How to find the best event booking software for your business
Whether you work at an event space, restaurant, caterer, hotel, hospitality group or wedding venue or are a meeting, wedding or event planner, managing your event booking process can be a huge hassle if you don’t have the right tools or processes in place.
Fortunately, in the last decade, many event management software-as-a-service products (SaaS for short) have offered event booking software functionality as part of their toolkits, making it easier for businesses in the hospitality and event industry to manage their bookings online and create successful events for their clients.
However, not all event booking software suites are built the same or offer the same features. Some are more self-service platforms, providing only event booking calendars, online booking forms and payment processing. Others include event CRM, sales and invoicing and catering/food-&beverage management tools. Yet others offer event planning tools (like task management, event timelines, event budgets and event registrations and ticketing), event design functionality (for creating event floor plan and room layouts) and event marketing tools like event websites, mobile apps and social media integrations.
So what is the right event technology choice for you? Well, it depends on your needs and what you need to accomplish for your business. So your first objective in choosing the best event booking software system is to first create a list of your needs and what specific functions you need a booking system to do for you. Start with the first item in your event workflow and think through the entire event lifecycle, listing out each step and function you require along the way. Once you have this list, it makes it much easier to assess and find software solutions that fit the bill.
For starters, here are a few things to consider upfront, like do you need…
- A few users or unlimited users - that is, if you need to share tools with many staff and/or clients.
- A web-based system - like if you or your employees work remotely; if you need a platform that can be used on mobile devices or tablets (iOS and Android); or if you want your data securely stored remotely so you don’t lose it in case of disaster (like a fried hard drive).
- A user-friendly interface - make sure the application is easy to navigate and intuitive so you aren’t spinning your wheels trying to track down features or clicking too many times to input data.
- Something that integrates with other platforms - if you need to connect to another electronic calendar, accounting software like Quickbooks, external CRMs like Salesforce or merchant payment processing providers.
Beyond those options, here are what kinds of functionality you can expect to see in various event booking management software systems.
These items are commonly found among the top event booking software apps, including platforms like Planning Pod as well as Tripleseat, Ungerboeck, Event Pro, Event Temple, Function Tracker, Priava and Skedda.
Pretty much all booking engines of any worth feature a booking calendar front-and-center, with the ability to view booked events and availability in real-time, manage space/room assignments, offer multiple subcalendars (for events, spaces, personal use, etc.) and views (grid vs. digest vs. timeline, or events / appointments vs venue room/space reservations).
Event Space and Meeting Room Management
Most event venues, wedding venues, hotel and hospitality groups, performing arts centers, restaurants and caterers that manage event spaces (and even unique venues like wineries and museums) have an unending need not only to track their event bookings but also the event and meeting rooms and spaces where those events will occur.
As such, they require a special set of venue booking software tools to manage these spaces and make sure they never double book them. This can include functionality for tracking room bookings for single or multi-venue setups; real-time availability views to let people know instantly what spaces you have open and when; and the ability to set customizable room schedules with reservation times that extend before and after the actual event times to account for setup and teardown.
No event scheduling software is complete without the ability to also schedule appointments for in-house/staff meetings as well as client meetings, calls and walkthroughs. Big props for those event booking systems that offer a view/filter of appointments apart from room/space reservations and that provide scheduling links you can share with clients and prospects so they can schedule their own appointments for when you are available to meet.
Booking management is something that most full-featured event CRM software systems offer along with tools for managing contact details; client documents and assignments; lead tracking and client communications (see below); and other client touchpoints. More robust platforms offer tools like client portals and online webforms/surveys in order to streamline client interactions.
Although now an older technology, email is still the main method of communication between venues and event planners and their clients and prospects (although text messaging has become more popular in recent years). As such, event space booking software should be able to integrate with your existing email addresses so you can send and receive email messages from inside the application, including email notifications, reminders and alerts for customers.
Sales and Lead Management
Until a client has signed on the bottom line, they don’t yet qualify as a booked event. This is why many event and venue booking software solutions provide lead management tools for tracking leads and their prospective event dates/times … so that you can seamlessly track everything in one place instead of having data split between a booking system and a separate sales management tool like Salesforce. Extra credit goes to those solutions that offer embeddable lead capture webforms and online availability calendars for collecting leads on your website and even accepting online bookings with payment processing.
Integrations and Workflows
If you are like most venues and event planners and use multiple pieces of software to run your business (like Quickbooks for accounting, Gmail or Outlook for email, MailChimp for marketing communications, etc.), you will need event scheduling software that is able to integrate with those other tools. Look for systems that connect to integration platforms like Zapier, which lets you share data across hundreds of different applications.
Also, event booking systems that are more of an all-in-one platform sometimes offer customizable workflows you can set up that provide shortcuts and automations for things you typically do manually. Examples of this at work are having the system automatically send out an invoice when a proposal or contract is signed or adding a new prospect to an email drip campaign when the prospect submits a webform on your website.
Customer Support and Training
Having a load of tools and features is a great start, but if you don’t have the assistance and training to use them properly, then they don’t do you much good. So you should check with the SaaS software provider to make sure they have customer support (email, live chat, phone) as well as offer training (often in the form of live webinars and custom sessions). Also check to make sure training is included in the packages you are considering.
Invoicing and Payments
Besides creating amazing attendee experiences, getting paid is what keeps event professionals and venues in business and thriving. So your event booking engine should also provide for invoicing and online payment processing solutions. Ideally, you should be able to easily invoice your clients electronically, be able to set up payment schedules and reminders and collect debit and credit card payments as well as ACH payments.
Reporting and Dashboards
It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been or if you don’t know the current status of your events. Comprehensive, at-a-glance dashboards can provide you with a real-time look at all the activity with your events and what needs to be done. And downloadable reports can compile essential event data like sales and event ROI details, payments, open invoices and account activity.
These are items that are typically found in all-in-one event booking software platforms (like Planning Pod as well as Tripleseat, Ungerboeck, Skedda and Priava) but may not be included in platforms that specialize in calendaring and online booking functionality only.
Event Floor Plan Software Tools
Event layout tools can play an important role in maintaining client relationships (that is, clearly communicating your design ideas to clients) and in streamlining in-house pre-event preparations for setting up events. As such, some booking and event management platforms offer event floor plan tools for creating to-scale templates of your event spaces that you can pull into your events and create a layout/setup based on a customer’s specifications. These tools can also play a role in attendee management if they integrate with a guest list tool so you can create assigned seating plans.
For those event venues, hotels, restaurants and caterers that offer on-premise or off-premise food-&-beverage services for events, a set of catering software tools will come in handy (especially if they integrate with booking and billing functionality). Such features, which are often found in venue management software solutions, can include banquet event orders (BEOs), food-&-beverage item management, food menus and packages, kitchen prep sheets and delivery and setup sheets.
Event Planning Tools
Many booking and event management systems include event planning software tools, like project management features for tracking timelines and schedules, task lists, budgets, attendees, exhibitors, sponsorships and vendors. These tools for overseeing the event planning process are a great addition for solo event and wedding planners, corporate event managers, trade show directors and nonprofits that manage and launch their own events.
Event Ticketing and Online Registrations
If promoting, planning and/or hosting paid events (or free events requiring signups) is part of your business strategy, then having an event scheduling software platform that helps you manage the ticketing and event registration process is a must.
For starters, there are the tools that let you manage ticket sales, including custom ticket setup with pricing schedules, online event registration forms with questionnaires and online payment processing. Next are event marketing tools - like event websites, bulk email marketing and social media account integrations - followed by attendee management tools like attendee / guest list managers, ticket order tracking, event seating plans and at-the-door event check-in and registration tools. Your provider may also offer tools for managing exhibitors and sponsors and collecting payments from them.
Attendee Experience / Attendee Engagement
If you are planning/hosting events and using tools to sell tickets, then you are also likely interested in how you can enhance attendee engagement for your events. To be honest, it’s not very common for event booking systems to offer tools like mobile apps for events (including personal schedule building, in-app networking, gamification, live polling, etc.), email marketing outreach to potential and actual attendees and social media outreach tools (like you would find with an application like Hootsuite).
However, some attendee-focused event management software applications do offer these features for enhancing the event experience (like Eventbrite and Cvent), and some event booking systems like Planning Pod integrate with platforms that cover these needs.
Virtual Events / Hybrid Events
The coronavirus pandemic has brought virtual events front and center, but many event organizers have been planning and producing virtual and hybrid events for many years prior.
Again, webinar, online conferencing and virtual event management is often beyond the purview of event scheduling software. However, there are a number of virtual event platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Cvent, Boomset and ON24 that can handle video streaming and recording, event registration and ticket sales, event marketing via email and social media, event websites for virtual event registrations, mobile event apps, attendee management and guest lists and virtual check-in. And platforms like Planning Pod can integrate with them so you can share data across platforms when you need to.