We are holding our first-ever regional user group this fall and as we reached out to our customers to see who may be interested in hosting it, we were able to experience first-hand how a virtual tour helps to sell a venue. Let’s break down that experience from a customer point-of-view with our lessons learned:
Once we learned that Meet Chicago Northwest was offering to host our event we were excited and ready to start planning. We quickly learned that they had limited space to host a group as large as we were planning in the given timeframe, so we found ourselves in search of event space. Since our host is a regional CVB, they gave us a list of their partners who would have the space available for our event.
We were connected via email to 3 partners who ranged from private colleges to event centers all located relatively close to our host. The responses fell into 3 buckets:
- An email response with some of the basic information requested and a few static images
- An email that included a proposal with a lot of information for us to review, including a static 3D campus map
- All of #2 above, but with a link to either virtual tours of the space(s) and floor plans
As a customer we were on a time crunch, had a limited budget, and we are 1500 miles away from the venues. Since this event was hosting our customers we really wanted the location to offer the best experience for our customers and also be located conveniently. So, let’s go through our reactions to the 3 types of responses.
With the standard email responses, they generally included basic information about ranges of spaces, some cost information, and a statement about catering options. This wasn’t enough information to decide on that particular venue, and it left us with more questions. We then had to find their website and look around for images and more information.
Verdict: These gave us just enough information that we saw options that may work, but we weren’t sure.
The 2nd bucket of responses was the most common. Although the quality and format of the proposals varied, in general, these were very helpful and answered most of the questions about availability, space and catering capabilities, and costs. The pictures provided gave us a general idea of the meeting spaces but left us with some questions regarding layout options, A/V options in each space, and it was hard to get an idea of the feel of the spaces. We found ourselves going online and checking the venue’s google business profile to see if there were images or videos that gave us a better sense of the spaces.
Verdict: These responses gave us a much better idea of which venues definitely could (and could not) work, but we still had to search for a bit more information to make a decision.
The last group of responses wasn’t really a group because only one response included a link or embedded virtual tour option. That response included the email that you see below which gave us the information we were asking for in the documents they attached, but it also included a link to virtual tours of the entire facilities including the room that was suggested to match our requirements. This virtual tour dashboard gave us a sense of not only the meeting rooms but also the foyer that would welcome our customers, the outside of the building, pre-function areas and even a very interesting museum inside of the building.
Verdict: This response gave us essentially the same information as those described in bucket #2, but the virtual tours sold the deal and led us to actually book the venue. We felt confident in the venue. Not only would it be conducive for our event, but more importantly we were able to share the experience of the venue and felt it would be perfect for our event and our customers. We can’t wait to Step Inside!
So, what are the lessons learned for the sales and marketing teams from our experience in finding and booking event space?
While it is important and probably table stakes to ‘answer the mail’ by providing the relevant information requested – space available, rates, catering and a/v options, for example. This data provides enough to disqualify venues, but not enough for a customer to make the most informed decision. This also requires the customer to work harder to seek the information needed to make the buy decision.
A proposal that provides the required information but also provides quality imagery and additional features like maps, catering menus, and even reviews or references goes a lot further in giving the customer enough information to make their buying decision.
For us it was very important that the venue we selected had the right ‘feel’ and gave our customers the experience we were seeking for a customer user group. The virtual tour that they included along with the room recommendation sealed the deal. The fact that it was a Threshold 360 tour made it even easier yet, the sales person didn’t realize that we were the company that created the tour. So, a $99/month investment closed a sale worth $2,000 over other competitors. The proposal helped us determine a short list, and the virtual tour enticed us to book the event and Step Inside.
What if we did not have Meet Chicago Northwest to connect us with their partners? Most businesses in a search like we just finished are trying to find meeting space quickly that meets their needs without much direction or insight on how to find it. This typically requires scouring hotel websites for information, while having to fill out the “contact me” section or “submit RFP” for every single venue. From our experience shared above, we know how invaluable it would be to be able to go to a hotel or venue’s site and take a tour before even speaking with a sales representative.
This allows us to save time and energy while qualifying the venue, so when we submit our information we already know that this space meets our needs.
Hotels and venues that utilize a virtual tour in their website floorplans and meeting spaces along with their proposals are setting themselves up for success. It’s quite possible that if we had only static imagery to view we may have never even gotten to the step of asking for a proposal.
In closing, this experience has been a great reminder of how difficult it can be to plan a meeting or event in a different city, especially if you do not have the chance to visit beforehand. Hotels and venues that use virtual tours on their website and in proposals make it so much easier for the meetings group to make a quick and informed decision, while also not wasting valuable sales time.