Our Business and Strategic Advisor, Terry Weaver of Chief Executive Boards International, said something brilliant the other day. We were talking about the fact that many caterers claim they market their companies through “word of mouth.” Terry objected:
“Word of mouth” is an accidental strategy. It’s not reliable and it’s not intentional. If you want to run your business instead of just letting it run you, you have to have an intentional strategy.
“Word of mouth” is fantastic. It’s flattering when a new client tells you they were referred to you by an existing client. It feels great to know that customers are so happy with your work that they are willing to share your name with others. “Word of mouth” makes us feel like heroes. But it is unacceptable as a sales foundation to support your company. You can’t budget for “word of mouth.” You can’t make hiring decisions based on the hopes of good “word of mouth.” The bank won’t accept “word of mouth” as part of your business plan.
I know from my own experience as a caterer and also as a coach and consultant, that catering can often feel like clinging to the back of a runaway horse. In order to take the reins and assert some control over your company, you need to establish a reliable sales strategy that you can teach to your salespeople. Even the smallest company needs these systems in order to grow (and larger companies will find improvement in tightening their existing systems).
Having a replicable sales system allows your team to continue selling while you’re busy doing the other important things your business requires. The structure of a sales system will give your team confidence in representing your company and will give you the reassurance that your brand is presented the way you want.
Think of a sales system as a recipe: you wouldn’t expect a cook to make your signature soup without knowing all the steps you take. Instead, you write down your ingredients and you supervise your cooks until they are turning out vats of Butternut Squash Soup that taste as delicious as yours. Likewise, how can you expect a sales team to sell your service without similar instructions? Only once you’ve identified your target market, crafted your unique selling proposition, and established your outreach schedule will you be able to expand your client base and increase your revenue. Once you’ve got that under control, your company will feel less like a runaway horse and more like a well-run business.
One of the hot topics at our recent Sales Ninja Workshop in Denver was the difference between Client Transactions and Client Relationships.
You never want to do one event for a client; you want to do ten events for them! Therefore, it’s important to always nurture those relationships. Understand when and why each customer entertains and always ask “What’s next?” The goal is to establish a relationship with your client so that when the time comes for them to host another event, you are the first person who comes to mind.
Yesterday's workshop in Denver was a great, interactive session focused on turning Students into Sales Ninja Masters. Thanks to the attendees who helped make the workshop so dynamic and kudos to The Magnolia for their attentive hospitality!
Back by popular demand! In honor of our nation's pastime, we're revisiting this fan-favorite series!
In my series on the parallels between Major League Baseball and the catering game, I've examined the roles and responsibilities of the owners, the managers, and the players. With the playoffs underway and the World Series quickly approaching, it’s time to look at the fans, the paying customers, and see where they fit into this equation.
Simply put, the fan is king!
The only obligation the fan has is to enjoy the game on their own terms (providing they’re not celebrating by tipping cars and throwing bottles). And, as we see every year during the World Series, it is perfectly acceptable for fair weather fans to cheer right alongside the diehards. An organization would be foolish to discourage the enthusiasm of any fans. I am always perplexed that along with the standard promotionals such as “Bobble Head Day” or “Ice Cream ‘Sunday,’” ballparks include the self satisfied announcement of “Fan Appreciation Day.” What, one whole day to appreciate the fans? Imagine how badly a hospitality company would fare if it only appreciated its guests on special days. It would ruin us.
Caterers must realize that, just as in baseball, clients may change allegiances at any time based on whim, whimsy, fickle, or folly. The client may determine that their caterer is not worthy because of a small PR mistake or because of repeated poor performance. Sometimes, the client is influenced by the preferences of others in the community. Or they lose faith, maybe rightly so, when their team trades all its core players as the Red Sox have been known to do. Clients lose confidence when their caterer seems to have a revolving door of Chefs, account executives, and key staff. Really, anything can cause a client’s loyalty to waver. That is their prerogative. It is up to the caterer to find innovative ways to keep hitting home runs and keep fans engaged.
Baseball and Hospitality are both games of business. However, we – the owners, managers, coaches, players, and staff - must never forget that the game is, in the end, about ensuring entertainment and celebration for our fans and clients. Without that fun, the money never flows.
By the way, my favorite team was knocked out of playoff contention weeks ago but I’m one of those eternal hopefuls chanting the phrase “Wait ‘til next year.” A similar determination drives me in catering. Every new event, every new inquiry, every newly-met prospective client is a chance to be the hero who clinches the Series with a grand slam, thereby winning a fan for life.
I was recently asked to be the key note speaker at a conference for caterers and event planners. After entertaining the audience with humorous and self deprecating stories about my own history as a caterer, I began to address real issues. My speech was about the “Big Picture” issues key to navigating through business terrain: best practices, sales systems, cash flow management, etc .
During the Q&A session, however, I was thrown by the types of questions these event professionals asked. They included:
- “How do I handle my sales person who randomly promises discounts to win parties?”
- “What should I do about the constant fighting between my Chef and the front of the house staff?”
- A woman in the front row timidly raised her hand to ask how she and her husband, co-owners of their company, “could find time for one another outside of work.”
So much for the profundities of running a business!
I stepped back for a moment to realize that I, too, have spent the better part of my working life wrapped up in the moment-to-moment frustrations surrounding people, personalities, office politics, and real and imagined contentions. And that doesn’t even include the time spent on the difficulties of balancing work with family. I acknowledged that the universal question is: “How do you keep your eye on the big prize when the stresses of the moment are trying to distract you?”
I’m not Dr. Phil so, instead of offering unqualified personal advice during the Q&A, I opened the conversation to the group at large. What followed was a wonderful and energetic exchange that was supportive and informative. The group and I came away with the idea that these interpersonal issues stem from legitimate style or tactical differences by people who genuinely want to pursue the company’s agenda. That salesperson wants to make as many sales as possible but feels shackled by the pricing structure. Reviewing her margins will give her the freedom to secure the best pieces of business. The Chef and FOH staff have different levels of experience. Clarifying company expectations will put everyone on the same page when it comes to satisfying clients and guests. Addressing these interpersonal problems as business challenges reinforces your company mission and helps shift focus to your professional objectives.
As for the couple who simply wants to be together outside of work? I believe that in five years, you’re unlikely to remember which van was late for a delivery or who packed two salmon fillets for 40 guests rather than the two sides of salmon. But in five years, you will remember the times you and your spouse see a movie, have a nice dinner, or play a little tennis. I also believe that with discipline and prioritization, busy hospitality professionals can learn to handle the day-to-day trials and use them as a springboard for handling and framing the “Big Picture.”
Back by popular demand! In honor of our nation's pastime, we're revisiting this fan-favorite series!
In our series exploring the parallels between Major League Baseball and the catering game, we've covered the subject from the perspective of both the owners and the managers. The MLB season is now wrapping up what are commonly referred to as the “Dog Days of August” and it’s time to turn our attention to the people who really make it happen. Assuming that the management has put all of the pieces of the team puzzle in place, at this stage, the game is strictly in the hands of those on the field: The Players.
By mid August, the end of the regular season looms and the playoffs are in sight. This is when would-be contenders fade fast and the most resilient, talented, and disciplined teams surge ahead. Players are responsible for staying healthy, making smart behavioral choices, narrowing their focus, and playing harder than ever. Ball teams are made up of power hitters, speedsters, dependable fielders, and domineering pitchers; each player working to maximize his individual success and that of his team. The same can be said of catering companies. Here, salespeople, cooks and chefs, operations staff, and event servers must work in harmony for the benefit of the clients and the team.
Catering company employees are responsible for keeping their energy high, approaching each event enthusiastically, and staying alert to handle any curveballs. In order to achieve success, the entire staff must be dependable and work together trustingly. Chefs rely on smart work from the sales team. Servers depend on good decisions by the operations team. Sales people must trust their event staff to serve their clients well. If the entire team can work together, the caterer will be hitting home runs. If resentment and egos get in the way, there can be no hope of becoming champions.
Success all boils down to player execution. Home run titles, strike out records, MVP and Cy Young awards are fantastic but it is a World Series trophy that sums up the success of the team. Likewise, reaching personal sales goals, moving up to Sous Chef, or learning a new service style is valuable for personal growth but catering companies are judged based on whether or not they hit it out of the park on event day.
And who does the judging? The Fans. But that’s for next time....
Back by popular demand! In honor of our nation's pastime, we're revisiting this fan-favorite series!
At the start of the MLB season, we looked at the parallels between the roles and responsibilities of baseball team owners and those of catering company owners. We are well into the season now and, for some teams, careful preparation has paved the way for exceeded expectations. On the other hand, some of the teams who had high hopes during the preseason are struggling just to play .500 ball. Is it because of unseasonable weather? Injuries? Poor recruitment decisions? Bad coaching? The classic case of unexplained slumps by otherwise dependable stars? There could be any number of factors contributing to a team’s poor performance, but now is the time for managers and coaches to assess their team’s status and, if necessary, make significant changes.
Department managers of catering companies are similar in many ways to baseball managers and coaches. Both baseball managers and catering company managers must:
- Evaluate and hire the best players. The talent pool is wide and deep; it is up to managers to recruit those who will make the best team.
- Manage an eclectic group with varying competencies and experience. A locker room, like a sales office, kitchen, or staffing office, holds a lot of different personalities and skill sets. Good managers know how to set a tone that fosters teamwork and encourages big wins.
- Drill players continuously on the sport's fundamentals. Just because we've reached the big leagues, it doesn't mean we can skip batting practice. Catering managers must make sure salespeople are strengthening their negotiating techniques, cooks are fine-tuning their knife skills, and servers are refining their hospitality skills.
- Eliminate those who don't produce or who cannot blend with the program. Sometimes, regardless of how well-liked or seemingly talented a player is, they just don't blend with the team. It falls to manager and coaches to cut these people so they can take their talents somewhere they can be successful.
- Be ruthless when examining systems. Be willing to throw out the old and bring in the new. "That's the way we've always done it" is one of the worst things a manager or coach can say. Instead, do what needs to be done to win, even if it's new or unfamiliar.
Three months into the baseball season, managers and coaches should re-evaluate what is working on their teams and what needs tweaking. Thankfully for caterers, our season goes long past October and it’s never too late for our department managers to emulate the successful techniques of World Series-winning coaches.
Next at bat: The Players
As we discussed in my last post, sometimes you just won’t be able to woo a client. They may have been a Good Fit and your proposal may have included everything they requested but they chose to hire one of your competitors. The rejection will sting but there are steps you can take to try to prevent it from happening again.
- Any time you send a proposal and do not win the business, you should fill out a standard "Lost Business Report" based on a debriefing with the Decision Maker. During this meeting or conversation, it is perfectly OK - recommended even! - to ask which caterer won the business and to ask how you might have approached the process differently. Really listen to what the client tells you and be mindful of this information when bidding on future business. Consider this loss a learning opportunity for your entire team.
- You may have lost the party but all is not lost! Keep this prospect engaged. A handwritten Good Luck note or an email just prior to the event is courteous. A week or so after the event, call the client and ask them to share a few details about it: what went well and what could have been better. Ask when their next event is and ask to submit a proposal. Demonstrate that your are committed to serving their needs.
- Add the client's contact information to your CRM, keep their name on your "tickle" list, and include them in general announcements and email blasts. Be polite, be persistent, keep your
conversation light, and keep the focus on your prospective client.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: losing a piece of business can be a real blow to a salesperson’s ego. But you can’t let a little rejection get you down. Keep your head up and get back out there. Remember, a smart catering company is not selling one-off parties; it is creating trusting lifelong relationships with its clients.
Recently, a client asked “How often should I follow-up with a prospect after I send a proposal?” This is a great question because while it is important to pursue business with determination, nobody wants to be the pesky salesperson who won’t stop hounding a client. The answer varies depending on the length of time between the inquiry and the event date. Based on your company’s volume of business, if a client requests a proposal for an event that is very soon, you may even consider asking for a commitment or deposit before generating a proposal.
Assuming, however, that you have a more generous timeframe, your prospect has been carefully qualified, and you did not generate a proposal until the client was close to a “yes,” here are some basic guidelines for communicating with an indecisive or non-responsive prospect:
- After you deliver the proposal, follow up promptly. If you wait longer than one business day, you have waited too long. Make sure the client received the proposal and suggest setting a time to review everything in detail.
- If you do not hear from the client, try contacting them through a different method of communication. Don't assume that everyone communicated the same way you do. If they aren't calling you back, send an email. If your messages don't get replies, pick up your phone.
- If the event is several weeks or months in the future, aim for weekly contact and allow the intervals to widen.
There are several reasons you may not hear from a client and may not be able to close the sale:
- The client was not properly qualified as a Good Fit for your company and price point.
- You didn't understand the event they requested or you failed to communicate your company's offering clearly.
- You weren't communicating with the true Decision Maker and therefore you didn't design the proposal to appeal to their specific needs.
- There may be a genuine reason why the prospect simply cannot host the event. Perhaps the nature of the event has changed such that they must go in a different direction. In this instance, the client may simply be too embarrassed to call. For your own peace of mind, choose to give the prospect the benefit of the doubt and move on.
- Of course, it's possible the client simply selected another caterer. We'll explore what to do in that case in my next post.
Knowing how often you should follow-up with a client is an important skill for all salespeople. Too much follow-up and you risk annoying the client. Not enough follow-up and you may miss an opportunity. Think of the process as the early days of dating someone – you need to walk the fine line between appearing indifferent and looking desperate. A successful caterer uses good judgment and reads the client’s cues.
10. There's not enough time to make the improvements we need.
9. We got beat on price.
8. Let's just get someone - anyone! - to fill the position.
7. That's not how the cooks/servers/salespeople like to do things.
6. Let's just win the business. We can figure out how to make it happen and worry about costs later.
5. I basically know how much everything costs.
4. We don't have any theft; I know most of my crew.
3. I'll make up for the price break somewhere else.
2. Since we own our equipment, we don't have to charge the client for equipment.
And the #1 Thing a Caterer Should Never Say...
1. Let me have one for the road.
Back by popular demand! In honor of baseball's Opening Day, we're revisiting this fan-favorite series!
Even through the aches and pains of middle age, I still dream of being a Major League baseball player. Like every kid who has ever swung a bat, I imagine a play-by-play announcer describing the classic scenario:
"Seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two down, bases loaded, and the crowd goes wild as Jon Wool comes to the bat...."
Every baseball fan relishes the start of spring with its promise of good things to come. However, as the legendary Willie Mays once said, “Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business.”
Under all its romance and nostalgia, baseball offers many lessons that apply to the business world. Over the coming weeks, I’ll note the similarities between the sport’s leadership principals and those of our industry. To build an organization worthy of the Hall of Fame, successful catering teams share the responsibilities of owners, coaches, and players.
First up: Owners
Baseball team owners and catering company owners both have responsibilities to their internal organizations as well as to their customers. Internally, owners must:
- Create a vision and establish a winning culture. Each team has its own philosophy and culture but they all share the desire to field a winning team.
- Be bottom line-driven at all times. Remember Mays' reminder that this is business. If you want to play ball for a hobby, start a sandlot game. Likewise, if you just want to cook for your friends, you can save yourself the hassle of getting a caterer's license.
- Develop numerous avenues for revenue. Baseball owners focus on attendance, merchandising, and fantasy camps while catering company owners may focus on guest experiences, branded product lines, and amateur cooking classes.
- Forecast 3-5 years into the future. Inevitably, players on any team will move on. Owners must identify and develop stars for the future.
- Invest wisely. Owners are responsible for managing finances to grow their assets and protect the organization from unforeseen challenges.
- Create succession plans. Who will take the reins when the Owner retires or sells the organization?
In addition to the internal dynamics of running the organization, baseball team owners and catering company owners also play a role in presenting their group to the public.
- Grow the fan base. Owners need to understand their market and constantly promote their organizations.
- Manage the media. Public perception is wildly important. Owners are key when it comes to managing the organization's image in a way that builds good-will and momentum.
- Attract sponsors. Identify related organizations within the industry and develop partnerships that will prove mutually beneficial.
Most caterers don’t have a bankroll like the Yankees and few owners are as influential as the late George Steinbrenner, but catering company owners can learn a lot from the front office of baseball teams. At some point this spring, I’ll visit the batting cages and I’ll swing helplessly at the blinding fastballs that dart from the pitching machine. I may even connect enough times to keep my Major League dreams alive. Then I’ll limp back to the sales office and remember I can still hit a home run by applying baseball’s lessons to my own romantic trade.
Next at bat: Managers & Coaches
One of the questions I was asked after my Catersource presentation on the Sales Pipeline was about which Customer Relationship Management system I recommend. CRMs are a software or cloud-based tool for managing your communication with current and potential clients. They can help organize and track every interaction you have with a customer.
I say “can help” because it’s important to note that the effectiveness of any system you choose will only equal the amount of commitment you make to it. Collaborative features won’t benefit your sales team if some people refuse to adopt the program. Likewise, if you don’t use the program consistently (for example, you casually meet with a client but don’t track it in your schedule), your data will be incomplete.
It is also important to make sure that any system you use is a good fit for your current business model, current volume, and the volume you are projecting in the next few years. You will waste a lot of time switching systems if you outgrow one, and if you’re a small operation, you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles of some of the more complicated systems available.
With those caveats in place, I suggest looking into Salesforce CRM or utilizing the CRM features in Caterease. Both include tools which can greatly benefit a sales team.
Just remember: CRMs are a tool to support your sales effort. They cannot replace the hard work of selling and they should not take time away from your interactions with your clients.
Jon will be interevied on the next episode of The Game Changers Radio Show. Mark Imperial and Bob Regnerus talk with Jon about the entrepreneurial spirit and what it takes to be a success.
Tune in to AM560 WIND on Saturday, March 23rd at 7:00pm or listen online anytime!
JHW Hospitality Director, Melanie Spratford shares her impressions from this year's Catersource Conference & Tradeshow
We’re back from the Catersource conference and our heads are spinning with all the entertaining ideas, business concepts, and management theories! Here’s a quick recap of some of the suggestions that stood out:
Over and over again, speakers talked about the importance of clear and open communication. It’s crucial for sales associates talking to customers. It’s essential for conversations between chefs and sales managers. And it’s invaluable for family businesses trying to navigate around the generation gap. The whole conference was packed with ideas for facilitating communication at companies both large and small. Perhaps Bill Pannhoff of B&B Catering & Event Planning in Spring Lake, North Carolina said it best when he insisted that one of the responsibilities of a good leader is being a clear, effective communicator. I couldn’t agree more!
Author, speaker, and marketing guru Alan Berg from Kendall Park, New Jersey drew strong reactions from his audience when he offered suggestions for improving business cards and promotional brochures. Caterers are creative people and sometimes we get so caught up in aesthetics that we forget about practical things (I’m looking at you, lady who forgot to put her phone number on her business card!). He had a great tip about proof-reading your collateral materials with a checklist in hand so you don’t accidentally forget any key information.
Mike Roman, the founder of Catersource and arguably the best catering educator in the country, was a presence throughout the conference. I had the pleasure of attending his annual Roman Report which he packs with new idea and helpful suggestions. Mike’s lessons are always an excellent reminder to properly value our work.
Lastly, I am always interested in the questions attendees ask after each educational session. These questions are a great window into the topics that interest others. For example, a lively discussion broke out after Dan Joseph of Blue Plate in Chicago spoke about environmental sustainability. Caterers from across the country enthusiastically asked questions and shared ideas about how to push their companies to be more “green.” It’s encouraging to see that our industry is still committed to finding ways to protect the environment while also protecting the bottom line.
There were some great questions after our speaking engagements as well. Over the coming weeks, check back here as we address them in depth!
With apologies to Elvis, we’re actually looking forward to all that conversation!
The annual Catersource Conference and Tradeshow starts this weekend in Las Vegas and JHW Hospitality will be participating in a number of activities.
On Monday, Jon Wool will be presenting “The Pampered Host,” an educational session packed with tips for catering to the luxury client in their private homes. The key here is to think of “luxury” as “freedom from hard work, worry, or embarrassment.” Luxury clients are purchasing peace of mind!
Tuesday morning, Jon will lead “Presentation Effectiveness.” As a trained actor and long-time sales executive, Jon is an expert when it comes to conquering the fear factor, organizing your message, and perfecting your delivery.
On the closing day of the Conference, Jon will discuss “6 Steps for Managing the Sales Pipeline.” Building revenue can be a daunting task but Jon has broken the goal into manageable steps that keep a sales person focused on targeting Good Fit clients, addressing their needs, and winning their business.
Our Director, Melanie Spratford, is getting in on the act too! Every day she’ll be introducing educational program speakers. And as a member of the Catersource Consulting Unit, Jon will be offering coaching services to caterers from around the country all week.
Between all our scheduled activities, we hope to see old friends, make new ones, eat tons of great food, and take in a spectacular show. Maybe we’ll even run into Elvis!
Phrases I hear most often when working with clients are “we get beat on price” or “we’ll lose our clients if we price any higher.” I suggest we test this theory with a 3% increase in prices. I don’t believe any qualified client is going to balk at a 3% price increase if, as sales people, we’re doing our jobs and, as operators, we are exceeding client expectations. But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that a caterer does lose 20% of its business by such a price increase. They’ll still make more money. Here’s the math:
When a caterer aims to make a 10% net profit on sales of $100K, ($100,000 x 10%) the caterer will earn $10,000.
When the same caterer loses 20% of its business by raising prices 3%, his sales will reduce to $80k. However ($80,000 x 13%) the net becomes $10,400. That’s an improvement of $400.
This sharp caterer has increased prices 3%, earned more, and added 20% more time for selling. Talk about exponential growth!
Is your New Year off to a busy start?
In addition to consulting for several caterers and restaurants, I"m happy to report that my speaking schedule is also full. If you are attending any of these conferences, please stop and say hello!
The Special Event 2013 (January 15-18, McCormick Place, Chicago)
Mindflow Group Lunch & Learn (January 29, Lemont, IL)
Catersource Conference (March 10-13, Las Vegas)