How to Manage Venue and Catering Leads for Better Business Results
Whether you’re looking to grow your funnel for catering leads or event venue leads, the secret to finding the prospects your business needs — and consistently turning them into delighted repeat customers — is a matter of following six simple steps.
1. Identify the Personas of Your Best Catering and Venue Leads
Figuring out how to promote a venue or how to create buzz around your catering business doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Your first step is to identify who your potential customers are. When putting together your event venue sales plan or a catering sales plan, a good place to begin is defining the personas of the likely customers you will be serving and walking through the buying journey specific to those personas. A good starting place for this is to identify your current best customers and come up with specific characteristics that define them and why they are ideal for your business.
A corporate event planner looking to provide meals for an onsite training event will have one set of needs; a couple looking to feed their wedding guests (or looking for the right wedding venue or the right place to hold the reception) will have very different needs. Know who these people are and what they want, and you are on your way to figuring out how to find them.
Whether you are looking to attract corporate catering leads, wedding leads or local catering leads (or all three), and whether or not your venue marketing plan requires defining an event funnel, the best place to begin is to try to understand your customers and their needs.
2. Attract Venue and Catering Sales Leads With Targeted Marketing
The next challenge is to get the attention of the potential customers you are targeting and encourage them to take the first step in the buying journey. Generating venue / catering leads online requires a mix of solid event venue and caterer marketing tactics, including professional website design, sound SEO (search engine optimization) practices, good use of social channels and possibly outreach via email.
In the real world (for both catering and venue businesses), lead generation requires developing a strong referral network. A good way to begin generating corporate catering leads is to leverage high-profile events such as conferences and fundraisers. Food festivals, food competitions and free tasting events are all excellent ways to attract catering sales leads and build referrals for your catering business. Partnering with your local local Chamber of Commerce as well as other players in the events space (corporate training and event managers, caterers, florists, DJs) is an excellent way to start building venue leads and feeding your event funnel … if that’s one of the tasks you have laid out in your event venue marketing plan.
Paid ads can bridge the gap between the real and online worlds. You might place traditional ads in community guides and other local publications. Online, your SEO efforts should be aligned with any PPC (pay per click) or paid ads in search engines like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising as well as social channels like Facebook and Instagram. Here are more good articles for venue/catering sales tactics and how to find catering or venue clients.
3. Build Succinct Forms to Collect Your Interested Leads
Of course, it isn’t enough just to attract leads. You have to collect them. For example, your well-designed and search-optimized website should prominently feature one or more simple forms asking visitors to provide their details: name, phone number, email address, and type of service they may be interested in. Gathering that kind of information is critical, but make sure not to ask too much and scare people away (name, phone, email and reason for their inquiry should be plenty).
Special offers, free gifts and contests can all provide incentives for filling the forms out. You can also use physical paper forms in the real world and offer many of the same incentives: contest entry, prizes, special gifts. And don’t underestimate the value of business cards. A lot of potential buyers will gladly hand a card over, for example, to be entered for a free drawing when they might have been less eager to fill out a form. The key here is to put yourself in front of your targeted leads where they congregate (think local festivals, fairs, trade shows, networking events, food/beer/wine tastings, etc.). These approaches are ideal for building up a base of local catering leads.
We Interrupt this Blog Post…
...for a few important words on CRM software. Outlining the journey from stranger to repeat customer is one challenge; mapping that journey to the steps you have defined for your own sales pipeline is another. A great event CRM system for caterers and venues can make all the difference in helping you track catering leads and follow up properly according to your own best practices.
When catering and venue businesses fail to see the sales results they’re hoping for, the problem is usually not that they didn’t attract leads or didn’t collect them. Where things tend to break down is typically the follow-through. Trusting spreadsheets and manual processes can leave a lot to chance. Of course, this is not to say that manual processes can’t work or that every catering and venue business must have a CRM system. But why go to the trouble and expense of collecting venue and catering sales leads if you aren’t going to maximize your potential for return on that effort? Event CRM software helps ensure nothing slips through the cracks and that your hard work in prospecting is rewarded.
4. Score and Segment Your Collected Venue and Catering Leads
With or without a CRM system, the next step is to segment your venue leads or catering leads according to the buyer personas you have defined in your marketing plan. The buyer’s journey will be very different for a couple planning their wedding, a non-profit director organizing a fundraiser and a corporate event planner looking to host an offsite training event. The messages, decision points and overall campaigns will be different for each - so it is important that you clearly identify and assign the right segment to each lead going into the pipeline process.
After you segment your catering leads, you should score them to determine which leads are most likely to buy and which are of the highest value to your business. Segmenting catering or event leads gets them into the right campaigns; scoring them prioritizes the attention you and your staff will pay to them.
Some people call this process the “lead qualifying” phase, but whatever you want to call it, it helps you focus your efforts on the leads that are the most promising and whose needs best match your offerings.
5. Nurture Your Leads with Frequent, Timely Communications
Nurturing your catering leads and venue leads is a critical step in leading potential customers to a moment of truth (that is, when they realize the value in your services and trust you enough to sign on the bottom line). It’s important to respond rapidly and professionally to all inquiries that come in, whether they arrive by phone call, social media message, email or a lead form on your site. But it is even more important to build trust and establish an ongoing dialog with your new leads.
Each step in the buying journey culminates in a decision point. But every potential customer is on his or her own schedule and may need more or fewer points of contact before deciding to buy. Just remember that a steady stream of communication helps to build trust, and one of the best ways to stay in touch is to encourage the prospect to subscribe to your email list or follow your business on social channels.
Nurturing new leads is closely related to, but not exactly the same as, nurturing your relationship with existing clients. With them, both the trust and the business relationship are already established, so the stream of communication leans more towards reminders that your business still exists and your services are still available. But with both existing and potential customers, the nurturing cycle should include ample opportunities to make a buying decision.
6. Book the Event
The first phase of the customer journey is complete when you book the sale. Prospects who put in an order, pay a deposit or sign a contract are no longer prospects. The lead is, at that point, converted, so rather than a catering lead and or venue you have a paying customer. Now the challenge is not to get your catering clients to buy, but to provide them with such an overwhelmingly positive experience that they are sure to sign up for more.
This can sometimes be the most difficult step in the sales process because this is when you will be responding to objections and refining your estimate / pricing based on your prospect’s feedback. It’s best to anticipate these objections early on in the sales process before you put in lots of time and effort trying to land the prospect only to lose them at the last minute, so ask lots of questions in the qualifying/segmenting phase and answer any anticipated objections before the prospect has a chance to object in the first place.
Whether your goal is to take your catering business to the next level or simply to better understand how to promote a venue, the key is to follow these six lead management steps. The better you understand your customers, and the more closely you map that understanding into your sales pipeline process, the sooner you will begin to see results in your catering or venue business.