information with friends or send an intro to the head of planning for a new department in their business you haven’t worked with yet. Most of the time, they’ll graciously support you–and if they don’t, the issue may be in your client experience.
Get creative with your sales calls
The virtual gifts and mailed treats are great, but now that we’re moving away from pandemic etiquette, get out of the office!
Rachel Bruzek from D'Amico Catering in Minneapolis shared that their team hand-delivers a sweet dessert package to new clients to say thank you, stagnant clients to re-engage, and lost bids just to say thanks for the opportunity and stay top of mind for next time. She shared that they almost always respond and it leads to great conversation and more business.
Perna emphasized the fact that with LinkedIn today, no touch points really have to be cold. Connect with these base clients and use their network! If you reach out to someone new and they see you’re a shared connection, that’s an immediate conversation starter.
Read your city’s business journals
Is there a mention of a base client? Use it as a touch point! And if there isn’t–what other businesses have you not chatted with yet?
Set Google Alerts
Google Alerts are a highly underutilized tool. Set up alerts for every base client (and honestly, prospect, your own business, etc.). You’ll get reports daily of any news mentions. Use this as a touch point. If they’ve put out a press release that they’re close to opening a new location, reach out and congratulate them and ask if there will be a ribbon cutting they’ll need catering for.
The key is to look for opportunities for touch points everywhere–and to make your own.
2. Do a stagnant client business review
Next up, stagnant clients. Those who have booked with you before but haven’t in a year or more, pre-COVID, whatever it may be. Perna shared that this is the most important segment to be calling on because there are so many lost opportunities here in every catering business.
You can’t be scared to approach stagnant clients or be afraid of continuous rejection. They may be saying ‘no’ now, but being at the top of their inbox will mean you’re top of mind when they do have catering requirements.
How to reconnect
One question many had is since COVID there has been a lot of turnover. So, if you don’t have a contact, who do you reach out to? Here are a few ways to do that:
- Stop by in person with a nice treat from the chef, it’s harder to brush you off when you’re right there.
- When you’re doing seasonal menu development, invite these stagnant clients and base clients to join you for a free lunch in return for their feedback on menus–they’ll love and appreciate being involved (and wined and dined).
- Pick up the phone! Mention you used to work with Jane Doe and would love to chat with her replacement.
These are just a few places to start. Plus, August is when teams start booking holiday parties and Q4 events so use these now!
3. 3rd party planners, non-exclusive venues, & outside relationships
How many vendors do you work with at an average event? You may not even know because there are so many! Here’s a list of connections already in your world you should be asking about business:
- Event and wedding planners
- Destination management companies
- Design companies
- A/V annd entertainment companies
- Rental companies
- Non-exclusive venues
- Boutique F&B providers like a prosecco van that doesn’t conflict too much with your business but needs your supplemental support for events
- Marketing agencies
The goal is to think about the people/vendors that your ideal client will go to first before they typically book you, the caterer.
Reach out and ask them how business is going. Invite them to catch up over a cocktail. Make it fun and personable–they’re in the industry, they know how tough things are right now, and if you have that good personal relationship, they’ll start to refer more business your way.
4. New business development clients
Next up are new clients! We’ve run through existing or old contacts, so how do you create new ones?
Consider reaching out to similar business types
Say you serve a local law firm. Question why you’re not helping the rest! If they’re hosting events, it’s likely that other law firms in the area are too.
In this example, law firms host summer associate events and proms. Call and ask to speak with the individual who handles catering for these events specifically. At construction companies, think about topping out parties hosted after a project is completed or groundbreaking events when one starts.
You have sample work in this area, you know the industry and the requirements, so, ask for the business!
Consider who is planning events
Next, if you don’t have an industry you want to focus on specifically, think about the contact you want to speak to who typically handles events at an organization. Here’s a quick list to spark some ideas:
- Administrative employees: board Meetings, trainings
- Human resources eepartments: company picnics, holiday events
- Office of CEO/president: annual retreat, home events
- Event planning department: all events
- Marketing: client appreciation, brand roll out
Don’t sleep on convention business
Perna also shared that while a few of her clients have honed in on pitching convention business, it’s an area many are only scratching the surface of.
If you live in a Tier 1 or 2 convention city, you need to be cold pitching and building relationships with convention bureaus and DMCs. These organizations host hundreds of attendees at a time. While it may not fill the pipeline for tomorrow, it’s a long-game strategy that will lead to a full sales pipeline for years which is the ultimate goal, right?
Networking efforts for personal & professional growth
Peer-to-peer networking only helps you become a better salesperson. While industry-specific networking is great, this isn’t the only way to do it.
Say you love animals. Volunteer for a local shelter and start making connections. While you’ll probably be hanging around with furry friends, you have people coming in and out to adopt, other volunteers probably have full-time roles too, employees of the non-profit get married. See what we mean?
There is opportunity everywhere. It’s your job as a salesperson to integrate it into your life in unique ways that won’t feel like work. That’s where true success and longevity lie.
Annual sales percentage targets for off-premise catering
So, now that you have strategies, how do you track success?
Perna graciously shared the metrics she uses to help pace the teams she works with in both off-premise and on-premise catering. While this isn’t an end all, be all, it’s a great way to see how you’re tracking and pacing, and when you need to go a bit harder with your sales efforts.
The percentages are booked and actualized events total.
Annual sales percentage targets for exclusive venue
Now for exclusive venues, these need to be booked a bit farther out because there’s less opportunity to diversify, which is why you see higher percentages.
How to manage tracking with your team
So, now that you have a baseline percentage for pacing, what happens if your team isn’t meeting goal?
Perna shared that if your sales team isn’t pacing, if they’re not meeting this, as a leader, this is where you may want to call them in for weekly 1:1 meetings and ask them what they are doing in each of the areas we touched on here–base clients, stagnant clients, new business development, and industry relationship building.
She added that if her team was pacing, she treated them like they were running their own business and gave them that autonomy to continue doing their job well without micromanagement.
A few last tips
If you’re struggling with selling, the key is to know you’re not alone right now. But it’s important to have an objective outlook that helps you overcome these challenges! Here are a few final tips and tricks to consider as you get ready to enter a sales hustle chapter or are going through a lull:
- Reach out to venues and see if they have open dates to get a pulse on business–if they’re not booking venues, they surely won’t need catering.
- Be persistent with communication–many are getting ghosted on the proposal phase. After the fifth follow-up, send a final note saying something along the lines of, “At this point, I am assuming you went in a different direction. I’m going to release the hold on the space and will be here if you’d like a revised proposal at any point!” You’ll get a quick response if they’ve just been dragging their feet and want the date.
- Relationship building is a non-negotiable. You need to be networking professionally and personally. You never know when those connections will serve you well.
You’ve got this!
If you’re interested in being notified of future catering industry live and virtual education opportunities, while also gaining access to our exclusive community of fellow catering professionals visit internationalcaterers.org. Membership awaits!