Case Study: Using Social Media and SEM to Drive Group Business

Before I started my own business, I was heavily entrenched in the Marriott International corporate brass, where group meetings business accounts for 40% of the overall revenue for their US hotels. As a leader in marketing and e-commerce disciplines, my team’s focus was largely devoted to driving demand and revenue from the direct consumer segments and channels. For reference, our shorthand for all these activities was B2C, while those pertaining to groups were called B2B.

With the acquisition of Gaylord Hotels and the opening of several other large convention hotels in major US markets in the summer of 2012, I was tasked with assisting the sales teams in driving B2B revenues, both by developing tactics that could be utilized at that moment as well as strategies to last for many years to come.

With the rise of social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook, sales associates were increasingly being challenged to go out of their comfort zones to engage with customers by ‘connecting’ and ‘friending’ with current or potential customers through these channels to maintain engagement. Many team members did not currently have much, if any, experience in this field. Additionally, the adoption of search engines as the first point of research by meeting planners and key decision makers was also prevalent. Ergo, search engine marketing (SEM) – that is, retargeting and Google Adwords as well as search engine optimization (SEO) – would also play a dominant role in this endeavor.

Concurrently, within the company structure, sales and marketing had both been operating in separate silos. We needed to come together to understand how the two disciplines could work together to support our shared goal of heightening B2B revenues in our US hotels. This effort also needed collaboration with the analytics teams to understand what could be tracked as a result of marketing efforts through these digital channels.

There are two important statistics I like to be recall at this juncture to stress the underlying importance of building Marriott’s presence on both social networks and search engine platforms.

“57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)

“67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

The world has indeed moved online, and we needed to move with it. Understanding how consumer behavior evolved with the proliferation of these digital spaces was critical to effectively formulate a plan going forward.

It was determined, that beyond the traditional support that marketing provided to sales by way of ‘sales tools and collateral’, we needed to determine our role in driving demand and customer engagement in a purely B2B environment. While we played an active role in training the sales teams on how best to utilize these channels to connect and engage with customers, we also focused our efforts on what we know best – that is, SEO and SEM.

Through Google analytics, we readily discovered that there was a high level of volume in meetings-type search terms and keywords, yet nowhere was Marriott International or any of our hotels visible. Our focus for SEM campaigns to date was not based on ‘visibility’ in the search engines, but rather on actual revenue. As reference, we examined search terms like ‘convention hotels in San Diego’, ‘meetings in Chicago’, ‘event venues in Seattle’ and so on.

From this, the strategy we devised included the following:

  1. Established a goal around driving group demand via the number of e-RFP submissions via the brand meetings website as well as total revenue booked. We also set a growth metrics of X to Y by year-end.
  2. Established a thorough analytics and tracking process to monitor and measure efforts on a monthly basis.
  3. Assigned a budget to implement a paid search campaign – otherwise known as pay per click (PPC) – based on high volume and relevant search terms while also making necessary updates to the RFP form on the brand meetings website.

With these three streamlined actions, our results were as follows:

  • Exceeded goal in driving e-RFPs by over 80%, which went directly into the sales offices.
  • Drove double-digit conversion rates, which showed we were getting the quality inquiries.
  • Exceeded the total in tracked booking revenue goals.

The final analysis from these activities showed that, just as with consumers, today’s business decision-makers begin their purchases by researching products and services online by utilizing search engines and consuming various forms of content. In other words, even though these are ‘businesses’, we are still selling to ‘people’.

The B2B sell may be more complicated, but we must nevertheless captivate and engage the interest of the potential buyer through various online channels.  By the time they seek out sales professionals, they’re well on their way to making a decision. Often, the reaching out stage of the process is less a call to be convinced and more a confirmation of the buyer already had in mind.

As a general takeaway, it is critical that hotels understand their audiences and how they may vary by segment in order to then determine what search terms are relevant for their properties and destinations. SEM isn’t something that just tacked on to the marketing budget; these new digital channels need a well-defined strategy with specially tailored content if they are to be successful.

This may require a vastly different mindset in the hiring and training of the sales associate of the future as these methods of digital marketing must be incorporated into the everyday practices of the hotels’ sales teams. Moreover, the collaboration between sales and marketing is no longer an option; it is a vital necessity in today’s digital and social world.

About the Author:

Teri Merritt is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.


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