Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the school bell ringing! Soon the temperature will start dropping and it will be time to plan the Thanksgiving menu. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back to school is an exciting time for students and parents alike, and the perfect opportunity for FECs and adventure facilities to examine the outbound sales strategies that help keep business chugging through the winter holiday season. Don’t have a plan that targets school groups? What are you waiting for?
Whether you have an existing sales strategy for landing school groups or are just figuring out this particular opportunity, here are six winning steps to being smart about your outreach.
Step #1: Add school district events to your FEC calendar.
Start with your online calendar, or go “vintage” with a blank calendar template. I recommend a template that includes public holidays as well as an at-a-glance look at the previous and upcoming month. Then search school district websites and download all the relevant calendars for the districts your facility serves. Use those calendars to capture all important dates onto your calendar for the school year, such as professional days when kids are out, breaks, proms and graduation.
Operations can use these for scheduling staff, operating hours, promotions and daily specials, etc. In fact, go ahead and input them into your facility management system so you won’t be caught scrambling when an important date is suddenly upon you.
Step #2: Brainstorm promotions specific to your school district.
Brainstorm possible promotions related to events like field trips, fundraisers and prom or formal dances. Consider using the football, soccer, basketball, and any other sports season schedules to offer post-game events, booster club activities and drives. Make a list of all the groups you would like to see in your facility, the associated promotion/offer, and then strategize who you’re going to contact first. Remember, time is of the essence.
Step #3: Build meaningful relationships with teachers, faculty and parents.
The amount of access you’ll have to a particular school’s faculty can vary widely, however, a great way to endear yourself and your park to your school neighbors is to deliver lunch, goody baskets, school supplies or other items to thank the teachers and staff for all the hard work they’re doing. Even if school has already begun in your area, the first few weeks are tough on everyone. Meaningful gifts can reduce teacher stress and go a long way to building relationships between your facility and your local schools.
Offer to attend or present at a teachers’ or PTO meeting. Teachers and parent-teacher organizations are always looking for new ways to fundraise, celebrate successes or reward students’ performance. While you’re adding value and making direct connections through programs at your facility, you may also discover new ways in which you and teachers or parent organizations can partner in the upcoming year. Aim to discover what types of field trips and outside school hour events will be considered for the year, and whom to contact to begin conversations.
Step #4: Outreach to event coordinators efficiently.
While persistence is a good thing, minimize the interruptions for teachers and staff by looking for where decision makers overlap. Because at the end of the day the goal is not to be the loudest sales person, but to really become the most valuable resource.
At the beginning of the year, schools are planning fall sports, fall breaks, meet the teacher nights, sport season openers. Perhaps they are organized by the same committee, or there is some overlap you can find to help get you to the right decision makers. Once you know that the PTO is responsible for the freshmen fall field trip and the spring junior prom, for example, you can target the PTO one time to get a feel for both events.
You should attempt to learn each event’s objectives and decision-making process. For example, some organizations will likely want to plan all their events in the beginning of the year while others may not want to think about graduation night until closer to the holiday break. The more information you gather, the more prepared you’ll be for timely follow up and showcase just how “on top of your game” your facility is. This will help you maximize your time with your potential guests and keep your pipeline moving forward efficiently.
Step #5: Have a rock-solid pipeline management strategy.
If your pipeline management strategy is a frayed notebook or a stack of sticky notes, you might want to consider a new strategy. Consider an electronic CRM system to keep track of leads and follow up, a Google Sheets document, or even an online calendar with important follow up dates and meetings. If you are a facility owner or operator, and you have not thought about how leads should be tracked, you are setting yourself up for events and contacts to slip through the cracks.
It should go without saying, but all sales done for your facility should be housed on company computers, using company email addresses and calendars. Should your best sales pro win the lottery and moves to a villa in Argentina, you need to be able to manage the follow up. Remember that, though your sales person is responsible for building the initial relationship, your park assumes the risk to its reputation.
Step #6: Build your reputation as community events expert.
Continue tailoring your approaches to every part of what you do. Spend time replaying sales calls, meetings, and the events themselves in your mind to identify what went well, and what you can improve upon next time. Once you start to book school events, you’ll notice which kinds are resonating with your district. Armed with that knowledge, brainstorm other schools or organizations that might like to host a similar event. Not only will all this aid you in your prospecting efforts, but it will help you build momentum and recognition for you and your park the events expert in your community.
In her role as Brand Engagement Director for CenterEdge Software, Sherry is responsible for developing and presenting tools and training materials to improve the day-to-day operations of clients in the amusement and family entertainment center industries, in areas including leadership, service, motivation, training, software best practices, sales, birthday parties, and more.