ARLINGTON, VA—For a hotel’s group sales team to be successful, especially in highly competitive markets, they need to not only concentrate on inbound RFPs (requests for proposal), they also have to become proactive in searching for their next piece of business. Knowland, a provider of meetings market data and analytics for hotels, convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), convention centers and other meeting venues, based here, is making it easier for salespeople to find groups that are the right fit for their hotel.
“A sales office used to leverage their personal knowledge of what was there and, inevitably, they would always have holes in the schedule. That’s not good for a hotel,” said Bob Post, who joined Knowland as CEO last May. “They’re worried about occupancy and maximizing that fixed asset all the time. We really work with our clients to understand the concept of proactive sales, meaning that before the year even begins, salespeople can look at what their group calendar looks like, what periods they need to fill and how they are going to actually go and source that business.”
Kristi White, who came onboard in July as Knowland’s VP of product management, described the Knowland platform as “teaching the man to fish, not just bringing the fish to him.”
She continued, “Often, you get these inbound leads and you’re only evaluating that single piece of business. Our system presents a lot of history around individual companies as they come in. Now you can actually begin to understand the breadth of business available from that company. So, it’s not about responding to a single RFP and landing a one-time piece of business. Instead, you can have a more intelligent conversation where you can say, ‘I know that you’re planning 30 meetings a year. What would I need to do to capture more or all of them?’”
According to Post, the Knowland database contains entries for more than 16 million events, and tracks historical and behavioral patterns of what those groups do; the timing; how large the group is; who books it; and other important details to salespeople. Clients can do a Smart Search to find the perfect fit for their hotel.
“We started out by showing hotels the events that occurred in a market over particular days. Over the last couple of years, we’ve added a layer of business intelligence on top of that,” she said. “Every piece of business that meets in your market is not a fit for your hotel. We score each piece of business, so you can now see if this piece of business is a match for your location. For example, you may be an urban property and it’s an 80% match; 80% of the time, they buy a hotel in your chain scale; 70% of the time, they’re actually meeting in your market; and the fourth piece is the brand, and that’s a 50% match.”
Last year, the company released the “Knowland Source of Business Survey” in which it polled 900-plus hoteliers on a number of topics related to group. Some 25% of participants said that more than 50% of their hotel’s revenue comes from group business, while 64% of respondents noted that they don’t have or make time to proactively prospect new accounts.
White noted that she had some reservations with the results of another question in the survey: “What percent of your hotels’ group revenue comes from these top three sources—Repeat (which led the way with 42%), Inbound (36%) and Proactive (22%)?”
“I think there is some fundamental confusion for hotels around repeat business,” she said. “We think the way a lot of hotels are classifying that is even when they’re getting that inbound RFP, they look at that and say, ‘Well, they’ve stayed here before and, therefore, that’s the repeat piece of business.’ I look at it slightly differently: Repeat business is when you bring that piece of business in and then they rebook by calling you back. They didn’t go back to a third party and send you an inbound RFP. If it came back to you by an inbound RFP, even if the group stayed there before, it’s a new piece of business.”
This year, Knowland will add some new features to its platform. The first is additional contact functionality, which is expected to go live in April.
“We’ll be adding a significant number—somewhere around 140,000—of new contacts loaded into our system so that you can see that, say, Susan Smith works at Siemens, and Siemens is having a meeting in your market that matches up with the attributes in your hometown,” said White. “The contact page will have phone numbers, LinkedIn, email and other information, and then we’ll enrich that data to go further to say that Susan Smith specifically plans 20-plus meetings per year in the Mid-Atlantic region in urban locations at luxury hotels, and 80% of the time, they have guestrooms attached to them.”
The other feature is competitive benchmarking, where Knowland will take the occupancy of a hotel’s meeting space and compare it to that of its competitive set, as well as its market and other chain scales.
“A hotel can track out the day-to-day occupancy of its individual meeting rooms so that it can understand how efficiently it’s selling that space,” said White. “We’re going to leave space so that a hotel’s sales team can plug in what its occupancy is so that it can understand it had 100% occupancy in the hotel on Tuesday but the meeting spaces were at 10% occupancy. It enables the sales team to ask questions such as, ‘Where did I drop the ball and not let my catering team know that the space was open?’ It’s going to be the very first time that we’re going to be, as an industry, able to understand how efficiently we’re managing that meeting space.” HB