News for the Hospitality Executive
Urgent Memo To Hotel Sales Directors: It’s Time To Return
By Doug Kennedy
October 24, 2012
As a hotel industry sales trainer, I have been hearing feedback for some time now about how overwhelming the flow of incoming electronic RFP’s has become for hotel sales associates. With all of the website portals and subscription-based listing services being used by meeting planners to send RFP’s at the click of the mouse, it’s easier than ever for them to reach out to virtually all of the prospective hotels in the area to find a host hotel. As a result, hotel sales departments are finding themselves flooded with requests. Whoever opens the inbox for the day must sometimes surely dread the thought of finding the box over-stuffed full of leads, when the fact is they should be celebrating this occurrence.
As a result, the vast majority of sales offices fall short on response times even when it is a hot lead for low demand dates. More often than not, those who inquire about dates that are sold out, or those that have needs that cannot be met at this time by the property, fail to receive any response. This leaves the meeting planners hanging and leads to frustration and complaints about the state of hotel service these days. It seems that at most hotels, no one responds anymore to say, “We are fully committed for your requested dates, but if your plans are flexible we would welcome a chance to look at other options.” Few if any respond to say “Since your meeting space cannot accommodate a group of this size, we do hope you will keep us in mind when you are planning smaller meetings.”
Even when the dates are available and the property meets the needs, many salespeople are simply juggling too many balls in the air at one time, or like a kid in a candy store, grasping at whatever opportunity is in their face, instead of sorting and prioritizing the leads that could be closed with a little more effort.
Being in the hotel sales department mystery shopping business, I am personally appalled at how far the “sales and service excellence” part of selling, and it is sad to see hotel companies inadvertently commoditize our hotel product. I listen to recordings of our mystery shoppers being asked questions by salespeople such as “Tell be about the objectives of this meeting…” or “Walk me through the agenda of your event…” and then after our shoppers tell their elaborate stories, I hear salespeople saying “Okay, that’s great. Now here’s the rates I can offer at that time…” rather than using what they have learned to differentiate their property from all the others who on the surface look so very similar. Or worse yet I hear salespeople who don’t investigate at all and instead just get the “inventory search questions” about dates, number of people and meeting or event specifications.
I hear our mystery shoppers say “We really want this top-tier client conference to be special, can you give me some information about off-site activities in the area?” and then I hear too many hotel salespeople saying “Sure, I’ll send you a link” or “There’s lots of great choices. I’ll attach a complete local directory.” rather than personally recommending and suggesting appropriate options and offering those “local insider’s tips.”
As to salesperson availability on the first call and also response times, when I look at the results we are reporting back to our hotel management and hotel ownership clients, I cannot believe I often see a non-response rate upwards of 25%. What is by far the most shocking, when our shoppers call hotels directly and are sent to off-site sales offices managed by major hotel brands, we have several times been sent proposals for the wrong hotel in a different location.
Aside from better-handling incoming leads, hotel salespeople could also use some reminders about relationship selling when it comes to outbound sales. In speaking with meeting planners these days, what I’m hearing is that they are rarely solicited directly any more in a personalized way. The phones hardly ever ring. The “snail mail” mailbox is empty too. Whatever outbound sales efforts are targeting them is usually always limited to email solicitations or a generic request to link to an online professional networking service.
My meeting planner friends have sent me dozens and dozens of so-called “prospecting” emails that they say look more like spam. Here is a typical example:
Dear Meeting Planner
Allow me to introduce myself. I am the new corporate sales manager for the Brand X hotel in Anytown, US. We are a wonderful four-star hotel located in the heart of our city. We have over 10,000 square feet of meeting space. We also have a restaurant, a bar, and a business center. Oh, and WiFi is now free. Please keep us in mind when you plan your next meeting here. Let me know if I can ever assist.”
Hotels that handle their inbound RFP’s and outbound prospecting like this are stuck in what I call profitable mediocrity. As I always say, “If you want to get the same business that everyone else gets, just do the same things that everyone else does.” This will result in your hotel getting its fair share. Many wise people have said it is good to be thankful and happy with your fair share in life, which I happen to personally believe is a good philosophy for living. But when it comes to sales, when it comes to hotel sales, we should never be happy with our fair (market) share. How do we get more business? We out-charm, out-sell and out-serve the competitors. In today’s world of mostly standardized hotel brands, especially in some market segments, in a world of rate parity, it’s the hospitality and service excellence that makes the difference.
If you are looking to move your hotel sales department to the next level of hotel sales and service efficiency excellence so that you can stand out from all of the other competitors receiving the same flood of electronic RFP’s, it’s time to re-focus your staff on relationship selling. Here are some reminders:
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