Hotel Online News for the Hospitality Executive

‘…Then Move the Pasture!’ Why it matters to move your customers from the comfort of grazing in the pasture of status quo, before your competition does!

By Gary R. Hernbroth Chief Motivating Officer

August 9, 2012 Silicon Valley’s webKPI (a business intelligence dashboard provider) co-founder Steve Peterson shared a story with me recently, whereby his sales team made a presentation to prospective customers about a new dashboard system that would improve their business insights. When Steve asked the sales team leader what the response was, he said, “They just looked up and moo’d at us.”

These prospective customers were interested in what this new product could do for them, just not moved enough to stop eating the grass (metaphorically speaking) in the pasture where they were currently grazing. “We even took their fences down with our explanation of the product, and they still chose to stay there and not move,” said the sales team leader. Truly, a case in point where sometimes, no matter how good your product is and how many benefits it represents, your biggest competitor is nothing. No-Thing. Yes, status quo. But, you CAN do something about that, before your competition does.

As Steve told me this story, we were on cell phones and the reception was sketchy. I misunderstood when he said the customers “just moo’d” and thought he said they “just moved.” He corrected me, and I suddenly got the idea – “Hey Steve”, I said, “If the customers won’t move on their own out of the pasture, then how about moving their pasture?”

This led me to thinking how companies and organizations can and should present innovative products and services, and literally “move their customers’ pastures” even if their customers would prefer life grazing about in the green grass of status quo.

Change is inevitable; Growth is optional

You’ve likely heard that there are three ways of dealing with change and conflict – The three F’s: Fight, Flee, or Flow. Remember back in the old days when Windows 3.1 and Windows NT gave way to Windows 95? I remember the outcry from loyal users who demanded to know why Microsoft was ruining their lives by taking away their safe, comfortable, recognizable versions and “moving their pasture” to the world of Windows 95. It was bloody for some, yet how silly does this story sound today?

Peterson recalls another technology product that was hard to get customers to lift up their heads and leave the pasture for. “I remember when we were trying to first sell DSL as a better and faster alternative to dial-up. Our sales team was in revolt. They wanted to know what it meant to have a 10 times better bandwidth than they were accustomed to.”

It’s what happens when visionaries collide with people who want solid documentation and past performance charts as solid proof before they embrace new ideas, products, or ways of living. People who are comfortable will graze until their “pain point’ is reached (maybe the pasture has been picked clean, or the grass has died, etc.), then look to relieve their pain. Successful salespeople understand this concept and use it as a powerful tool.

When was the last time you and your product or service met with resistance by prospective customers? What did you do about it? Were your salespeople flummoxed into not knowing what else to say or do? Sometimes, to move your product or brand forward, to thrive and grow, you have to create demand, create change, and move your customers’ pasture for them – for they likely never will on their own. And that in itself limits your own future growth and revenue potential.

Even strong, established brands take on the risk – and see the value — of moving the pasture

The San Francisco 49ers, among other professional teams, are doing just that. Undeniably a successful NFL franchise for many decades in windy old Candlestick Park just south of San Francisco, the 49ers are building a new and improved facility in Santa Clara for 2013, some 45 miles away — not exactly across the street from their current stadium. With an extremely loyal fan base that is accustomed to their traffic routes, tailgating ceremonies, and comfort level with Candlestick Park as a home site, this is not everyone’s favorite move.

The 49ers feel this is a great opportunity to grow their fan base to a greater segment of the Bay Area, expanding their revenue possibilities with new and larger facilities, broaden their marketing base, etc. They are telling their fans that, yes, we are moving the “pasture” (in this case, it’s real grass, too!) and have presented their fans with the inevitable choices (the three F’s again) of groaning about the move, giving up their season tickets, or coming with them to Santa Clara to see the team play in person.

I am certain that despite the complaints from some quarters, this too shall pass and the 49ers will ultimately flourish and thrive in Santa Clara. The fans will surely settle in and get comfortable in their new environs. They’ll make it their own pasture just like they did when, despite complaints, the team uprooted their base from antiquated Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park in 1971. The brand will thrive in this new pasture too.

Hospitality & travel pastures are moving every day, and so too are the customers

The hotel business is a breeding ground for moving pastures on their customers, and vice versa. Back in the day, my mom and dad went to their neighborhood travel agent to book our family vacations, or they called information to get the phone number of a hotel in the city where we were going, and they picked up the phone to book. That was their only choice. Not so today. According to eMarketer, the mobile channel bookings for leisure and unmanaged business travel have increased from $753 million in 2011 to a projected $1.4 billion in 2012. They also project that overall on-line spending will reach $39.5 billion by the end of the year, making it paramount for hotel and travel sites to continually move their own pastures to keep up with the Joneses.

Travelers today are buying smartphones at a record pace, because they want the convenience and performance in their pocket, in a nano-second, at their convenience. As such, consumers are getting more information on what to buy through social networks like Facebook versus relying strictly on corporate web sites. Why? They want to see what other “real customers” think about the product and not just relay on what the hotels/destinations tell them and want them to see. According to Salesforce, visits to corporate Facebook pages has grown 123% since June 2010 at Fortune 100 companies versus declining visits to corporate web pages during that same period.

Hotel and travel marketers need to know that this is one pasture your customers are moooooving on you!

Yes, the hotel and meetings industry is not exempt from meeting resistance to change from its customers. But moving a pasture is not without its risks, and has to be done just right. Especially during this recent recession and economic slow-down, many staff reductions and cost-saving measures and procedures have been thrust upon the guests and meeting delegates by hotels, resorts, and meeting facilities. Some have been successful, and some have met with push-back. VALUE is still king. None other than J.D. Powers & Associates recently released a scathing report in July 2012 on the declining guest satisfaction within the hotel business.

A panel of meeting planners I had at a recent CVB Destination Sales “Boot Camp” revealed that some hotels do not yet offer integrated or free Wi-Fi, yet many small coffee shops and mom and pop businesses do. “It’s a huge thing for us,” they remarked, “It’s almost like air – our members tell us that if we can’t have internet, we can’t breathe.” In this case, the customers want the hotels’ pastures to catch up with them!

Airlines have been moving pastures constantly over the past few years, notwithstanding the public backlash, and they have created new standards (some say lowered the bar too far) whether it is better for the customers or not – like charging for luggage, taking away free in-flight meals and movies, charging for aisle or premium seats, and now even trying to charge for the privilege of being first to de-plane. Forced to find new sources of revenue, they’ve moved pastures on their customers for one basic reason – because they can. If you need to get from Los Angeles to Boston, short of great hitchhiking skills, a sturdy bicycle, or a train ticket, you’ve got to fly.

How to move the pasture and not lose your business

Here is the challenge: If you cannot get your customers to embrace change and look up from their grazing long enough to embrace what you’re trying to do (in other words, HELP THEM BUY!), then focus your efforts on these key areas:

* Baby steps: Break the process down for your customers so it doesn’t seem so daunting. Overcoming the fear factor is a key element in getting movement out of the pasture. The movement out of the pasture can be gradual, it doesn’t have to be overnight. Take away the fear, and they’ll move. People generally want to know that they can baby-step through a new process.

* Innovation migration: They’ll also want to move when they feel they are being left behind in the old pasture. Thus, the classic push-versus-pull strategy. Nobody wants to called “old-school.” Show them how this new pasture will make them better, smarter, richer, more viable, more competitive, safer, less at-risk to their clients, more attractive than their competition, etc.

* Apply plenty of WII-FMs (“What’s in it for me?”): This is the Holy Grail, the key driver to why people buy. Your product or service has to mean something, provide something, change their life for the better, make them more money, save them more money or time, give them part of their lives back, enable them to do something better, faster, cheaper, whatever.

* Create a comfort level with the pasture you’re moving them to: Just taking down the fences and yelling “Move!” is not a strategy that will work well. Empathize that change scares a lot of people. Use examples. Help them see that the plusses outweigh the minuses (here’s where the WII-FM’s kick in), and that the changes/upgrades/additional benefits you are throwing their way and asking them to buy will actually be a good thing. Dedicated training can help quite a bit in this process. Training and re-training salespeople and service agents works wonders to help this process.

“Every platform creates a unique opportunity to change the world by changing peoples’ lives” – Tony Dungy, from his book “The Mentor Leader”

Let’s admit it — As with cows, we all get a little comfortable with our pastures, and why not? As long as there is enough tasty grass to live on, and we’re happy, then why change? The answer is that in our comfort zone, we may not notice that it might be accomplished a better way, a more efficient way, a more profitable way, even a more enjoyable or easier way. Just ask my friend Steve how hard it is to get people

to give up using EXCEL even though there are much better and more efficient products/methods available —“Not from my cold, dead hands…”

According to Peterson, “It’s the classic clash of what the person knows and how the new stuff just scares them, until they experience the shock of losing their client because they did not adapt and recommend new technology, processes, or value creation tools.”

If you’re like me and you also use Windows, you probably don’t jump for joy when Microsoft announces a new system upgrade coming out (Windows Vista? Ouch!) because we are fearful of two things: Not knowing what the new operating system will mean for us, and being unsure of losing something that we’re comfortable using now. This is a natural feeling, nothing to feel ashamed of. But let’s put it another way: Would any of us trade our current version (say, Windows 7), for Windows 95, no matter how much we loved it back then? Not on your life!

Look to your own internal pastures, too!

In addition to moving your external customers’ pasture, moving your internal organization’s pasture can be tough, too. Especially when you’ve got silos everywhere. Team members often push back quite loudly when new procedures and policies are thrust upon them, whether or not it is better for them or the company overall. Roll these out the right way (I suggest applying the same 4 sales tips above internally), and you’ll get some change-advocates among the team to help pull the others along. As a sales manager at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco in the early 1980’s, I still recall one of our sales department’s administrative assistants leaning over her desk to block her typewriter being removed by management in favor of a new computer. “Oh, no!” she screamed, “You’re not taking away my beloved typewriter for one of those new-fangled computer things!”

Ultimately, we moooooooooved her into the computer age, and she fell happily in love with her IBM PC-DOS. She wouldn’t give it up for anything, until, of course… well, you get the idea. Moooo!

Contact Gary Hernbroth for customized training, speaking, and coaching opportunities: [email protected] website: Phone 925-736-9392

This article is copyright protected by Hotel-Online. Reuse by other media or news outlets or organizations is prohibited without permissioin. Personal use and sharing via social media tools is encouraged. Contact: Gary Hernbroth [email protected] website: Phone 925-736-9392 Also See: Hiring Seasonal Employees – Look To Your Gut To Find the Right Fit! / Gary Hernbroth / May 2012 Prospecting Doesn’t Have To Be a Dirty Word! / Gary Hernbroth / March 2012