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Hotel Selling: Grab the Low Hanging Fruit

by John Davies, August 3, 2009

In the world of sales, there is an adage that “nothing happens until somebody sells something.”  In these challenging times, nothing could be more relevant to the hotel business. With group bookings and attrition in a free fall, corporate business dramatically curtailed, and leisure travel in a tailspin, the quest by hotels to “sell something” could not be more pressing. For some struggling hotels, improving revenues and gaining needed market share could be the key to their very survival. 

Create a Sales-Driven Culture

Yet according to some seasoned and connected industry experts, instead of improving on best practices for external and internal sales and selling, some hotels may be falling short in advancing their sales efforts, and missing potential opportunities due to a lack of monitoring and tracking sales applications.  Given the chaos and desperation to be creative and possibly step out-of-the-box to find new revenue streams, many hotels are missing sales opportunities right in their own backyard.  In some situations, it’s about too much effort on working harder, with little attention or focus on how to work smarter.  With the pressure, intensity, and fall-out from competing in an environment dominated by spiraling rates, some hoteliers may have found themselves distracted and disoriented in the battle to win the price war. The result?  Too little time is going into creating and implementing a working sales culture where identifying revenue opportunities is part of daily life. A productive and functioning sales culture is an environment where all associates who come in contact with a guest or customer, proactively seek to service guests needs, resulting in satisfied customers and revenue enhancement for the hotel.  In a productive sales culture, the common denominator is a passion to anticipate needs and suggestively motivate a guest to take action.  Most importantly, in this type of hospitality environment, every associate from the general manager to the guest service agent behind the desk, embraces the responsibility for contributing to the overall sales effort of the hotel. 

Identify and Capture the Opportunities

Opportunities to maximize customer relationships, resulting in a revenue enhancement, are not just limited to the sales and catering departments.  According to Rodd Herron, Vice President of Sales for Interactive Sites, an industry leader in hospitality web-based solutions for driving revenue, it is about identifying, responding, and tracking revenue opportunities that already exist. “Fifty percent of all lead and internal sales opportunities never receive follow-up or are acted upon in a proactive sales manner,” says Herron.  It’s about capitalizing and leveraging the business and relationships you already have, and getting all the associates involved the process. “It can be as simple as someone offering to make a dinner reservation or spa appointment upon check-in,” adds Herron. If you have hundreds of guests staying in your hotel on any given night, you have a captured audience and multiple opportunities to leverage the visit and “up sell” the dining facilities, room service, banquets, spa, retail, and recreation.  There needs to be a balance between the effort that goes into looking for new business, and the effort to retain the business you already have. For example, with the increased premium on group meetings and conventions, is there a full-court press on the meeting engager to rebook the meeting prior to their departure? Or, as Rodd Herron notes, “do we pick the meeting planner up in a limo and send them back to the airport in a taxi?”

Provide Training and Mentoring

Anticipating guest needs and practicing proactive cross-selling can yield big dividends, but it takes a commitment to integrate it into the culture.  Now is the time when your group, catering, and reservation sales teams should be applying their very best practices and selling skills. Yet according to Lyssa MacCaughey, President of Hospitality Marketing Solutions, a company specializing in sales training and shopping services for hotel sales, catering, and reservation professionals, some hotels have become “short-sighted” and have reduced sales staffs, curtailed or abandoned sales training and the focus on best practices.  MacCaughey is sensitive to the financial constraints for training that many hotels are experiencing, but she’s also finding that in some of the reservation and call centers, the phone shop scores “have gotten worse because of the intense competition due to customer rate shopping.”  She also notes that training helps to bridge the generation gap, particularly with Gen “Y” and Millennials in the work place, as these associates have never experienced a recession. According to MacCaughey, without the proper training, guidance, and mentoring, “reservation departments may find themselves staffed with order takers.” Furthermore, with regard to group sales offices, MacCaughey believes the pressure to be more productive may have ramped up, but there are still some sales associates taking the more passive approach, instead of assertively engaging a prospect and taking them through the sales process. She also encourages property leadership to be visible, supportive, and involved in the selling effort. With the intense pressure to be productive, sales people need to feel the full support of management. It should be a team effort and a seamless approach to the sales process. MacCaughey contends that “hotels need to differentiate themselves more than ever through their selling efforts” and a consistent commitment to sales training, underscored by leadership involvement, can go a long way in helping to make it happen. 

Assertive Relationship Selling

Although most hotels and sales departments have aggressively reacted to the slowdown in group bookings and are diligently prospecting for business, there are still a few that have found it difficult to adjust and react to the dramatic slowdown in group activity, according to John Gaca, President of DMI Hotels, a group lead development company that represents over 200 hotels and resorts.  "There are definitely better ways to maximize our opportunities and book more group business,” said Gaca.  “There are situations where we would like to see more urgency or timely follow-up, but many have never been through a downturn like the one we’re experiencing now," he said.  Gaca also noted that a few of the hotels he represents are having a challenge adapting to the buyer's market.  With the recession, his company is experiencing an increased interest for his services from hotels.  “In this business climate, the group hotels are looking for all the help they can get to find more meetings business.  It's not just about where to look, but how you react once you find it. It's extremely competitive out there,” concludes Gaca.

With great respect for those highly talented and consistently productive sales professionals at every level, this is not to imply there are not some extraordinary sales efforts taking place every day. There will always be superstars and that exclusive tier of top performing sales associates. To all of them, keep up the great efforts and best wishes for continued success. Be sure to take some time to help your sales colleagues who might be struggling; be a good sales mentor. The top sales people often make the best crusaders and cheerleaders for elevating sales awareness and integrating it into the culture.  Why?  Because it creates more focus on the guest and customer which ultimately helps them to become more productive.

Promote an Inclusive Sales Environment and Effort

In today’s intense and competitive business climate, it’s important for all “sales associates” throughout the hotel to develop highly perceptive skills at identifying customer needs and how to help guests find creative solutions. With price and rate such a driving factor in buying decisions, it is more important than ever to heighten everyone’s ability at creating value and bringing it into customer interface. Once rates reverse and begin to ramp back up, those hotels creating value perception and increased guest satisfaction will be in the lead. Consistent improvement in converting the myriad of easy-to-reach incremental sales opportunities that surround us every day, can lead to impressive and cumulative results. The focus on improving sales performance should be a daily activity and regular agenda item for all department and executive committee meetings. Make time to discuss, brainstorm, and have idea sessions. Even if financial restraints limit the expense of formal training, find some time to identify revenue enhancement opportunities and best practices. Make it fun and motivational as you find solutions and enjoy the harvest of that low hanging fruit. Taking the time and effort to create a sales-driven culture will be a rewarding investment with potentially great returns, because nothing happens until somebody sells something.

More Information About

Rodd Herron, VP Sales for Interactive Sites. Web-based solutions, including  ShareIt Online, a lead referral and tracking system for hotels. (817) 993-9289
Lyssa MacCaughey, President of Hospitality Marketing Solutions. Highly specialized in sales training and shopping services for hotels. (781) 721-2270
John Gaca, President of DMI Hotels. A group meeting and event destination lead provider, representing over 200 hotels worldwide. (630) 428-1000

About the author 
John Davies, CHA, is a marketing consultant, advisor, and coach with over 30 years of property and executive leadership experience in hotel and resort sales & marketing. His career includes executive sales & marketing positions with Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Tiburon Hospitality, and Pointe Resorts. John resides with his wife and two children in Carefree, Arizona. John can be contacted by email at or by phone at (602)-692-5488

John Davies CHA


Also See: Social Media: Marketing Magic or Madness / John Davies / July 2009
Perseverance In the Face Of Adversity. Timely Lessons./ John Davies / June 2009
Solid Sales and Marketing Fundamentals Can Improve Hotel Performance in Tough Times / John Davies / April 2009



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