Allow me to introduce myself! My name is Lisa Ware and I'm the Director of Business Development & Special Projects at Catering by Michaels in Chicago. I've been in catering sales for ten years and prior to that, I taught Kindergarten at a private school for six years.
You might think that teaching Kindergarten and selling catering services are totally different careers -- and they are -- but the lessons I learned managing a classroom laid the foundation on which I've built both my personal brand and business in catering. Many people think sales takes a magic formula or specific personality type. But I truly believe that anyone who has a passion for their industry can become successful in sales. It just comes down to some fundamental basics that are often overlooked.
1. Always be nice
Sounds simple, right? It IS simple. “Always be nice” has been my personal mantra since I set foot into the catering world. I cannot control how clients, customers, vendors, staff, coworkers, loading dock gatekeepers, secretaries, bosses, etc. (you get my point!) behave on a daily basis but I CAN control how I behave back.
You know the old saying: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar!” It’s true for every interaction you face. You make more friends by being nice than by being rude. You win more clients by being nice. You most definitely keep more clients by being nice. Your event staff will want to work with you instead of against you when you're nice. I promise. As a caterer, you’ll face countless scenarios where someone is rude, in your face, angry, frustrated, and feeling every other bad emotion in between. When that happens, say it to yourself over and over: “Just be nice!” Even in the face of conflict, being nice and professional will make every situation more productive. When they go low, you go high -- every single time. This is a hard business to work in, so at the very least, we have to be nice to each other!
2. You only get one shot at a first impression. Don't waste it!
Again, this is so simple, right? Wrong. You would think that this would be the easiest tip in the world to follow, but I think salespeople get it wrong more often than they get it right.
Your first interaction with a client is the single most important interaction you will have. It’s important to realize that this first interaction usually won’t be in person. As much as I do everything I can to schedule face to face meetings when first working with a client, most times, especially with technology today, it’s a tough sell. That means you have to put everything you have into that first email, that first phone call, or for many, that first text message.
Ask yourself what impression you want to give this client. What do you want them to think of you when they read your email or when they hang up the phone? When I am about to interact with a client for the first time, this is what I want them to think of me: I am an event professional. I am confident. I am here to help them and make their experience better. I am an expert in catering. I do everything I can to project that image in any communication I have with clients.
I also want my personality to come through at every stage of the game. Many times, our minds are elsewhere when we speak with a potential client. We’re already racing to the next meeting or remembering we have another phone call in ten seconds. Before any interaction, take a minute (or even ten seconds) to have a deep breath, actually smile, and think about the person you're about to talk to. Our job as event professionals is to create an environment of hospitality and that starts with us. If you are sad, angry, stressed, or frustrated when interacting with people, the client will sense those emotions and they’ll define the experience for them. So take a minute, breathe, and go crush that first impression!
3. Always respond and follow up
When I was planning my own wedding a few years ago, I was flabbergasted by how many people simply did not respond to any of my inquiries. I felt like my signature alone letting them know I was a fellow event professional should have spoken volumes about how serious of a buyer I was. Yet, more than half of the companies we reached out to never even bothered to send a response. So here's my most simple tip of all: Always respond!
Many of the leads you get are not going to be a good fit for your company or will have too low of a budget to work with you. But all of them are still potential referral sources, and their experience with you should still be positive and memorable. Don't write someone off because they're not your customer today. Don't write someone off if you respond to their inquiry and they don’t reply back. So many salespeople give up after the second reach out, so being diligent and continuing to follow up is be one of the best sales strategies out there. Five is my magic number. After five reach outs, with no response, I mark the prospect as “cancelled” and move on. I can set my calendar to remind me to follow up with every client five times, and an email or voicemail takes seconds. Some of my best events came from my fifth and final reach out. No matter how busy you are, if you set the follow up reminder in your calendar and reach out when it pops up, you're putting yourself leaps and bounds above your competition.
4. If you're going to do something, do it spectacularly
The sales process, especially in catering, can sometimes seem like rote repetition for us as salespeople. We're going through the same cycle with every client. This is why it's SO important to remember that often times, this is the very first time our client has ever planned an event. We as salespeople need to celebrate that and ensure they have a spectacular experience at every stage.
One of my biggest pet peeves with salespeople is that it sometimes seems like they're only going through the motions, really don’t care about the details, and are rushing through the process to move on to the next client. Stop that. Embrace the steps. If you're going to take the time to do something -- whether it be a phone call, meeting, or tasting -- give it everything you have. If you're courting a new client, do the research, be familiar with their team, be knowledgeable about their product, and figure out how you're going to solve a problem for them to make their life easier.
When you have the opportunity to be in front of a potential client, make it special.Take them somewhere fun. Always be early. Hands down, the easiest place to do this is in a tasting. A tasting, in my opinion, is like giving a catering salesperson a client on a silver platter. You have their full attention and can either go through the motions and sit and watch them eat or you can make it an experience they'll never forget. My advice – make it an experience they'll never forget! When I flipped this switch in my mind, not only did my sales skyrocket but I also started having a LOT more fun with my job!
5. Relationships are king (or queen!)
“How have you been successful in a very competitive market?” I'm asked this question all of the time. I moved to Chicago from Indianapolis five years ago and literally knew two people. I had zero clients, knew nothing about the city, had never used mass transit, and could barely drive from home to work without getting lost or having a mild panic attack about traffic. I am ridiculously proud of all that I have accomplished in this city and can say that relationships are the reason I am where I am today.
My best advice for any salesperson, in any field, is to take the time to build relationships with everyone around you. The lifelong relationships I’ve cultivated have carried me through career changes, spurred personal growth, and have groomed me to be a better salesperson. So, more specifically, my advice is this: Always take the time to introduce yourself, ask how you can help, check in with people, leverage relationships to meet the next person who may change the scope of your career, say thank you, follow up, and never burn a bridge. Invest the time to build relationships with your clients, your vendors and your venues. A huge percentage of my business has come from referrals from people in my circle. People want to work with people they connect with and have a relationship with. It’s very simple -- the better connected you are to your clients (and remember, venues are clients) the better your business will be and the higher your sales will be. Win. Win. Win. For everyone involved.
Follow the fundamentals
I truly believe that these simple fundamentals are major differentiators between a mediocre sales person and a great sales person. Which one of these can you put into practice today?