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Event Sales Techniques for Event Venues, Caterers and Planners

25 Powerful Event Sales Techniques for Venues and Planners

by | Jul 27, 2022 | Best Practices, Business, Event Management, Event Marketing, Event Venues, Sales, Venues

If you are somehow engaged in event sales – whether as a salesperson, business owner or manager in the hospitality and events industry – you already know that establishing successful sales practices and habits is the #1 way to grow revenues for private, group and in-person events.

However, if that’s the case, why do so many event and hospitality professionals stop trying to improve their sales processes once they get comfortable?

“Nearly six in 10 salespeople say that when they figure out what works for them, they don’t change it.”

(source: Hubspot)

The reason is simple … many of us feel like our current sales processes are working fine and that we simply don’t have the time to research and implement new techniques.

Unfortunately, if you’re not staying up on new event sales tactics and approaches, you are probably leaving money on the table.

“On an individual level, ongoing sales training and implementing new strategies can boost sales representatives’ performance by an average of 20%.”

(source: Spotio)

Here at Planning Pod, we build venue and event management software tools that help our customers close more business, so we want to do everything in our power to help them improve and grow.

To that end, we have assembled a list of 25 (+2) proven event sales techniques and strategies from seasoned pros that you can implement quickly to boost your lead generation, qualifying and close rates. And, yes, these can definitely help in this post-pandemic sales world of Zoom meetings and electronic communications.

Note that we will mainly discuss event sales tips here and leave topics like event marketing strategies, social media tactics and target audience outreach for other articles.

See why more than 20,000 event and hospitality professionals rely on Planning Pod’s tools every day to manage their event bookings, sales pipeline, clients and billings. Get started today >>

Sales Discovery, Qualification and Pitching Techniques

1. Dig to the next level with your initial qualification and needs assessment

When you are qualifying a new lead, you probably already ask for basic information like:

  • Type of event (wedding, party, meeting, trade show, seminar/webinar, etc.)
  • Goal/objective of the event
  • Event date/time
  • Headcount
  • Budget
  • Decision timeline
  • Catering/food-and-beverage needs
  • Location/room/space needs (on-premise, off-premise, etc.)
  • Service and staffing requirements (including outside vendors)
  • AV and equipment requirements

However, to really understand their needs, motivations and desires, you need to dig deeper by having them clarify their responses to basic questions and asking more open-ended questions like:

  • What does a successful event look like for you?
  • What kind of experience do you want for your guests/attendees?
  • What are you looking for from a venue/planner?
  • What are your “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”?
  • Who else are you working with to plan and execute the event?
  • What other providers are you talking with?

BTW these are also great questions to ask a tight-lipped prospect to get them to open up and share.

2. Control the conversation (and talk less) by asking questions

Prospects are often reluctant to talk with an event sales representative because they don’t want to be pressured to buy something they don’t need or overpay for something they do.

One great way to surprise them and counter those expectations is to approach your calls with a list of questions (like the one provided above) instead of a script of answers. By continuing to ask questions of your prospects…

  1. You learn more about their needs, enabling you to qualify and serve them better.
  2. You control the conversation while at the same time making them feel comfortable and in control themselves.
  3. You keep yourself from dominating the conversation and overtalking (FYI … according to research from, successful salespeople talk for about 55% of their calls).

3. Qualify their budget by using “framing” techniques

As you know, many prospects are reluctant to share their event budget. Sometimes the reason is due to fear that by volunteering this information, it “locks” them into that number. Sometimes it is because they sincerely have little knowledge of what it actually costs to book an event space, order catering or contract out for event planning services.

Whatever the reason, you can use framing to zero in on a ballpark number and gauge by their reaction if their budget is within the typical price range for your services.

You can simply ask them, “So based on your needs and requested services and items, our typical clients pay anywhere from [LOW PRICE HERE] to [HIGH PRICE HERE]. Does that price range scare you or make you think twice?”

If you don’t get any hesitation or resistance, you can follow up by confirming, “So if I quote you a price in that range, would it be squarely in your budget?”

If you do get resistance, you know that your pricing might be a dealbreaker for them, signaling that you need to do more discovery regarding cost.

4. Directly ask the prospect if an objection is a dealbreaker

If you have been actively selling event services, then you probably already have a long list of objections you commonly hear and an equally long list of responses to those objections. When many salespeople are responding to an objection, they provide their reply and then move on to other objections or qualifying questions.

However, there is one vital question to ask before moving on … “If we cannot accommodate this need, would that be a dealbreaker for you?”

This is soooooo important because it lets you know if you need to stop and reassess if the prospect is truly qualified to move to the next step of the sales funnel. This way you don’t waste your time with a proposal or site visit if you know they aren’t a good fit.

5. Go over their timeline for their decision making process

It’s common that many new leads have not given much thought to their process for making a buying decision beyond getting a proposal (with pricing) and maybe having a date in mind by when they need to decide.

However, for you, their timeline is essential so that you know if they are entering your pipeline with a pressing or distant need and so you can schedule followup emails and calls at the appropriate time.

If they don’t have a timeline in mind, help them suss it out by backing it out from their event date and asking how long before their event do they want to have an event booking, catering order or event management provider in place. Then you can back out from there when you would want to provide a proposal, schedule a site visit and set a decision date with them. 

Once you have collectively sketched out a decision making process for them, confirm with them that they agree with this before moving on.

6. Ask leads if you can correspond with them via text messaging

Should you communicate with leads via email, text or phone? Well, let’s look at average response rates for all three.

The average email open rate is 20% vs. 98% for SMS/text messaging … and most of those opens occur within 3 minutes of receiving the message (source: Openphone). Also consider the fact that 76% of consumers don’t like talking to businesses on the phone, and communicating via text message with leads and clients looks like a no-brainer (source: MessageDesk).

If your request meets resistance, tell them that it will allow you to be more responsive to them and expedite their requests as you go back and forth with them during the buying process. And if they refuse to communicate via text, ask them what other method would they prefer.

7. Always ask the lead what other competitors or solutions they are considering

Another way to help qualify and assess a new prospect is to ask what other event venues, caterers or event planners they are talking to and how you compare to them.

Often this is a question best saved until after they have seen a proposal from you and at the end of their site visit/tour/appointment. Often a lead will be reluctant to share this information, but just tell them that you would appreciate this feedback so you can keep tabs on if you are offering a competitive product or service.

With this information, you can get a sense if you are their top choice or, if not, what else you can offer or what objections you can answer to help put you on top.

Event Sales Tips for Hotels and Restaurants

8. Take the prospect’s temperature after your proposal/estimate and pitch

Another veteran sales tip for sizing up a lead’s intentions and urgency to buy is to ask them, “At this point, could you share with me how you feel about working with us, with 10 being you want to sign up today and 1 being we are not the right fit.”

Depending on what number they give you, you can reply, “Hmm that surprises me a little, but what is holding us back from being a 10?” And thus starts a discussion of not only what other objections you need to answer but also when they will be making a decision.

9. Personalize your site visits/tours

When a prospect enters your event space or office, they need to feel like the red carpet has been rolled out for them (literally, if you actually have red carpet in stock).

This can include welcome messages with their name(s) on placards in your entry and/or still graphics on your TV screens. Any kind of personalized expression can help show them that you are focused on creating a custom experience for them. This could be custom coffee mugs containing their favorite coffee drink or cocktail/mocktail; their names spelled in icing on cookies or small cakes; staff members who welcome them by name in passing; and customized floor plans or event designs based on their needs.

10. Make sure your site visits/tours stimulate as many senses as possible

When you are pitching a lead to pick your venue, restaurant, hotel, catering company or event planning firm, you are not only walking them through details and features that meet their needs. You are also telling them a story of the amazing experiences and successful events you have created for past clients and that you can create for them, too.

For a prospect to be immersed in this story, they not only need to see and hear what you offer … they also must experience the tastes, smells and tactile feel of your offerings.

If you are a venue, caterer or restaurant, this can include tasting and smelling your most delectable dishes; introducing their nose and taste buds to your high end wines and cocktails; viewing a table setup and being able to touch your linens, silverware, plateware; and listening to your sound system or the acoustics of your space.

If you are an event planner, at your pitch meeting you can serve cocktails/mocktails or wine and screen a professionally edited video of your past events (complete with customer testimonials). The video doesn’t have to be long (5-10 mins at most) but it does need to tell a story and convey the emotions of the great experiences you have created for your clients.

Sales Process and Pipeline Techniques

11. Track leads visually through every step of your pipeline

This event sales tip assumes that you have already clearly defined key stages or statuses in your sales pipeline (like new lead, first contact made, qualified, sent proposal, pitch/site visit completed, lead won/lost, etc.). Once you have done this, the next step is to track who is in which status and how long they have been there.

You can certainly do this with a spreadsheet, but that can take lots of manual effort and can get messy. An easier way is to use an event CRM software that has a pipeline view so you can easily see all your leads at a glance by their status in your pipeline.

With a sales CRM in place, if you have people in a particular status too long or you see too many leads piling up at a particular stage in your process, you know that you need to start reaching out to those leads and/or to fix something in your process.

12. Have a way to be notified the instant a new lead arrives

78% of customers buy from the first responder.”

If you don’t respond to a new lead within 5 minutes, your odds to follow up and successfully qualify them decrease by 80%.”

(source: Vendasta)

The data don’t lie. And you probably already know this too well.

Hence, it’s paramount that you know IMMEDIATELY when a new lead submits an inquiry from your website or leaves you a voicemail. 

Fortunately, many CRM systems have built-in notifications for such occasions. But if you don’t have a CRM in place, you can use Gmail to set up desktop notifications and phone notifications for when you receive emails.

13. Set up automations and processes to minimize no-shows to calls/appointments

We live in an era of distractions, information overload and, a pessimist may say, common discourtesy. These and other factors all contribute to a growing percentage of ghosted sales calls and appointments. In fact, many businesses and industries commonly see no-show rates for sales calls between 20-35%.

To minimize no-shows (which can cost an event sales rep up to 5% of their weekly income for each no-show), follow a 4-step approach:

  • Send out automated email reminders using your calendar or appointment setting application for 1 day, 6 hours and 1 hour before the scheduled call, appointment or site visit … and mix in text reminders for even better success rates.
  • Add messaging and links to your email reminders to make it easy to reschedule an appointment.
  • Always schedule calls and appointments in 30-min. time slots and no more than 2 weeks out.
  • When a prospect no-shows, immediately leave them a voicemail; follow up with an email 20 minutes later to reschedule the appointment; and then call and email early the next day if they have not responded.

14. Always set a followup call or appointment before you end the current one

Procrastination is a normal operating procedure for many prospects, who are often busy and not wanting to make big decisions now, today or even this week on booking hybrid or live events.

As such, it is your job to hold their feet to the fire when they say things like, “I’m not sure when I will be deciding, so I’ll just let you know when that happens.”

If you get this line (or something like it), tell them, “Hey I want to put something on the calendar so I can follow up with you in a few days (or week) to see if you have any additional questions or if anything has changed. How about I call you same day, same time next week?”

This makes it clear you are holding up your end to provide them with a solution, and it gives you a starting point to set a followup call. Once they have agreed to a date and time, tell them they will be receiving a calendar invitation when the call is over, and set that up after the call.

Your future self will thank you.

15. Ask prospects if they will agree to say “no” the moment they don’t want to move forward

There are some people who simply won’t tell someone “no” because they don’t want them to feel disappointed or seem . Heck, there are entire regions where over-politeness makes saying “no” feel like a faux pas (aka the U.S. Midwest).

However, the dreaded “no” word can also save you many hours of pitching and chasing bad leads, taking time away from pursuing good ones. So before you start getting into the details of your pitch or presentation, give your prospect permission to say “no” to you, and ask them if they will agree to that if they don’t like what you are pitching.

FYI … this approach is commonly known as “asking for the ‘no’” and is a staple of many consultative sales approaches.

16. Set specific criteria that must be met before you prepare a proposal

A sales rep I once knew called proposals “free consulting” because you are often giving away valuable information (your seasoned ideas and thoughts as well as your pricing, processes, design ideas, etc.) for nothing. Tied into that is the fact that, when you prepare a proposal, you are also giving away your most valuable asset as a salesperson – your time.

So before you start handing out proposals like candy at Halloween, set up non-negotiable criteria that demonstrate the prospect’s viability, like:

  • Their full participation in a qualifying call or appointment.
  • A budget that fits into the price range of booking your venue and/or event services.
  • Alignment of their needs with your offerings.
  • A decision timeline that fits well within your average sales cycle.
Event Sales Strategies for Event Venues

17. Create streamlined processes for signing documents and taking payments that require little effort on your end

You probably have protocols in place that a prospect first needs to sign a proposal/contract and pay a deposit/installment for an upcoming event before any  team members can start working with them or initiate the event planning process.

If you have qualified and pitched the lead successfully, they are a great fit and they have verbally told you they are ready to book, this should be a slam dunk.

Then again, chasing people for signatures and checks can suck time away from other valuable sales activities and sets a bad tone for the rest of the relationship with the client (that is, them not honoring your time or that of your events or sales team).

Online business tools with electronic signatures can make quick work of signing proposals, online contracts and banquet event orders (BEOs). And automated invoicing with online payments and email reminders can remove barriers to getting paid so you can rely on those revenues coming in.

18. Follow up after the event by asking for feedback, referrals and future business

Most event sales reps and catering managers know that this should be part of their everyday sales practices, but sometimes work life gets so busy that this is often one of those things that slip through the cracks.

So to reiterate how important asking for referrals is…

“65% of new business opportunities come from referrals and recommendations.”

“82% of small businesses claim referrals as their main source of new business.”

(source: Signpost)

Sometimes soliciting referrals falls under the marketing plan (and hence done by marketing staff) of an events business, hotel or restaurant. But as a salesperson, would you want to rely on email marketing tools for one of your best sources of leads?

Probably not, mainly because there’s no substitute for asking the client directly – in person or on a phone call – about their recent experience with your company and who they know would also benefit from your services. If necessary, remind them of their positive experience and that you would take care of their friends, family and colleagues just like you took care of them.

And it goes without saying to continue to follow up with past clients so you can serve them for their next event, and the one after that, and so on.

Sales Tools and Materials Tips

19. Pre-qualify and collect leads with custom webforms on your website and social media profiles

If the “contact us” landing page on your website just collects contact info and notes from your prospects on their needs, then you are missing out on a prime opportunity to get more information so you can dig deeper with them on your first call.

Building a lead inquiry webform that has fields like preferred event date, alternate event date, type of event, catering requirements, headcount, etc. can give you a clearer picture of your prospect so you know how to approach and prepare for them. FYI … a handful of event CRM tools include this capability so you can easily set up and modify these forms.

Being able to both embed this form (or multiple forms) into pages on your website as well as add links to lead forms on your Facebook and Instagram profiles also extends your ability to source leads from your social media channels as well.

Finally, by adding an appointment/tour scheduling module to this form, it seamlessly prompts your leads to take the next step in the sales process while giving them the ability to pick a time to meet that’s convenient for them.

And if your lead CRM can also funnel new leads from other online sources like The Knot and Wedding Wire, then you have gone a long way toward closing the loop on lead intake.

20. Make your sales materials and proposals colorful and scannable

The hospitality and events industries offer fun, engaging products and services, so during your sales process, why would you use text-heavy, B&W PDFs and printouts that look like they came from Quickbooks? Um, you wouldn’t (right?).

Your sales sheets, pricing sheets and proposals should be full of color and photography that relate to your venue, food and/or event services and clearly communicate your brand image. And, because few people read anymore, your text should rely on bullet points, short descriptions and captions so prospects can quickly scan your documents.

Note: Platforms like Planning Pod let you create reusable templates for items like proposals, contracts and invoices, replete with image galleries and PDF attachments, so you can quickly turn around custom, professional documents for leads.

21. Create special sales materials to “educate” social event leads

As you probably know, there’s usually a big difference discussing venue booking, catering and event planning services/pricing with a seasoned meeting, event or wedding planner than with a bride and groom or family member planning a reunion.

When your potential customer is B-to-C, their level of familiarity with purchasing event and hospitality services is usually not as high, and hence the time you spend on educating them goes up … often dramatically.

So prepare for this by sending these B-to-C social event prospects resources educating them on the basics of shopping for event services, a glossary of common industry terms or even a list of questions they should consider before their first conversation with you.

Some event and hospitality businesses even go as far as to send a brief electronic form that prospects can fill out in advance of the first meeting.

22. Use LinkedIn to research inbound leads or identify new prospects

Many venue, hotel and restaurant managers and sales reps already use LinkedIn to look up inbound leads to learn more about them prior to initial outreach.

But dig a little deeper beyond LinkedIn’s search field and you will discover tools for uncovering more insights, like:

  • The GetProspect web browser plugin/extension, which lets you pull additional details like email addresses from a LinkedIn profile (or anywhere else on the Internet).
  • Sales Navigator upgrade for building outbound lead lists by geographic area, industry, company type, job title, etc.
  • Sales Navigator for Gmail plugin, which displays LinkedIn profile information for the person you are communicating with in your Gmail account.

FYI … while your event and sales teams are busy in their LinkedIn accounts, they should also be posting information at least 2-3 times/week about recent or upcoming events and promoting your business with posts, hashtag mentions, etc.

23. Use personal video tools to customize communications with leads

Want to make your emails stand out so that people are compelled to reply?

Create a custom video with you on camera, speaking directly to the client regarding their questions, needs and ideas. Online video messaging software like Loom and Vidyard let you create short videos on-the-fly that you can share with a link and attach to emails.

These videos are great for personalizing your communications with event leads and show that you are going the extra mile to win their business.

24. Sub out your manual email templates with automated email sequences and drip campaigns

Almost every salesperson has a set of email templates and responses that they frequently use to reach out to leads at various steps in their pipelines as well as in certain circumstances or situations.

Emailing technology has progressed so that you no longer need to manually send many of these email templates to customers. Instead, you can set up what is called an email sequence or drip campaign, enabling you to build a chain of timed email messages if the lead doesn’t respond. So if the lead doesn’t reply to your first email, the next message in line will blast out in a specified number of hours/days, and so on until all emails in the chain have been sent.

Some CRMs also allow you to add phone call tasks to these sequences so you can vary up your method of contacting leads. You can set these up for new leads, as followups for lagging leads, after events are over to remind past clients about referrals, etc. These automations can free up even more time so you can focus on other important tasks.

25. Add live chat to your website

We saved this for last because it may be the most difficult one to deploy for event-based businesses. Here’s why…

Most restaurant and venue managers, catering managers, event managers and salespeople aren’t tied to a desk all day but are often mobile, working in different areas of the venue, making sales calls/visits or networking. And for live chat to be effective, someone needs to be monitoring it constantly.

With that said, a live chat module that’s embedded into all your website pages is a very powerful sales tool because it captures your lead at the moment of research. It enables prospects to get answers fast and lets your team instantly qualify them and move them to the next step of the process. With live chat, you also avoid having to chase them down after they fill out your website contact form, creating an opportunity for a competitor to potentially beat you to the lead.

If you were to employ this, you should set specific hours and days when you can reliably staff your live chat with a front-of-house employee or sales rep. Otherwise people will get frustrated if you simply just collect their contact info in the unmanned chat module and tell them someone will reply later.

Extras for Venue Owners and Managers

26. Set goals and commissions based on activities that grow your business

Often owners and managers look solely at how the hospitality and events industry at large compensates event and catering sales reps, and it never hurts to make sure you are aligned with the market regarding your team members’ salaries.

However, you should also tie sales compensation to proven sales activities that you want to incentivize. This of course can include a percentage of sales. But you can also attach fixed monthly incentives to connected calls per month, manual emails sent per month and other criteria based on outreach volume. This can additionally motivate your sales reps to never sit back, even when they are having a great month.

Maybe you also want to focus on a specific demographic or target audience that is great for repeat business (like corporate event planners, marketing managers, business organizations, etc.). Not only should outreach to these people be part of your overall marketing campaign, but you can also provide additional incentives to your sales team to prospect these types of customers.

Granted, this means you will need to use sales metrics, dashboards and reporting to track these activities, but most solid sales CRM platforms will offer these features.

27. Boosting revenue through event ticket sales (on dark nights)

This is a slight departure from straight-up event and hotel sales. However, since the pandemic, we have seen so many event venues, restaurants and hotel clients start booking their own live events – like music and entertainment acts – to provide additional revenue that we would be remiss not to mention it.

Planning and producing your own ticketed live events comes with its share of additional work. There’s the event management and planning involved. There’s event promotion and marketing strategies that include event pages / event websites and online event ticketing and registration. You may even want to partner with a promoter or sell sponsorships for each event. Not to mention also promoting these as virtual events by live casting on Facebook Live or YouTube Live, which can further promote your brand and garner you followers/subscribers on those platforms.

Your sales team can play an integral role in driving revenue for these events, either through finding sponsors/partners or through group sales. It’s something to consider as you seek additional revenue streams in this new era of doing business during COVID.

Planning Pod is an all-in-one event management platform that streamlines how you manage leads and sales as well as event bookings, clients, invoicing, payments, catering orders, BEOs, floorplans … even event registrations and ticketing. Learn more >>