The past decade has been unprecedented in the hotel industry. All success indicators (occupancy, average rate, and RevPAR) have climbed steadily year after year and owners have enjoyed record profits. So what were your sales people doing? During those “feast” periods in full service hotels, it is likely that the sales person was turning away more business than was booked. And in limited service hotels, is it likely that the sales person was filling in at the front desk and had little or no, direct sales activity.
But as we all know, the supply/demand dynamics will always change, and now most hoteliers are either faced with a crisis or are prepared withstand the poor economy, just barely getting by. Then why be complacent with a sales person or sales team that is not proactively generating business for the future, especially during the feast periods? A consistent, strategic, and proactive approach will offset any negative trends in a downturn and will protect an owner’s investment.
It is never too late to set up a plan that lays the foundation for generating and maintaining business? This article will address the importance of creating a great sales force and some tips on how to do it.
Establish a Strategic Plan:
Staying true to the property’s position is important as it is the foundation from which all plans stem. The position determines what services and amenities are offered; the type of business the property caters to; and the rates given. With the positioning in place, determine the most realistic mix of business on any given day for a year as the patterns and demand for business change daily based on season, day of the week, holidays, and local factors. That level of detail will provide the basis of the sales plan as it will provide the guidelines for which market segments the sales department solicits, at what rate, when the business is to be consumed, and the volume of business, broken down on a daily basis.
Create and Maintain a Database of Accounts:
We know that a function of marketing is to establish an identity or market presence in order to generate business. Typically those efforts impact business “indirectly”, such as thru GDS bookings, rack rated transient business, or weekend business. The sales team’s function is to impact business “directly”. Therefore, to ensure that the sales department is functioning to accomplish this effort, it is important to create and maintain a database of existing and potential accounts. This is done once the strategic plan is established which incorporates the volume of business per segment to be consumed on an annual basis. For example, if the annual plan calls for corporate group business at 25,000 nights, at an average rate of $250.00, then the sales department is responsible for soliciting that volume on an annual basis. That is done through an on-going process of each sales person managing his/her accounts. The management is based on a systematic account trace system which allows a sales person to adjust the potential volume of an account. If an account drops its volume potential, then new accounts are identified and opened in order to maintain the desired goal of business.
Qualify, Qualify, Qualify
We know that location, location, location is a key ingredient to a property’s success. But that is just the starting point. Obviously, the right product needs to be created for the targeted markets and pricing should be set correctly. But to ensure that the sales team is successful in booking business and establishing a good database of business, the best approach is to qualify, qualify, qualify. A person who sells shoes would not be successful if he/she did not first fully understand what the customer wanted i.e. size, color, style. But how many times does a hotel sales person try to make a sale without a good understanding of who the customer is and what the customer wants in a property? A sales person is more successful in closing business if he/she takes control of a call and understands the customer’s needs and “buy decision”. The successful sales person is one who asks questions. Identifying all the needs of the customer will place the sales person in a greater position to book business in the most cost efficient manner and will produce an account base of real potential business, quantified on roomnight/meeting potential. An effective sales person will fully address a customer’s needs. Even if your property has the greatest fitness center in the world, it is important to allow the customer to express those needs. Asking questions will help the sales person understand what is important to the potential customers and will help them understand the level of importance. The information collected will once again place the sales person in a position of strength in closing the business. Taking the time to fully uncover needs and to understand the level of their importance will allow the sales person to keep the customer focused on those stated needs. If the property cannot fulfill the customer’s primary needs, then the sales person can just gracefully move on.
Accountability is an important element to keep the sales person working efficiently and productively. Plan ahead by creating and implementing a well thought-out marketing plan. That is the basis for establishing sales goals. Sales accountability is important to ensure results. It is equally important to establish and maintain systems and procedures to monitor productivity of each sales person on on-going and consistent basis.
Therefore, to maximize the sales person’s performance, it is important to establish specific and meaningful goals, broken down on a monthly and weekly basis; and to establish a culture where the actual performance vs. goals is critical for job performance. But it is also important to ensure that steps are continuously in place to generate business. Set goals which include activities to produce booked and consumed business (such as weekly sales call target, new accounts opened, and client entertainment goals) as well as booking and consumed rooms goals. On-going and consistent monitoring and evaluation will foster performance and will quickly help identify non-performers.
Maintain Excellent Work and Customer Interaction Habits
One of the strongest attributes of a top sales person is that of inspiring confidence. Who wouldn’t want to conduct business with a sales person who is eager to help, conscientious in attending to your needs, and does what he says he will do? Reliability and good communication develops trust. It is that trust that will inspire clients to book with a sales person over and over, even if the air conditioning breaks down or construction is going on across the street. Trust that the sales person has done his or her best and will honestly address every situation can inspire loyalty and help overcome any potential hard feelings if problems arise that the sales person has no control over. Additionally, the great sales person will return calls/emails, send out correspondence promptly and will always follow up. Those great habits will translate to revenues for the owners/managers in the good times as well as the bad.
So, with a few processes in place, the owner/manager is in a better position to ensure that he is getting the “biggest bang for his buck” with a focused, proactive, and accountable sales force and is protecting the property from any downturn in the market place.
Representing a “who’s who” roster of clients, Brenda Fields of fields & company, has worked with a number of industry leaders and innovators, from hotelier Ian Schrager and real estate developer Harry Macklowe, to global brands including Starwood Lodging Corporation, Planet Hollywood, Vornado Realty Trust, Choice Hotels International, Olympus Real Estate Corporation, and Apple Core Hotels. In addition to major hospitality brands, Brenda’s consulting practice includes a wide range of independent properties around the country, such as The Kitano Hotel, New York; Woodlands Resort and Inn, Summerville, South Carolina; the former Bel Age Hotel, Los Angeles, CA; Mondrian Hotel, West Hollywood, CA, and more.
Brenda brings a hands-on approach to problem solving along with her two-decade long record of results as both a consultant and in corporate sales and marketing to each challenge. She has honed a reputation for helping owners and operators achieve target revenues through development and execution of cost effective, workable strategic plans that maximize profits and build stronger, sustainable brands.
Brenda is a member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants; currently on the Americas Board of Director for HSMAI; is Immediate Past President of the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International in NYC; and was named one of “The Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing” by HSMAI” for 2007. She was awarded the “Leadership Development” award by HSMAI in 2009. And additionally, was awarded “Best of the Best” by HSMAI in 2006 for her contributions on the Awards and Recognition committee. Brenda serves as a member of the Editorial Board of Hotel Executive.com, is a regular contributing editor to international publications Hotels Online, Hotel Resource Weekly Network News, eHoteliers, and 4Hoteliers. She is also a member of the Real Estate Board of New York.