By Doug Kennedy

As a hotel sales trainer, I often rely on conversations with top-producing sales leaders when designing the latest “best habits” for hotel sales success for our newest KTN workshops and webinars.

Recently, while in Park City, UT to conduct sales training, I caught up with Deanne Vigil, Regional Vice President with HelmsBriscoe over coffee. I first met Deanne over a decade ago as a training client, when she was VP of Sales & Marketing for Hardage Hotel Group. Soon thereafter she switched to the buyer side of the business and I have since watched her career soar as a travel intermediary broker of meetings and events.

Deanne was gracious enough to answer a few questions which are insightful for those on the supplier-side of the MICE industry. Here are the highlights from our conversation.

How have your many years as a hotelier impacted your career as an intermediary and third-party planner?  I believe it has helped me understand both sides of the business. I’m able to understand what is negotiable, what is not, and how to think outside of the box when looking for a win/win for both sides. I was on the hotel side during 9-11 and the downturn in 2008/2009, so I understand and empathize with what the hotels are going through during this difficult time.

When your RFP’s generate a large number of responses, what factors help you select the finalists? It varies by client and program, but typically it’s how accurate, complete, and detailed the proposals are to our client’s specific program.  We of course factor-in the available space along with the overall offer to complete a short-list, but the final selection is typically based on relationship, trust, understanding of the program’s needs, and willingness to be flexible in order to win the opportunity.

Overall, how are salespeople doing at responding with proposals that show they have read RFP’s vs. sending generic templates?  Unfortunately, I have to say overall not very good. I find luxury properties do a much better job detailing and customizing the proposal to meet the client and program needs.  However, those working at many of the big box (upscale segment) hotels and at centralized sales offices are just cutting and pasting offers into generic proposals to move the RFP off their desk, then afterwards sending a templated follow-up email without ever customizing anything to the client’s specific needs.  Surprisingly, I receive proposals with space listed as “TBD…” and that is an automatic turn-down.  I understand hotels want to maximize their space and sell to as many clients as they can, but the meeting space can determine how successful a program is. If participants are jammed into space that doesn’t fit their needs or plopped in the middle of another program, it’s not ideal and affects the outcome of the event.

It seems to be a sort of “urban legend” that planners only look over the first three bids that come in via CVENT.  Do you think that is true? Absolutely not! Planners will focus on proposals that meet their specific needs and are customized to their program. While we appreciate a quick turnaround, it’s more important that it is complete, accurate, and speaks to the client’s program needs.  I will say, if it shows up after the deadline, it’s probably not even considered as we have already shared the options with the stakeholders.

Another rumor I hear from hotel salespeople is that meeting planners do not want to receive phone calls, “If the planner wanted to talk, they would have called us instead of using CVENT or email.” Every client wants to communicate differently, it’s about building a relationship and understanding what each client is looking for. CVENT is a technology, not a method of selling. It provides the planners and suppliers a way to compile and compare details but does not take the place of building a relationship.  Most planners are eager to answer additional questions via phone calls and personalized emails, especially if those questions are well thought out and indicate that the salesperson thoroughly read the RFP.

When “price” and “product” are the same between competing hotels, what factors impact your decision making? Once again, I have to say relationships and trust. The relationship I have with a hotel salesperson makes all the difference in the world. I can trust that if something goes sideways, I can always reach out to my trusted partner and be confident that they will make it right.

Any insights or advice on the relationship between the discipline of hotel sales and revenue management? I would recommend that when salespeople take the business opportunity to the revenue managers they’re prepared to “sell” the overall value of this program and the overall value of the customer for future and past opportunities. Revenue managers? Don’t just look at every opportunity as a one-time piece of business.

Similarly, any insights or advice on the relationship between hotel sales and operations?  I think it is important for hotel salespeople to understand the operations side of the business; that the operations team makes or breaks a great event. Look to them for feedback before a commitment is made and include them in the site visits if possible. Also, encourage them to provide feedback at the end to the sales team for use in future opportunities.

As you know, I labeled the last decade as the era of “silent selling,” and have been a huge advocate of using a “tech for touch” approach to put the “people” part back into hotel sales.  What are your thoughts on these concepts?  I loved everything you have been writing about these concepts. Actually, I feel they really apply to all industries.  Hotel salespeople used to be the best salespeople of all back when they were truly in the hospitality business, focusing on building strong relationships, trust, and care. Too many have gotten away from that mindset. Sure, tech is important and is here to stay, but long-term buyer and seller relationships are far more important and will get us through both the good and the bad. You can’t mass sell relationships and you can’t build them when hiding behind emails and texts.

Finally, as hotel sales leaders look ahead to 2021, any final bits of advice you can offer?  Stay positive, we have been through this before and we will get through this again. What will help you thrive when we come out of this pandemic era is the relationship and trust you built with your customers.  People buy from people they like and trust.  If you have been a trusted partner throughout the years, you will continue to be their trusted partner in 2021 and beyond.