By Doug Kennedy
Despite the efforts of brand leaders to create meaningful differentiation of hotel flags, when I speak with both professional and social meeting planners, they generally express seeing very little difference, at least within any given market segment. In other words, a core branded Marriott feels an awful lot like a Hilton, Hyatt, or Intercontinental. A Ritz-Carlton seems very similar to a Fairmont or Four Seasons. A Hilton Garden Inn mirrors a Courtyard or Hyatt Place, and a Home2Suites, Residence Inn and Staybridge Suites don’t feel that much different either.
It is not just the rooms. When it comes to amenities and services, brands have been copycatting one another for years now. As soon as one adds a nifty new amenity, others soon follow. Curved shower rods, white anti-microbial TV remote controls, smart TVs, and bedside USB charging stations are but a few recent examples.
Similarly, price is no longer a point of differentiation. As revenue management has become increasingly automated, systems are pulling the same data and revenue managers are looking at the same reports on pace and history.
Process? Hotels in any given comp-set can all be found on the same websites and portals such as CVENT, Wedding Wire, and the local DMO/CVB channels, while mega-brands all seem to be eager to distribute through platforms like Groups360 and Meetingpackage.com. Even sales CRMs are now becoming more and more standardized, as major hotel brands are now requiring franchised hotels to all use the same lead management tool.
Oh, and one more “P,” as in place. Developers have literally placed hotels nearly right next door to one another, especially in the upper mid-market sector.
When the product, process, and place all feel the same, buyers will base their decisions solely on price, unless hoteliers deploy their secret weapon: people!
Now, more than ever before, it truly is the hotel salespeople who make the most difference. Personality, proactivity, and personalization stand out more than ever before in this era of increasingly automated sales processes where textual message exchanges have displaced conversations. Here are training tips from our KTN hotel sales training workshops for your next meeting:
Pick up the phone! If the inquiry includes a phone number, give it a call. Now, I’m sure some readers are ready to fire off an email to me saying “Doug if they wanted to talk they would have called us,” or “I called once and the person seemed annoyed.” Now, I agree that no buyer is going to hear the ring and think “Yipee, a phone call right in the middle of this project I’m working on,” and most might even sound a bit annoyed when they first answer.
Too many untrained salespeople actually do annoy buyers by saying something like this. “Hello, is this Doug Kennedy? Hi, how is your day going so far today?” Instead, try this approach: “Hello Doug. My name is Chris and I’m the group (or wedding) specialist from Brand X Hotel in Anytown. I received your inquiry and had just a few brief questions so that I can put together a more specific quote for you. Do you by chance have a brief moment to talk?”
Personalize your emails and in-app message responses. When I conduct hotel sales audits and read the actual text message exchanges, too many salespeople use generic, templated responses with virtually no personalization. Instead, scan the inquiry for any unique details you can use to personalize the response. Paraphrase and restate a few key details to make it feel personalized and also to show the reader that you actually read the inquiry.
Customize the templates and sales documentation. Whether sending proposals in PDF format or a link to view a proposal online, be sure to delete copy and images that focus on features that are not relevant.
Follow-up tenaciously. During our sales process audits, we always start by asking salespeople and leaders if they follow up after the initial response and the answers are always affirmative. Yet when we ask to see the sent emails or in-app message chains to verify, approximately 80% of the time there is no additional follow-up. Even when there is, it is not personalized or worse yet, throws guilt at the planner with comments such as “Since I didn’t hear back from you yet…” Instead, find and forward the original email, adding commentary such as this: “Just a quick note to see what else I can do on our end to win the opportunity to host your group/event.” Likewise, use statements such as this for in-app or platform follow-ups.
Use a “tech for touch” approach. In hotel sales, as in business in general, if you want to get as much business as everyone else gets, then do the same things that everyone else does. Experience shows that of the 20% of hotel salespeople who do follow-up, most only send an email, and most only follow up one time.
Instead, vary the medium of follow-ups and do at least three. First, place a phone call, then send another email, and finally send a short, personalized video email message. I’m not talking about forwarding a link to a generic video produced by an ad agency and showing off the impressive drone shot of your hotel. Nor am I talking about a link to a video that is buried in an online proposal.
Instead, use one of the several video email apps that work from both desktop and mobile phones, allowing you to record a personalized video that previews (loops) in the email when it displays in their inbox. These can even be sent by text. (Email me for a sample of what I am talking about at [email protected])
Hotel salespeople who embrace the “people parts” of the sales process will always be in high demand. Meantime, those who are content to ride the rising tide of the current rebound in demand and do little more than process inbound leads, being content with market share, will very soon find their role being replaced with centralized inbound sales centers and by automated “self-serve” booking platforms.