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Selling to the Referral Market

David "The Nac" Naccari

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If you live in a major convention city like I do, the sales staffs of your city's major hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, and destination management companies (DMCs) can serve as a substantial source of referral business. You want to be booked by their convention clients so make an appointment to do a five-minute presentation at their next sales staff meeting (most hotels, bureaus, and DMC's are more than happy to oblige).

Here are some tips for a successful sales staff presentation:

  1. Show up with some lagniappe (that's Louisiana talk for "something extra"). I always bring a pan of homemade brownies. They always make a lasting impression.

  2. Bring a faxable handout for each member of the sales staff (ask in advance how many will be present). The handout should be concise and to the point: a description of your program content; your speaker's bio; a testimonial page; a photo of you; and a list of representative clients. Five pages is plenty (less is more).

  3. Call the Executive Assistant to the Sales Director the day before the presentation and confirm the meeting room. Also ask for recommendations for parking. The EA may volunteer to validate parking, which could save you anywhere from $5 to $20 in a major city.

  4. Just like for a paid presentation SHOW UP AHEAD OF TIME (1/2 hour minimum). Your punctuality will reflect on the type of job that you will do for their clients! If you are late for the sales staff, the expectation is that you will also be late for their clients.

  5. Enter the meeting room early for room preparation, having received permission ahead of time. This will allow you to properly set up the meeting room, distribute handouts in advance, and "smooze" with the sales staff as they enter the room. Your "smoozing" will often have a greater positive impact than your presentation itself, and it will nurture your sales staff audience for a successful sales presentation.

  6. Bring a written introduction of yourself and have the Sales Director or another member of the sales staff introduce you. Your glowing accomplishments will sound more credible coming from the mouth of one of their own and it makes your audience part of the act. Like any good speech, it's not about you, it's about them!

  7. Don't just deliver a "sample" of your full presentation. Create a special five minute presentation especially for the sales staff. It should include: opening, friendly remarks to establish rapport; a thank you for the opportunity to speak to them; an emotional reinforcement of their importance in serving the needs of their organization and its clients; a brief description of your presentation and your credentials; why your presentation will be of value to their clients; why your presentation will be of value to their organization; and a hard hitting sampling of the very best of your presentation (a lot to fit in in just five minutes so don't mess around with excess verbiage - deliver your message with enthusiasm and take no prisoners)!

  8. Conclude with a definite close: ask them to recommend you to their clients and tell them the exact spot you want on their clients' meeting agenda (keynote, after dinner, break-out session). Reinforce the value of your present audience (the sales staff), thank them for their time, and ask if they have any questions.

    The number one question that you will receive is: "How much do you charge?" Be prepared to give a direct, matter of fact, non-apologetic answer. You can't dodge the bullet on this one. Your referral sources need and will demand a definite price. Leave the flexible pricing and negotiation techniques to occasions when you are booking the client directly from your own marketing.

  9. When all the questions have been answered (or none have been asked at all) direct the members of the sales staff to your telephone number and Email address on your hand-out for future questions, smile, say thanks again, AND LEAVE (they have important work to do).

  10. As soon as you get back to the office, mail your complete package to the Director of Sales with a thank you note and congratulating him/her on being the head of such an outstanding department.

    Include the Sales Director on your mailing list for future marketing distributions such as newsletters, holiday cards, and listservs. Don't over market -- just enough to remind them of the value of your service to their clients and that you are still around.

Newer speakers should "practice" on smaller hotels, bureaus, and DMC's before moving on to the big ones. "Get your sales presentation act down" before you take your "show" to the big times.

A half hour after I made a presentation to the sales staff of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (my number one source of referrals), I received a phone call from a potential client who said they were referred to me by the NOMCVB. The Bureau associate had described me a "fantastic" speaker.

I've also received referral business from at least two hotels, and have had my presentation "placed into bid" by several DMC's.

Now just in case you think you've hit the mother lode by reading this article, please remember that to this date, my number one source of business has come the old fashioned way -- from me -- lots of telephone calls and lots of direct marketing!

In case you haven't noticed by now, speaking is a tough profession, with far too little speaking opportunities for the number of extremely talented speakers that exist in the meetings and convention industry.

This technique alone won't guarantee the type of success that you seek, but it can be an important step in "putting the buzz out on the street" within ear shot of your potential clients that you are a talented speaker who will add value to their meeting agenda.

It has gotten the phone to ring for me on numerous occasions, and over the years has resulted in numerous bookings at "big time" speaker fees. But the bottom line is, no matter how creative your marketing, no matter how fancy your brochure or one-sheet, unless you deliver top-notch platform skills and content each and every time you speak, you won't survive in the speaking business for very long.

Best of luck with your speaking endeavors, and until full time speaking success comes your way (if that is your desire) KEEP YOUR DAY JOB!

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