Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover Session 1.2: Correspondence

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 5.10.09 AMIn 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%.

[Read 6 Better Vacation Rental Metrics]

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):

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.40.16 AM

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)

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.48.08 AM

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):

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.54.37 AM

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…

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 10.04.18 AM

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

Disclosure

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).

Conclusion

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…

 

Author

Matt Landau is the founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and VRLeap, two online resources for vacation rental owners and managers. He is also a columnist for HomeAway and FlipKey, the world's two largest vacation rental marketplaces. Google+ | More Posts (230)

Like What You Read?
Receive Matt's weekly newsletters and his newest eBook, "13 Genius Vacation Rental Marketing Ideas" totally FREE...
  • Holly W

    Wow. I am really impressed. I have a super-impressive conversion rate myself – I hesitate to disclose it. And it is lower than 60%. Here is my question/concern: I don’t say anything “bad” about my property in my VRBO description (also written by Christine, like Amy’s) and Christine and I talked about that. An example of one “bad” thing is we don’t (can’t) offer internet service. But, I have a similarly HUGE email for the first response. I have FAQ at the bottom to give “bad” news like this. How would you answer all these questions if you go down to the short response? Some of mine are actually intended to kill the inquiry if its not a good fit – what if it will not work for them that the closest real grocery store is over 1 hour away and we recommend you bring all your food? If the answer is “on the phone” I will have to inch towards these improvements, as I don’t have the staff to handle my volume of inquiries and high conversion rate and add phone calls to the mix too.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Holly, what about a link to your website or blog where all these FAQs are detailed out?

      • Holly W

        Seems like a good idea, also could link to a google doc of the FAQ, if you don’t have a website or blog yet, as I am embarrassed to say we do not. It is so hard to get people to READ, so I do believe Amy’s shorter response will generate more bookings for everyone. But, in our neighborhood, we have a lot of issues with customer dissatisfaction if we aren’t careful, when people show up and they are shocked that “Cabin in the woods” actually DOES MEAN “cabin in the woods”

        • loscuatrotulipanes

          Check out one of my most read articles that accomplishes precisely this goal: http://www.loscuatrotulipanes.com/index.php/casco-viejo/7-reasons-casco-viejo-is-not-for-you/

          • Holly W

            Thanks Matt! Great idea! Your changes to Amy’s business are so incredibly already (and we are only on the second post I believe?) that I will need some time to digest and try to catch up!

          • Tyann Marcink

            Totally love the alternate suggestions for each issue that you have seen. The one for number 6 really made me laugh!

          • loscuatrotulipanes

            This “X Reasons Y Destination Isn’t For You” blog post model is a REALLY good vetting device, especially if you make it amusing and fun. Would recommend it to anyone looking to filter down to the right kind of clients…

  • Linda

    This looks really good. I never thought about the fact people will first read the reply on a phone. I will start shorten my reply immediately!
    Regarding the phone calls, I have a question which you maybe will tackle in a future blog. What do you address in the phone call, which order? The reason I am asking is because I talked on the phone to people that inquired (from US & Canada) several times and these calls never turned into bookings. I must do something completely wrong, or it is my Dutch accent :).

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Awww, the Dutch have lovely accents Linda!

      Considering I (myself) don’t take phone calls as much as email (due to sheer volume), I will open up the floor here to any other subscribers who have useful tips for effective conversational pieces…

      • Linda

        Thanks Matt. Helpful tips are very welcome! I am curious to hear what experience other subscribers have and how to start with telephone conversations.

  • http://splitvr.com/ Mike Moser

    At SplitVR, we found that offering to talk to someone on the phone to answer any questions is both good sales and establishes trust. Even if they don’t need to call you, just knowing they can creates some level of trust.

    However, I’m wondering if *requiring* a phone conversation and not offering a direct link to book online is effecting Amy’s conversion rate? While I understand the desire to vet the guests, perhaps you could still offer a link to book online and just follow up with the guest before confirming their booking if you have questions for them.

    So the primary call to action is “Yes it’s available, we’d love to have you and you can book here…” the secondary is “if you have any questions, give us a call at ….”

    In short: Allow instant online bookings.

    Is this some thing you have considered to optimize conversations? Or do you think we are being to direct with a link to book as the primary call to action in the response?

    Mike
    http://splitvr.com

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Like.

      Mike, I am getting ready to release a new podcast series (shhhh it’s a secret) and one guest is a travel agency guru. After 10 years in the game, he swears by the phone call (not just to close the most amount of sales possible, but also to up-sell). That being said, many of us (ie. ME), as a small businessman, don’t have time to do the phone call thing.

      Again, hopefully a subscriber of mine will chime in here to let us know how they “close the sale” on the phone.

  • Juliana R

    Hi Matt
    January – February are the biggest booking months for many US owners I know, including myself. It’s hard to understand the progress Amy made when you are comparing with last year’s average conversion rate. What is the increase in Amy’s conversion rate compared to the same period in 2013?

    Cheers,
    Juliana

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Hi Juliana, I was actually just talking about this with Amy…

      What I think I’ll do is two things: first, a breakdown of month-by-month performance (as it relates to the same month a year ago). Also, since I kinda officially “started” with Amy after some of these 2014 bookings were made, I’ll also probably do a “Pre versus Post Matt” article that divides the bookings up.

      This was a quick overview way to track 2014. So these two additions may help clarify what’s working (and what’s not).

  • jmc167

    All -

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Love this JMC! It’s a pleasure to be the host of such wonderful idea sharing!

  • Sarah

    Great tips Matt!! I should have known that most people view my emails from a smart phone first. I am also going to try calling potential guests more often. One thing I always do when someone asks for a quote is I give them the full quote including a breakdown of rent, deposit, occupancy tax, and cleaning fee. I think travelers want to know this information ASAP so they can narrow down their search. If I am the one that provides the quote before a competitor then I think the inquirer would be more likely to book.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Yep, if you haven’t read http://vrleap.com/product/7 pretty much all the listing site experts say speed is #1 priority! Also, it’s important to note that each owner is different and something that works for Amy might not necessarily work for you (and vice versa).

  • http://touchstay.com/ TouchStay

    Hey Matt, I just encountered this whole experience as a renter. We’re headed to Sanibel in the spring and I sent probably around 15 inquiries to various VRBO places. One particular condo we liked a lot but had a couple of questions to ask the owner. I emailed and also called and left a voicemail. No response for 2 days!! When they called back I’d already moved on to a more responsive owner. For me, as a renter, the key is immediate response. Owners are in a race and the first response, provided it’s well written and personal, usually wins the day.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Andy, great tips from a renter’s perspective!

  • Paula

    What great results for Amy in such a short time! We continually look for ways to improve our conversion rate, but still find a good majority of inquiries are unqualified (too many people, pets, property is already booked). We ALWAYS refer them to alternative properties (those we’ve seen firsthand and can recommend) — and in many cases, our colleagues get the reservation. For the remaining “qualified” inquiries, we’ve converted 50% into reservations during our first year. More interesting is that this figure was only 35% our first six months, but over the last six months, we’ve seen our conversion jump to 60% by implementing your tips & advice!! THANKS MATT.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Amazing Paula! What are some of the specific things that are working for you?

      • http://casapalomasandiego.com/ Paula

        It is almost impossible to sum it up with a single tactic or two. Instead, I believe success in this business boils down to:
        Attitude + Philosophy + Commitment
        I’ll send you another long rambling email to explain – it is too much to list in a comment.

  • Sandra STRANDEBO

    Re phone calls – I don’t call mainly because I am in Vancouver, Canada and 90% of our bookings are overseas – Macao, Denmark, Norway, Bahrain, etc. So to call with the crazy time differences not to mention the long distance charges has never made sense to me. I have been open for a year and a half and my conversion rate is 53% so guess not bad. I haven’t hooked up with a competitor to refer to so will implement that idea. Thanks!

    • snowite

      Hi Sandra, I wanted to share that my vacation rental is on Bowen Island, just across the sound from Vancouver. But I LIVE in Henderson Nevada. I use an 800 number for all my international phone calls and it works fantastic. In January I bought a MagicJack phone system ($60 usd) with a Vancouver phone number and it is free phone calls across Canada and the US. You might check it out for Europe calls too.

      • Sandra STRANDEBO

        Thanks! I have seen your posts before and see that you’re on Bowen. In fact I usually post as Noo-Noo so don’t know how I am suddenly posting as Sandra!! I gave you a comment about the Bowen Island Accommodations Association and RegCo.

        The other reason I don’t phone (aside from the time differences) is that a lot of my rentals (even overseas) are three, four, five nights. They for instance go on a cruise, stop in here, and fly back, etc. Or fly to Vancouver, rent an RV and drive to Jasper and Banff. (Two back to back renters like that last August!

        Also almost all of my renters are in two groups: Young families with one or two kids who are professionals, or retired couples. Funny about the couples – in December I had two back-to-back couples who both had a toddler named Miai AND both mothers were psychiatrists! I also only sleep 4 in comfort so I don’t get the large parties I read about on the forums where 12 people book and 18 show up.

        Perhaps I will live to rue the day but for now I don’t see how phoning would do much unless – am I missing something?

        Noo-Noo

  • http://www.MunroMurdock.com/ Munro Murdock

    This is great information and fun to read about the quick results from making those adjustments. We’ve used Gmail’s Canned Responses (lab) for years to save email templates and they really do save us a lot of time.

    However, our responses are fairly detailed and we are looking at ways of keeping the inquiry response more short and focused while still providing a link to my site where prospective guests can read all about bookings, cancellation policies and other FAQs.

    The idea is to provide them links back to the property details, photo gallery, a link to reviews, breakdown on the rates and the invitation to call, text or email with any questions or to secure the booking.

    As soon as the response is emailed then we would pick up the phone to call them and discuss. I’m looking forward to testing this in the coming months and seeing what we can do with the ‘less is more’ approach to this business.

    I expect it to be well received. More is not always better. Aloha!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Munro, check out this podcast: http://www.vacationrentalrenegades.com/2/

      Towards the end, he reveals that getting a client on the phone increased his bookings by an incredibly high percentage.

Gain FREE Entrance To Matt's Famous VR Marketing Email Newsletter!

No. Spam. Here. Guaranteed.