With so much of today's business taking place online, it's easy to see why some believe the art of the conversation is dead. But if you're a destination looking to increase meeting and events business in the new year, you should take another look, specifically at CVB conversation selling.
While traditional selling requires new products and experiences for potential clients, conversation selling involves a less linear approach. Instead, you'll listen to the needs of your potential client to offer, or even create from scratch, the experiences that would entice them.
It was through that meaningful conversation that we were able to resell them on our destination.
Why It Works
In short, you don't need to guess what your client wants, or assume you know their needs. If you're flexible and adapt to the situation, conversation becomes easier and you get the booking.
Scott Higgins, the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board's Associate Director of Sales, also notes that many CVB's become so excited to speak about their destination, they can overpower the conversation and forget to listen to the client's needs.
When implementing conversation selling, Higgins says it's important to listen and ask meaningful questions that uncover the obstacles you'll need to address. You can begin by asking where their favorite destinations are to host events and why. The response will provide a lot of information you can use later in the conversation, like where they've been in the past, what types of events they prefer, and any other questions that give you an overall sense of their needs.
Higgins continues, “From this I can start compiling different ideas on how the amenities of the past destination matches up with the amenities in our own destination. As the conversation carries on, I can bring up ideas of similar offerings within our area that would pique the interest of the planner."
If you're not sure how to get the conversation started, consider using a conversation aid. For instance, the Valley Forge CVB uses an inventive Decision Making Tool Kit based on the childhood game favorite, Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Inside, there's rock candy representing the destination's “solid foundation" of hotels and restaurants, a paper notebook for their emphasis on creating “noteworthy" meetings and events, and scissors illustrating Valley Forge's “cutting edge" personality.
Shares Higgins, “In speaking about the box with clients, each item leads to a selling point on our destination. By using the box as a conversation starter, it's a fun and relaxing way to start the dialog that can lead to a deeper conversation down the road."
Nikki Tyler, the Marketing & Communications Director of Peachtree City Convention & Visitors Bureau, adds it's important to begin with small talk — trade shows are a great place to get the conversation going — and really listen to the client's needs before you present a plan.
“The key is in the follow up," she says.
Need proof that conversation selling works? Valley Forge CVB provides a recent example where their destination was able to get back an annual meeting partner that was considering moving. Says Higgins, “At the time of learning of their interest to move, we were able to have an engaging conversation that covered their reasons and alternate solutions to address each of their objections. It was through that meaningful conversation that we were able to re-sell them on our destination."
Additionally, Tyler mentions a trade show she attended where destinations were able to request appointments with planners prior to the conference.
She continues, “On the trade show floor, I politely asked to speak with planners and explained why Peachtree City would be a perfect fit for their event. Conversations continued and resulted in a site visit. The event was booked and extremely successful. After the first event, we entered into a five-year contract. None of this would have happened without having a conversation."
So, what can CVBs expect in the future of conversation selling?
Knowledge is a powerful selling tool. Explains Higgins, “Those who can help educate their clients on new and improved ways to accomplish their goals have an advantage over those who only attempt to sell. By educating your clients, you become a trusted adviser, that will remain relevant and needed in the future."
Not surprisingly, Tyler expects technology to continue to play an important role. “Short video and virtual reality are excellent conversation aids. People are visual and have a better chance of remembering something they saw versus something they heard. These days, everyone has access to a smartphone or tablet that will enable them to share a quick video."
While conversation selling offers a new way to look at the typical sales pitch, it also offers an effective way to actually make more, long-lasting sales.