Several years ago, I sat down to lunch with a sales manager of a Seattle area meeting facility known for its long history. While we sipped sangria and tucked into our paella, she told me she was having a tough time figuring out the competition. If she could get an idea of who they were, she could focus on what made her offering better. With so many places to hold events in the city, she was getting lost in the sauce.
Think Like Your Customer
She had tried to make the comparison by number of rooms, capacity, menu, catering, etc. I suggested she was looking at the problem from an insider’s point of view rather than the customer’s. According to Al Ries and Jack Trout in their seminal book on the subject, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, “…you position the product in the mind of the prospect.” In other words, she needed to think like an event planner, although not all event planners are the same.
Define the Competition By What You Offer
I asked her to step back and think about who her customer was based on what she had to offer. Her facility is one of the few historic places that hosts events. Our first idea then was to go after planners interested in historic properties, but there probably weren't enough of those to make a market. So we broadened our perspective. That is, target event planners looking for something a little different from the typical hotel. This customer would be interested in an unusual location. Their thought process might be, “What space will make my event more exciting for my guests?” Once again, it’s important to put yourself in the mind of your prospect. That made a place like the Olympic Sculpture Park Pavilion a competitor. For more ideas, I suggested using Google to do a search as if she were the customer. For example, a search for historical meeting spaces Seattle revealed: Warwick Hotels, Washington Hall, Georgetown Stables. This provided a short list, rather than hundreds of generic hotels, for comparing her property's strengths and weaknesses.
It was a great lunch, but even better, my lunch companion now had a marketing strategy that would save her time and get her more business.