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Holiday Inn Express Richmond Midtown
Business, Catering, Event Management, Sales, Tech, Venues

Jeff Kear
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Hotel sales software: How we solved data disarray for a Holiday Inn Express and saved them 80 hours/month

The fact that hotels use a half dozen or more software systems to manage all their operations is commonly accepted as “business as usual”.

Unfortunately, for many hotel sales staff and catering managers, this often cobbled-together assembly of stand-alone applications and manual processes hinders them from actually doing business.

When Jessica Adams, Director Of Sales and Marketing at Holiday Inn Express Richmond (VA) Midtown, first reached out to us, she was struggling with this exact situation.

Jessica Adams - Director of Sales and Marketing - Holiday Inn Express Richmond Midtown
Jessica Adams - Director of Sales and Marketing - Holiday Inn Express Richmond Midtown

“As a franchise hotel, we were using our own corporate software as well as third-party platforms for things like CRM and billing, but I also needed to use things like Google Docs, email, paper notes, file folders and even a dry-erase board to track things like our booked events and signed contracts,” says Jessica.

“It wasn’t efficient at all and frankly boggled my mind how long it took to do even simple things.”

We have found that many hotel sales managers like Jessica feel like they’re stuck with the legacy tools they’ve been given and must make-do by spending more hours on tedious busywork ... or hire additional staff to deal with chasing down details.

Even worse, what often holds them back from fixing the problem is the assumption that a better, all-in-one hotel sales software solution will take too long to implement or is too expensive for their budget.

As Jessica can tell you, this simply isn’t true because Planning Pod’s user-friendly venue and event management software…

  • Took her only a few days to get up and running.
  • Has lower pricing (and does more of what she needs) than more expensive sales CRM systems like Salesforce.
  • Saves her 64-80 hours of busywork per month.

Or in Jessica’s own words, “It was only a couple days to get my account set up with all my templates and contacts. And once I started using Planning Pod’s tools, I found that I easily saved around 16 to 20 hours per week and feel so much more organized!”

In this article, we will cover how Jessica has conquered challenges like:

NOTE: If you have challenges similar to what Jessica was facing, just know two things: 1) you aren’t alone, and 2) our platform can help you. To get a free trial or request a demo, contact us today.

How all-in-one hotel sales software automates the sales process

Fortunately for Jessica, she has had the benefit of using hotel sales tracking software at other positions in her career in the hospitality industry, namely at a vineyard, a restaurant and another hotel.

So when she was first hired on as Sales Director at Holiday Inn Express Richmond, she knew the advantages of using a comprehensive platform built specifically for venue salespeople and event and catering managers at hotels to manage their group sales and private events.

Holiday Inn Express Richmond Midtown
Holiday Inn Express Richmond (VA) Midtown

“I love systems and programs that make my life easier, and I knew there was a better way to do things than what my predecessor had been doing,” says Jessica.

Let’s take a look at the challenges Jessica faced when first starting her position and how moving over to Planning Pod’s comprehensive hotel sales and catering software helped her recover ~80 hours every month.

Challenge: Avoiding double-bookings while managing the status of leads and booked events among multiple staff members

If you use a Google or Outlook calendar to manage your event bookings (or even a spreadsheet or whiteboard), then you aren’t alone.

“Before we started using Planning Pod, if I wanted to look at a calendar to see our availability, I was going off a whiteboard in my office and hoping that it got updated with the most recent contracts that were signed,” says Jessica.

“And if I had leads out there that we quoted recently that didn’t make it to the whiteboard, then there's the possibility we might quote too many things for that same date, and if all those prospects say ‘yes’, then we may have double booked or triple booked ourselves."

As Jessica hints, tracking booked events and prospective events for each room and space on a single calendar isn’t enough. You also need coordinated access of that calendar for sales staff and managers so they can make timely updates if something changes.

And, lest we forget, there are dozens and dozens of additional details (like head counts, room blocks / occupancy, menu choices, room setups, etc.) to track regarding each lead and event, so you also need a way to organize and manage all that information as well as electronic files, forms and other related items.

Solution: Centralized booking engine (with calendar) that’s sharable and organizes event details efficiently

The reason that standard electronic calendars (like Google and Outlook) aren't a long-term solution for hotels and venues trying to manage event bookings is that they don’t offer several business-critical functions, including the ability to:

  • Manage multiple discrete item types, including booked events and leads (including leads with holds) plus appointments / walk throughs, tasks and payment due dates
  • Indicate if there are potential time/space conflicts and overlaps by date/time and by room/space
  • Be able to alternate between bookings/leads view (to see your booked and prospective events and all items related to them ) and by venue/room/space view (to see your availability by room/space)

Planning Pod’s online booking calendar accounts for all this, starting with the ability to set up your venues and rooms/spaces (yes it even works for multi-property setups). Then when you take in leads or book events, you can assign them to rooms and spaces when appropriate.

NOTE: Jessica also uses our calendar tool along with our headcount tool for assigning room blocks to events and tracking the total room nights there.

Oh and you can easily switch between views for events/leads or venue rooms/spaces. 

When you are entering a new lead or event, the system notifies you if the event you are entering conflicts with a date/time for another lead or booked event.

It even integrates with other electronic calendars, including Google, Outlook and Apple, in case you or your staff use those as your primary calendar.

Beyond the online booking calendar, there are 10+ more tools for tracking lead and event details, including:

  • Catering and food-and-beverage orders
  • Event schedules / timelines
  • File storage (with the ability to link to files stored in Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive)
  • Electronic forms to collect additional client information
  • Notes and internal messaging
Planning Pod Event Dashboard

And you can easily share all this information and collaborate with your team members and other hotel staff by inviting unlimited users into your account and assigning them to user groups with custom permission settings that you can control.

Planning Pod User Permission Settings

Speaking of collaborating, Planning Pod also has a task manager tool that lets you and your team assign tasks and create reminders so everyone knows what needs to get done and when. To save time, you can also create task templates and then when you import those templates into an event, it automatically backs out the tasks from the event date.

Jessica relies on the task manager “because if my assistant and I aren't in the office at the same time, she can log into Planning Pod and see what's due and overdue so we don't forget anything. That’s super important for us.”

Challenge: Connecting and following up with leads before they fall through the cracks

One thing Jessica knows well regarding a new lead is that she has “24 hours at most” to contact them before they make headway with another hotel or event venue.

“Before we changed to Planning Pod, sometimes we got so many inquiries and I was having to add their information in multiple places and manually email and track them that it was really nerve-wracking trying to stay on top of everything,” says Jessica.

Specifically, not having an online inquiry form, sales and CRM manager, calendar and email tool that can talk to each other means you are probably receiving leads in one place and then having to add and change that information in multiple places multiple times while they move through your pipeline.

We call these leaps between different applications and manual tasks “process gaps”, and the more process gaps you have, the higher the risk of dropping leads, double booking events and misplacing or overlooking vital pieces of customer information. 

So if a prospect’s initial inquiry sits unattended for too long, or if you or anyone on your team forgets to update lead details, or if a prospect’s email reply gets buried in your inbox, then a process gap has adversely affected your ability to sell to or service your customer.

Solution: Integrated lead capture and hotel CRM tools

The faster that lead details can be entered into your CRM software tool, the faster you can move on to the next step in pitching them. Planning Pod streamlines the lead and prospecting process in two ways:

  1. A quick-fill form for entering in a new lead manually plus the ability to view your bookings calendar to see if their desired dates are available.
  2. A lead capture form that you can embed on your website’s “Contact Us” or inquiry page that automatically adds the new lead to your sales funnel (and to your calendar if the prospect provides their event dates/times).

As Jessica says, “I like the ease it takes to get a lead into Planning Pod and that I don’t have to ask for all this data including Social Security number and blood type.”

Note that we wouldn’t think of requiring such information ;)

With regard to the website lead capture form, you can customize it based on the information you need to collect (remember: the fewer number of fields, the more likely people will complete the form); set up the form for direct bookings (coming soon); and create real-time automations to notify sales team members of a new lead inquiry and send an automated reply emails to prospects.

You can even display an availability calendar right next to the form so your website visitors can see the dates and time available for booking your spaces.

Planning Pod Lead Capture Form Builder

Once the lead is in your pipeline, our customer relationship management tools provide sales pipeline tracking and dashboard reminders so you know when you need to follow up with leads, including if they haven’t yet signed their proposal or contract or paid their invoice. 

And once a lead has turned to a sale, you can convert them to an event with a single click and track your conversion rates and referral sources.

Challenge: Manually creating proposals, contracts and BEOs from scratch every time

There’s nothing more frustrating than reinventing the wheel every time you have to send out a proposal or contract to a new customer.

Which is exactly what many hotel salespeople are doing when they practically create a proposal or contract from scratch for each new lead.

“The hardest thing for us was turning around proposals and contracts promptly,” says Jessica. “My predecessor was making proposals and contracts in Microsoft Word and sending them out via email for signatures, and it hurt to watch that process and how those antiquated systems made things more difficult.”

Not only is this manual process time-consuming, but any delay in responding to a new lead can cost you a sale if the prospect hears back from one of your competitors first.

And once the client is on board, there are additional documents like banquet event orders (BEOs) and/or hotel resumes that must be completed and provided to the client for sign-off.

Unfortunately, although the information for these documents usually resides somewhere digitally, pulling it all together to create a BEO is usually a manual time-sink in and of itself.

Solution: Easy-to-modify proposal, line item, contract and BEO templates

Planning Pod provides automations like the ability to build out unlimited proposal and contract templates. This way you can create different templates based on your most commonly requested items and packages.

Then, when you need to create a new proposal or contract, you simply load the template into the new document, make your changes to customize the document and email it directly to your prospect from inside Planning Pod so you don’t have to manually download and email it.

In addition, you can also create line item templates for common services and products you offer, and when you need to add an item to a proposal or invoice, you just drop in the line item template, make your edits and move on.

In fact, Planning Pod offers a client portal feature so you can provide your prospect or client access to the portal and they can view and sign proposals and contracts, view and pay invoices, fill out online forms and do much more.

Planning Pod Client Portal

“Sometimes the phone rings at 4:50 in the afternoon and the person wants a quote before I leave for the day,” says Jessica. “With Planning Pod, I can quickly import a proposal template, add line items, make edits and changes and send it out in 10 minutes.”

And as for BEOs and hotel resumes, Jessica says, “Your BEO tool was probably the biggest lifesaver. The fact that it auto populates all the information that we need from everywhere else in the system is such a timesaver.”

Planning Pod Banquet Event Order Tool

This BEO automation tool actually pulls in data from the client contact area, event timeline, proposal, invoice, catering order and floor plan so you don’t have to double enter any information.

Challenge: Getting clients to sign proposals, contracts and BEOs - as well as pay their invoices - without tracking them down

In the hotel industry, nothing gets started without a signed contract. Which is why it’s so frustrating to have to chase down signatures of prospects who have verbally committed to you.

As Jessica told us, “It takes way too much time to download and email contract PDFs and then have to follow up with more emails just to get a signed PDF back.”

She continues, “And initially we had no good system for managing all the contracts that got signed other than a paper file in my office.”

As she admits, this wasn't an ideal process for the most important event documents with regard to what your hotel promised to deliver and what the client agreed to pay for.

And speaking of getting paid, because many hotels charge clients in installments, many hotel sales managers have to follow up with clients multiple times to make sure they stay current with payments on their invoices or banquet checks.

For hotel sales staff, this is yet another task you have to remember to do and that takes time away from your sales and prospecting activities.

Solution: Electronic signatures and automated reminders for collecting signoffs and payments

With Planning Pod’s automated signature functionality, you can quickly send an email to a client with a link to a page that displays the proposal, contract or BEO to be signed.

Once they review and sign the document online, they receive a PDF copy and you receive a notification that the signature has been collected. Plus the signed electronic document is now stored securely with the event so you can easily reference it or download a printable PDF.

Planning Pod Proposal Electronic Signature

And if it hasn’t been signed? You will see in your account dashboard all the unsigned documents you are waiting on so you can resend the signature request to prompt your client to sign.

“It’s great to be able to create a new proposal for a client in 10 minutes, email it to them to sign at the end of the business day, and when I come in the next day I see 'proposal signed' in Planning Pod and I’m done,” confirms Jessica.

But all this is for nought if you don’t get paid for it.

Fortunately, Planning Pod’s invoicing and payment tools also let you create an invoice from a proposal in a single click, plus you can employ invoice and line item templates to quickly build a new invoice.

But, according to Jessica, the real timesaver are the scheduled payment reminder and automated payments tools, which let you send out reminders and links for scheduled installment payments or simply schedule automated payments, respectively.

Planning Pod Payment Reminder Tool

“This is such a great tool that lets me back out payments from event dates by number of days and it even calculates the percentage of the invoice for me for each payment,” says Jessica. “It’s now a must-have for my billing.”

Challenge: Spending hours creating professional event floor plans 

Like many hotel event sales directors, Jessica uses floor plan layout designs in three critical ways:

  • As a sales tool to help prospects visualize what her hotel can deliver
  • As part of the client final sign off when they approve the final setup of their event
  • As an operations document to share with internal staff on event day to guide them in setting up the rooms and spaces

As such, she needs clean, polished, accurate digital event layout designs, which clients, hotel staff and vendors have equally come to expect as commonplace. (And yes, the hand-drawn mockups of yesteryear simply don’t make the grade in the 21st Century for enhancing guest satisfaction.)

But as necessary as floor plans have become, it doesn’t mean Jessica likes spending hours and hours creating these in a design program.

“Floor plans can be really time-consuming, especially if I have to start something from scratch,” she says. “I probably used to spend 2-3 hours each time I had to create one.”

As Jessica discovered, many graphic design programs are fully capable of being used to create floor plan layout designs for events. But that doesn’t mean they are the right tool for the job or can provide a professional result without many hours of work and tweaking.

Solution: Floor plan design software with custom templates and element libraries

Most event floor plan software tools (like the one offered by Planning Pod) provide features specifically for creating room and space layouts that offer a level of detail and finish that are hard to achieve with general design programs.

These speciality event design tools include:

  • Pre-built tables, chairs, furniture and event layout elements that are standard to the hospitality industry
  • Room/space perimeter builder for creating boundaries or walls that reflect those of your spaces (even curved/angled walls or bumpouts)
  • Simple drag-and-drop functionality aided by snap-to grids (for easy alignment of elements), rulers and guides
  • Integrations with other tools like attendee lists (for assigned seating) and on-premise check-in (for checking in guests at the door).
  • Printable, full-color PDF downloads that are branded with your hotel’s logo

But Planning Pod goes several steps further to provide automations that save hotel sales managers countless hours, including:

Unlimited layout templates - Create custom templates for each of your rooms/spaces and even multiple setups for each space that you can instantly drop into new floor plans.

Planning Pod Event Floor Plan Software Templates

Venue room/space libraries - You can associate templates you create with your rooms and spaces so that they are automatically pulled into an event where that room/spaced is booked.

Custom element libraries and elements - Most hotels have specific tables, chair types and furniture that they use constantly, and you can create custom element libraries (and even custom elements, if necessary) so you can quickly drop those frequently used items into your designs.

Planning Pod Floor Plan Favorite Elements

Table auto-layout - Laying out a grid of banquet tables can be painstaking, so Planning Pod lets you pick a table type, select the number of table rows you need and how many tables per row, and then lays out the grid for you, with tables spaced according to your specifications.

Planning Pod Floor Plan Table Auto-Layout Tool

“The floor plans tool is probably the biggest timesaver for me because Planning Pod is so smart and has so many shortcuts to creating impressive layouts,” says Jessica. 

Challenge: Creating and sending out documents that lack visual “sizzle”

Jessica told us, “Anything I can do to show our customers what the experience will be like when they book their event with us, the better. So the better our documents look, the easier they are to read, the more visuals they have, then the happier our clients are with them.”

Jessica knows she isn't selling something mundane like computers or plumbing. And to be honest, you are selling much more than just guest rooms and catered meals … you are selling the experience of booking a memory-filled event at your hotel, which can’t truly be captured in a plain ol' Quickbooks quote or a Microsoft Word doc.

In fact, every document you send to a lead - from your proposal to your contract to your invoice and BEO - needs to look professional, convey your brand experience and include as many visuals as necessary to give your prospects a clear understanding of what they can expect.

You know they have high expectations (especially corporate planners and brides), so your documents must deliver on those to establish and maintain guest satisfaction.

Solution - Fully branded and colorful proposals, contracts, invoices and BEOs

Our hotel sales software platform provides sales and invoicing documents in professional, friendly, easy-to-read formats, both for on-screen viewing and printable PDF downloads.

In addition, our tools offer many options for customizing and embellishing your documents, including:

  • Document headers branded with your logo, corporate colors, customizable fonts and contact information
  • Proposals and invoices with line item images, image galleries, line item categories and file attachment capabilities (for including items like PDF brochures and spec / pricing sheets)
  • Easy-to-read, printable contracts with signature details
  • Customizable BEOs with sections for contact details, schedules, menus, setup instructions, proposal/invoice details and more

“I just like how easy it is to do things like drop colorful pictures into proposals and how pretty all the documents look in a PDF,” says Jessica. “Everything just looks visually appealing, which is a big deal with regard to professionalism and makes it really easy for customers to follow.” 

Challenge: Difficult to quickly obtain business data to make critical decisions

Hotel salespeople need to have key pieces of data on hand to know where they stand at all times regarding sales goals and quotas … and in case their GM makes a surprise visit to their office and wants to see the latest sales numbers on-the-fly.

Specifically, information, metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) like event space/room availability, occupancy, monthly and yearly sales to-date, close ratios, profitability, etc., are all vital for hoteliers and sales staff to make informed decisions.

Unfortunately, those data points aren’t always instantly available if you are using multiple stand-alone software applications, as Jessica discovered early on in her position.

“When I first started, if you wanted to look at something like total sales revenues, you had to pull out physical invoices or look in our accounting software and then get a calculator and write it all down by hand,” she says. “I just couldn’t do it, and that’s when I started looking for a better solution.”

Solution: Custom dashboards and reports compiling all sales, billing and event booking data

When it comes to reporting, there are often two different scenarios that hotel sales managers encounter, requiring two different types of data:

  • Quick lookup of a specific current KPI (like monthly/yearly sales to date, close rate, space or room availability by date, etc.)  
  • Broader analysis of data across time ranges or other metrics (like open invoices aging, payments made/upcoming, pending proposals, data on booked events or leads, etc.)

Ideally, the former should be fast and easy to find within the application, while the latter should offer more customization/configuration options for filtering and presenting multiple data points.

Planning Pod provides both using a combination of dashboard KPIs and configurable, downloadable reports.

Dashboards

For starters, Planning Pod’s home dashboard provides an at-a-glance look with regard to upcoming, overdue and “waiting” items in your account as well as recent actions. And you can also drill down to view these details on the individual lead and event levels.

Planning Pod Home Page Dashboard

The main event and lead sections provide top-level KPIs like current booked/upcoming events, recent bookings and new/booked/closed/on-hold leads (all filtered by customizable date range).

And the proposals, contracts and invoices sections offer top-level metrics for items like amounts proposed, active/signed/archived proposals, contracts signed, total amounts invoiced, payments/revenues and balances due.

Reports

Our reports provide detailed .csv downloads for a number of metrics that you can filter by date range, event name, assigned contact/client and custom tags as well as open into Google Sheets or Excel. These reports include including:

  • Booked Events + Details
  • Leads + Details
  • Invoices + Details
  • Payments
  • Upcoming Scheduled Payments
  • Open Invoices
  • Proposals + Details
  • Contracts/E-signatures

Jessica recommended Planning Pod to a colleague who is also a hotel sales manager, and Jessica says, “My friend is so analytical about her invoices, payments and reports, and she loves how in Planning Pod she can categorize different types of corporate or wedding business clients and analyze things a million different ways regarding her leads and sales.”

What hoteliers should look for in hotel sales software (besides basic catering and CRM software tools)

We’ve already covered quite a bit of functionality and tools you should consider when shopping for hotel sales and catering software, but we would be remiss if we forgot to talk about the often overlooked factors that are just as important in finding a platform that’s a good fit for your hotel.

NOTE: As a software company ourselves, we use a few dozen online software applications to help run our business, so this is a wish list of the “unspoken” things that we wished all software providers would have told us to pay attention to.

4 overlooked factors in assessing hotel catering software / sales software

Easy setup and implementation

Most hotels don’t have weeks or months to get a new hotel sales and catering software up and running (it’s probably more like hours or days). So the platform you choose should at the least enable you to import existing data into your account and provide training and onboarding assistance as you acclimate to the program

Planning Pod offers the ability to upload a variety of data items (including contact lists, e-calendar files, event lists, etc.) as well as free 1-on-1 training/onboarding with our premium packages, plus email/chat/phone support, video webinars/tutorials and a customer help portal with hundreds of searchable articles.

Easy for staff to use

This might be the biggest reason why some hotels never fully adapt to a hotel sales software platform that they bought - because their staff never used it.

In our opinion, the success of getting staff to adapt to a new system depends on two factors: 1) how user-friendly is the system and how good is the training, and 2) how well the sales manager instructs their staff on how they want them to use the application.

A solid platform will offer custom and webinar-based training to both the manager and their staff as well as lots of help resources and responsive customer support (as does Planning Pod).

Integrations with other applications

As we said before, most hotels already have a bevy of applications they currently use, which can include:

  • General hotel management software - including guest room booking and central reservations systems (CRS) for hotel rooms, point-of-sale and front desk management
  • Hotel customer relationship management systems and marketing campaign / social media management platforms
  • Accounting and revenue management systems
  • Property management systems (PMS)

If you are going to continue to rely on these systems to access or manage contact or billing information and don’t want to double enter data constantly, you should inquire whether the hotel sales software you are considering connects to other applications via a platform like Zapier or directly through APIs.

Planning Pod offers integrations with hundreds of applications via Zapier and also integrates directly with Google calendars/apps and dozens of electronic calendars and payment processors.

Internal automations and workflows

Having a lot of great tools inside a single platform only gets you so far if those tools don’t share information with each other, intelligently pulling data from other areas to save you time and help eliminate errors.

In addition, the ability to create additional automations and workflows within the application can help you streamline your hotel event management processes, especially for things like setting up reminders, autoresponder emails and action triggers (like when X happens, then do Y).

As this article has explained, Planning Pod has been built to share data between tools to streamline your workflows, minimize mistakes and eliminate double entry. From proposals and invoices to BEOs and floor plans, our tools create intact systems and remove process gaps to save customers like Jessica 80 hours of busywork a month ... or more.

NOTE: If you have similar challenges and want to streamline your processes to save dozens of hours every month, our platform can help you. Contact us to set up a free trial or schedule a demo.


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