Photo by Brooke Cagle.
This morning I had a Zoom session with the inner circle of wedding venues in one of my programmes and it was discussed, just how much of a silver lining this enforced closure was. Don’t get me wrong, nobody is loving this situation and the negative impact is huge but this bunch of venues were choosing to see the upsides of what this pause is allowing. This morning it was all about learning Canva Pro features together but it was a wider meaning comment that was made about the amount of tech and virtual that is fast becoming the norm in venue world. I’m so impressed by how much my private clients have adapted and moved online to serve their couples at this time.
It’s in this context that I’m sharing my advice here to you venues today on nailing VIRTUAL SHOWROUNDS to help you secure future wedding business.
Whilst current and postponed couples need to come first and marketing for new business be handled sensitively, your wedding venue needs to take sensible steps to attract future bookings for 2021 and 2022 and conducting effective virtual showrounds is a huge part of that.
As I write today (Thursday 14th May) there is massive discussion and lack of clarity on whether venues should and can open their doors again to in-person showrounds.
Whatever your view and whatever the government guidance on that is, one thing is clear to me, that virtual showrounds are here to stay. Coronovirus might have made them become the norm rather than the exception but I strongly believe that a well-planned and designed virtual showround is a sensible sales strategy ideal for selling to tech-savvy millennial wedding customers.
So even if you haven’t yet had success with virtual showrounds and are tempted to keep away, I’d urge you to read on and find a way to offer virtual showrounds alongside your regular showrounds when doors are open, which hopefully will be not too long away.
What do we actually mean by a virtual showround?
We’re all having to get our heads round all sorts of new things at the moment so I thought it worth clarifying what I mean by a virtual showround. This is a private session between venue and couple booked by appointment where a member of the venue team shows the couple around the venue facilities. This isn’t a pre-done video, group tour nor a pre-done virtual tour that shows couples around the venue. Those are all very valid and highly recommended strategies for your marketing and sales but not the focus of this piece. I’m focusing here on the ‘personal touch meets tech’ of a private appointment between couple and potential venue seeking a future booking.
And why is the personal touch so important now?
This has never been more important in converting couples to book with you. The world has never been more uncertain and as a result we all seek reassurance and help as well as connection. Our foundations have been rocked and right now most of us want to work with businesses who are reassuring, take positive steps, are regularly showing up and doing their best for customers. The people are the business now more than ever and wedding couples need to see that personal touch if they are to invest. Remember right now the security of wedding insurance is largely unavailable, there is huge financial uncertainty and as a lot of people would say “they want to see the whites of your eyes” to know if they trust you enough to do business and make this big investment in saying yes to your venue.
So how do you conduct a successful virtual showround?
Tell couples it’s available
Many people may assume that with your doors closed, you are 100% closed; it’s not up to them to work it out, it’s up to you to tell your potential customers that you have virtual showrounds available on all of your platforms. Make it clear on your website, certainly on your contact page, ‘book a showround’ links and even a home page pop up is key. Also make it clear how they book in and the easier the better – I’m a fan of the likes of Calendly for online diary scheduling. Don’t forget your social media channels which should also make it clear in your links and content that this is available. Very importantly update your marketing partners and directory listings. Coco Wedding Venues has a ‘Virtual Tour/Showround’ call-to-action on listings and this is key to ensure you have this updated to attract good enquiries to you – couples who are keen and ready to see your venue.
Tell them how it works
Just as I’ve explained above what I mean by virtual showrounds, it’s up to you to explain to couples how this session will work. This is new to all of us, so the more reassuring and approachable you can be the better. This is the space to tell them roughly how long the session would be so they can plan their timings, what the format is (slide show + questions for example), who they will meet (i.e. you and/or member of the team) and anything they should come prepared with. I think it’s a nice touch to set a relaxed tone so invite them to bring a coffee or something stronger if later in the day to enjoy at the meeting.
Over the last 2 months (doesn’t it feel like two years?) more people than ever have taken to Skype, Zoom, Google Meet and the likes to conduct meetings so you are perhaps more than familiar with these platforms.
There is no one ideal one; we all have our favourites. For me this is Zoom so I’ll focus some advice on that here but the most important thing is to pick your platform of choice and use that for your virtual showrounds, understanding the features enough so you can use it professionally and reliably.
Taking Zoom as an example, anyone can have a free account but there are limits to this as you might imagine for something free. The amount of time is limited to 40 minutes per session. If you’re planning to conduct showrounds I’d urge you to consider the Zoom Pro version which for £12 per month is a very reasonable investment. The last thing you want is to be cut off and have to restart the rapport building with a couple mid-showround. When it comes to Zoom your potential clients don’t need to have a Zoom account so you literally set up the session at a pre-agreed time, send them a link that they can click from with any device (with a password if you wish but it’s not essential) and that’s it. You can have an unlimited number of participants on the Zoom session so ideal if the couple want to include parents based in a separate location. In most cases I imagine your couples will be familiar with Zoom and the likes but ensuring they have webcam, speakers and microphone enabled for a newbie may be worth checking. The biggest challenge I find is the reliability of WIFI which can be patchy and particularly for rural based venues and couples. Doing your best to ensure you’re in the most stable part of the house/building is key as I’m sure you know.
You have the added bonus of being able to record your Zoom sessions; this might not be something you need to do going forward but perhaps in those early sessions it’s a way of playing back what you did and look for tweaks and improvements. Ask for permission from the couple first though to be sure they are comfortable with recording them.
Importantly you have (and you will need) the ability to screen share with your couples so they can view what’s on your screen; we’ll come back to this later.
Rapport building is vital
Before we get into some practical/techy tips on creating a good virtual showround presentation, I want to shine some focus on the importance of rapport and of building natural conversation.
Just as in a face to face showround, the same principles apply here, that seeking to understand couples and their needs come first before “selling” your venue. A big part of that is them getting to you know as a person a little and you them. You may well have a few details of their ideal wedding day beforehand as sent with their enquiry so be sure you have those to hand to bring into the conversation as you show them round.
I’ve long advocated for personality and people to be brought to the fore in selling a venue, rather than a 100% focus on selling the bricks and mortar features and now more than ever this matters. As example of building rapport when a couple visit you in person is an element of conversation such as “how was your journey today?” so clearly this needs a virtual update. You could even make a little joke about it or at least, ask how their day is so far and how is their routine at the moment – whilst most of us don’t want to talk Covid-19 all day, we need to recognise the impact on each other.
It’s a good idea before fully diving into any tour to reconfirm how long the session usually lasts and how it will run, in the same way as you have stated in advance on your website etc. It’s good to recheck if they have any time constraints (ie. another meeting) so you can work within that and ask them if they have questions before you start.
The slide show tech
You may never have designed a presentation or slide show before but you are going to need some kind of structured format to showcase your venue as part of a virtual showround. Your voice and face via a live call is great but you’ll need to be able to show your venue spaces clearly alongside.
There is no set format but many venues are using a mix of Keynote, Powerpoint and Canva Pro is proving to be a very popular as platform to help in the creating of a presentation document. Whichever you choose, again make sure you’re happy with the design and how to operate it when you use it via your screen share.
Slide show essentials
Consider these important things in designing your slide show:
- Visuals – this is key – you need this presentation to lead with strong images and photos. This should be very text light and photo heavy. You are doing the talking so you don’t want your couples to be looking at reading loads of text whilst listening to you.
- Keep it Short – I’d suggest 10 minutes maximum of you talking consistently or you may find they drift off. This may be interspersed with questions anyway which is so much the better.
- Follow the Journey of the day – vital to putting this slide show together is thinking through the order a couple would usually have a tour and ideally this should reflect the order of use of their wedding day. This may well be easier virtually than it is in real life anyway, but design your slideshow to clearly walk them through their day and what space they use when. So show them the getting ready spaces, the ceremony locations, drinks reception spots, wedding breakfast, party zone and then overnight accommodation in that order, with different options where relevant along the way so they are logistically clear on what you have to offer.
- Show Them A Map – alongside the above consider using a bird’s eye map or overview that is marked up with the key activities that happen in that space. So use arrows and markers to show on a bird’s eye view where the wedding breakfast takes place etc. Bear in mind that your potential couple have never set foot inside your venue so it’s very hard to imagine how it all knits together and the flow of their potential wedding so a map layout that you intersperse at several points in your presentation to embed the learning of what’s where and give them the best impression can really help. If you have videos and other tours pre-recorded this is great to send post showround and help further but I’d tend not to play those within this virtual session. I always find it slightly awkward when multiple people are watching a pre-recorded promotional video live together.
- Repetition – Don’t be afraid to repeat slightly your information during this session, a bit like the suggestion of showing the bird’s eye map at several points. Remember you have seen your venue a thousand times; they are having to take it all in and piece it together – bearing in mind they are probably doing the same with other venues they are speaking to right now.
You may well find during the flow of your slide show that you’re asked questions; that’s great and let them flow as you would in real life. If not, then do give them the chance to ask some questions at the end and this is the time to outline perhaps some of the things you ordinarily would like how your caterer works, what the civil ceremony process is, how any accommodation booking works, a refresher of capacities etc
Don’t forget that you’ll also need to spell out next steps. This is all new territory to customers so they will be looking to you for guidance as to what happens next. Depending on your process you might like to offer to hold a date, you might prepare a bespoke proposal or they may need some information on pricing or clarification. Do reassure them that you are taking bookings from virtual tours. Whilst many way wish to wait until they can come in, lots of my venue clients are getting couples sign up happily on the back of virtual tours so don’t forget to state it’s possible. In many cases venues have been offering a refundable deposit for those booking on the back of a virtual tour with some kind of caveat on time frame for that deposit to be refunded. Something that’s an extra reassurance for now.
Follow up and nurturing
This is KEY in this new world we find ourselves in currently. Customers need to be reassured, looked after and the relationship with them nurtured in many cases. That might be exercising patience and waiting until they are ready to book but importantly that means keeping lightly in touch and not disappearing from sight.
After a showround it should certainly mean following up with promised resources but over and above that, it’s important now more than ever to keep those interested couples in mind. Send them a link to an inspiring industry blog you’ve read that you think they will like, send them some tips on planning that you’ve seen or put together on your blog. Right now, take away the pure sales focus and look to build a good relationship with that potential customer until they are ready and feel more secure. Hopefully a few weeks is all we’ll need for them to build in confidence.
A quick reminder of the benefits of a virtual showround
Whilst I’m a huge fan of face to face and can’t wait to get back to hospitality and meeting up in person, there are huge benefits here for venue businesses to embrace virtual tours not just now, but as a long term business strategy.
Here are just some of the benefits as I see it:
- You can get parents and/or other key stakeholders at the venue irrespective of geography to help get speedier decisions.
- For those venues often appealing to couples out of area, a virtual showround allows them to schedule in sooner and make that first shortlist easier pending an in-person visit for final confirmation, making those final visits more fruitful with a better conversion rate.
- A virtual showround can be a good ‘screening’ option. We’ve all had showrounds where we just know the couple aren’t interested and you have to squirm your way through an agonising hour; a lot easier to cut it short with a virtual tour and move on.
- You can fit more showrounds into less time without the unknowns of traffic delay, movement from A to B.
I hope you’ve found the above advice helpful as you navigate through this big change. My final tip is to ditch any perfectionism and go for it. Prior to March there was barely a venue out there who were regularly doing anything like a virtual showround in this way so this is new to us all, we’re all learning and building our skills in this area. Whilst it’s important to do your best, keep it professional it’s also OK to start with one virtual showround and develop and improve it as time moves on; that’s just normal business progress. I, for one, am rather excited to see how virtual showround appointments look in a year’s time…