If you haven’t heard, I am working to totally makeover one lucky vacation rental owner’s marketing portfolio live (and step-by-step) for my subscribers to follow. You can read all the prior posts here.
In this edition of the Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover, watch as we increase Amy’s inquiries to bookings conversions by almost 600%…
One of the most universally challenging components to vacation rental marketing, for owners or managers, big and small, is the correspondence or “sales” process of getting a guest to book…
In other words, what is the most efficient, frictionless, and compelling way to turn inquiries into actual bookings?
And perhaps more importantly, how can we automate or streamline that formula to make our lives easier?
Now, when I started with Amy Firmani, I asked her one simple question which she (and many of my subscribers) had trouble answering:
“What is your conversion rate?”
Amy’s response was “somewhere around 20%.”
Which for me, wasn’t good enough.
If any owner or manager is to improve, she must hunker down and be statistical about her progress…if nothing else, to see what is working and what’s not.
And calculating this metric is soooo simple: divide the amount of bookings into the number of inquiries. Example: if you “convert” one out of every 10 bookings, your conversion rate is 10%.
So we calculated Amy’s conversion rates historically and they came out like this:
2012: 19 bookings divided by 196 inquiries = 9.7% Conversion Rate
2013: 36 bookings divided by 299 inquiries = 12% Conversion Rate
Now if you think about it, simply improving by a few percentage points like Amy did from 2012 to 2013 can mean tens of thousands of dollars in annual profit margin (in this case, comprised of 17 additional bookings)!
So for 2014, I asked Amy to start bcc’ing me on every inquiry correspondence so I could pinpoint areas for improvement in order to bump up that Conversion Rate.
[For Tips On How To Do This, Read: The Great Correspondence Experiment]
Here are a couple of the things that we started addressing with Amy right off the bat:
1. Assume Your Message Will Be Read On iPhone
One of the first mistakes owners make is to try and squish every bit of information into the first email correspondence, thinking that if they can anticipate every question under the sun, the guest is sure to book. Not so fast…
Here was an example of Amy’s long-winded correspondence (click to enlarge):
Within a second’s glance, we can see that this message is far too long…
Realize that 65% of all emails first get opened on a mobile device and remember to keep your emails short and to the point.
I asked Amy to include ONLY the most essential information and delete from her template anything that didn’t absolutely positively need to be there.
This is obviously not easy, eliminating information from your template response. But in the words of Mark Twain, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”
The trouble is worth it.
2. Make Paragraphs Shorter, More Digestible
This one’s an old copywriting practice: try to stick to one-sentence paragraphs.
Remember in school when the worst books were the ones with big page-long paragraphs? Big paragraphs are just daunting!
Here’s the next message Amy sent out with this in mind: looking much better on that front (click to enlarge)
3. Inject Personality & Stories
If you notice in the example above, the guest was coming for a wedding and so Amy uses some personality and storytelling to connect with the guest:
“My husband Johnny and I were married in Vegas many, many years ago and it was wonderful!”
That is a GREAT way to form a bond: after all, what traveler wouldn’t want someone just like themselves to play host? Amy could add value by recommend wedding a photographer, tux rentals…etc.
4. Refer Leads To Friends/Competitors
The good news is that Amy was starting to get inquiries for booked dates (turning away clients is great!).
The bad news is that she wasn’t really leveraging those leads at all.
After all, Amy had spent money to acquire every single inquiry (whether she can host them or not).
And so, when she sent a response like this one, I sorta cringed (click to enlarge):
As a remedy, I recommended she simply connect with another rental in the area via the Vacation Rental Referral Pledge and start forwarding these leads their way!
All it takes is an additional, “Oh and by the way, my dearest friend Kim owns an equally gorgeous villa right down the block. Email her and say you’re friends with me :)”
Karma is a good thing in the vacation rental industry.
Amy is sure to be on the receiving end of this favor in the future.
5. Pick Your Call To Action & DRIVE It Home
When we first spoke, Amy told me she liked to talk to all guests on the phone before confirming a booking.
This, because she likes to make sure they are upstanding citizens, they aren’t impostures or scam artists…etc.
I have no problem with this (in fact, according to a travel agency CEO friend, if you can get clients on the phone, you generate 4x as many bookings).
And so we decided to try and get every single guest that inquired to either a) provide a phone number so Amy could call or b) call Amy themselves.
As you can see below, this (and our trial and error process as a whole) is starting to work pretty well…
When we are ready with Amy’s website, we will try to drive ALL the visitors towards this call to action: the phone call…
And now for the big reveal…
Using all these sorts of improvements, 2014 has seen Amy’s Conversion Rate skyrocket:
2014 (thus far): 19 bookings divided by 28 inquiries = 67.9% Conversion Rate
Realize that this number is extraordinarily (and most likely luckily) high and of course, it’s not just these 5 tips that led to its success. But for hypothetical purposes, if Amy were to keep this rate up throughout the entire year, assuming the same amount of inquiries (which of course will be much higher now that I’m working with her), we are looking at roughly 200 potential bookings per year!!! That would be an improvement of almost 600% from 2013 and enough bookings to fill Amy’s rental and several others on the block!!!
Of course, I don’t expect these numbers to hold up (and the data sample size is quite small — we’ll need a full year to really gauge the success). But if we were even to improve her 2013 Conversion Rate by 5 or 10%, we’d be making serious progress. Lots of owners like Amy improve organically on their own. We’re looking to accelerate that process…
Important Note: Conversion Rates vary on the location, amount of competition, and quality of actual leads (which is to say, 2 super qualified leads from VRBO are far more valuable than 10 unqualified leads from some random classified site).
I don’t want to mislead anyone here: these results (to date) are unusually good. But as a general theme, it’s important to realize that by calculating your Conversion Rate, anyone can gauge which tactics are working well and which ones are not, thus begin to improve. These 5 tips are only a few of the many I will be addressing with Amy. But so not to overwhelm subscribers, I think it’s best to take them bit by bit.
Please use the comments section to share your own correspondence tips and advice below and share in the learning process…