by Stu Leventhal
Sales people should specialize in a type of customer. They should work towards being an expert at servicing their particular niche. Never assign territories to your catering sales personnel based on location, instead assign customer niches. One sales rep can specialize in Wedding Affairs, another business lunches, another children parties and celebrations. Whether they are selling on-premise catering events or off premise parties and celebrations does not matter either. What matters more is who they are selling to. A Catering Sales Specialist specializes in selling to a certain type of purchaser not a certain style of food, a price bracket or catering technique such as buffet style verses full service events.
Your sales person has to be armed with a full arsenal of options when they walk into a prospect’s domicile. They need to be able to talk with confidence and authority. They must be able to handle any objections at the time they pop up. They need to be able to offer suggestions. If price is the issue maybe we’ll cut out a few of the frills and go to serve yourself buffet style instead of us supplying the waiters and servers. It is easier to train and teach a sales person how to handle one type of customer at a time than expecting them to be able to sell all the very many various types of catering to everyone and anyone. Of course if you are just getting started with catering then your sales force may be one individual. Frequently during catering start-ups that individual is you. Whoever your Catering Sales Experts are they will have to be organized into thinking in terms of niches and niche marketing.
Catering niches are generally defined by the type of event being planned or celebrated; birthday parties, holidays, weddings, seminars, business luncheons, retirement parties and family events and gatherings like graduations, welcome home or religious celebrations. Also defining the niche are the types of attendees being served. Children’s events are designed totally different from events where the guests are all professional business men and women. Social and religious celebrations where family and friends will be attending have to be designed to please all age groups and taste buds. Your sales pitch will be tailored differently for each of these markets.
No one person can possibly know everything they need to know about every conceivable party, event, celebration or occasion that comes up. But you must be thoroughly knowledgeable about what your organization can do and can’t do. Sure nothing is written in stone and a good catering organization must be able and willing to bend and get creative if they wish to WOW customers and guests and foster that fantastic word of mouth advertising that really can’t be purchased. But, the catering specialist also has to know their establishment’s limitations too. Never promise something you aren’t absolutely certain you can deliver!
To sell off-premise catering, you don’t need tons of innovative ideas and you don’t have to have exceptional presentation skills. Sure experience counts, doesn’t it always? But, we’ve all been to parties and plenty of family gatherings, business and social events. Your customers will come to you already having at least a vague idea of what they are looking for and wishing to achieve. As the parameters you are working within reveal themselves; what the occasion is, the date and time, number of guests, your customer’s budget, your passion for planning events and natural enthusiasm will have the catering suggestions popping out. Together you and your customer will build a great buffet, set up a stunning evening gala or put together a convenient, economical and healthy themed professionally organized business box lunch or luncheon.
Most importantly, you MUST display a professional demeanor and attitude when communicating with social, corporate and institutional clients who are shelling out large sums of money. Speak with authority and confidence. Understand the importance of consistently offering exceptional customer service. Sell the benefits of your service rather than price. Catering sales can come in many forms; social functions, corporate events, home parties. There are institutional clients, high end formally served and catered galas and simple pick up platters. Whatever the event is, your job is to sell your customers peace of mind.
Model your catering business around ease of ordering. Make it easy for customers to contact you. Do you have online ordering yet? It may be a good idea to Invest in a twenty four hour answering service. Being known as the reliable go to caterer for last minute special catering needs could be the determining factor to landing large corporate and educational institution accounts which frequently plan events with very little lead time. Design your menus so they are easy to understand and it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out the final bill amount. Once the sale is initiated, stay in constant contact. There are always last minute changes and you want to be made aware of them as early as possible if things are going to run smoothly on the day of the event.
It’s easy to grow catering sales when you concentrate on becoming an expert at selling to one particular niche at a time. Develop and execute a marketing plan, on how to maximize revenue and sales based on the current market trends in your local and your immediate competition. Set your catering business apart. If there are already three kosher caterers within a five block radius of your facility then it might be hard to break into the Bar and Bat Mitzvah market. Yet, perhaps there is an opening for a vegan caterer in your immediate vicinity. Finding a supplier who manufactures all natural, meat alternative products and putting together some tasty organically grown vegetable platters, wheat and whole grain pita sandwich trays, add some all natural, zero meat, zero dairy, casserole meals served with brown or wild rice and featuring entrées like stuffed cabbage and vegan chili could be a way to capitalize on an under serviced market. “All the taste and nutrition without the saturated fats, cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives could be your mantra.”
*Your Catering Sales Specialist should establish and maintain contact on a regular basis with all area hotels and convention centers, banquet sales departments and event planning services departments through presentation and cold calls in order to obtain referrals and promote your current catering programs. They should promote your establishment, services and products with local community groups, tour operators, area hotels, destination companies, convention & Visitor bureaus, political meeting planners and other relevant groups. They should network with other businesses that service parties and events like; disc jockeys, entertainment and band managers, flower shops, party supply an party rental companies. You should offer referral incentives.
Marketing pieces, promotional literature and an advertising campaign needs to be developed to targeting specific purchasers in each catering niche. Investment and Insurance communities, corporate catering, employee appreciation events, galas and seminars, schools and daycare centers all need different, specific marketing developed. To sell to businesses, your emails and literature must speak directly to the VP of HR, Facilities Managers, Office Managers and Assistant Managers most of who are delegated the chore of planning their bosses business catered events.
*It’s worth the time spent, developing relationships with receptionists and administration assistants who do most of the ordering and organizing of business and corporate events.
Investing in specialized catering equipment designed specifically for servicing a particular type of party or event can set you apart from all your competition in that sales niche. Also, not cutting corners when it comes to employing the highest caliber of staff and spending money and time to train your staff so they operate at a much higher level than all the other caterers in town can be a very beneficial strategy.
It is easier to become the best at one, two or three aspects of catering than trying to compete in all the many different catering niches at the same time. Being known as an expert in one or a few catering functions is far better than being known as just another caterer. Mediocre caterers close most of their sales by discounting and haggling. Their customers have zero loyalty and zero respect for them. Expert caterers, have customers who rave about their experiences working with you and your company. Word of mouth spreads quickly in small communities especially when you are in the business of servicing large parties and events. Concentrate on throwing great parties and giving your customers great, exceptional experiences and everyone will want to know who the caterer is! The best advertising in the world is having the whole town talking about you, the caterer who handled the Smith Wedding!
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