By Doug Kennedy
In recent years, sales conversations between buyers and suppliers have moved to digital formats such as email and in-app platform messaging in CVENT, The Knot, and CVB apps. Too many salespeople mistakenly believe two urban legends: that planners exclusively prefer digital communications, and that the most important factor is simply being the first to respond. On top of it all, the 10+ years of surging demand in the pre-pandemic era caused the sales culture at many hotels to devolve into an “order-taking paradigm” and set the stage for what I call the era of “silent selling.”
On the other side of this equation, plenty of sales leaders recognize that the era of silent selling has created opportunities to stand out from competitors by using tech to “touch” prospects, allowing them to put the people back in hotel sales conversations.
For several years now we at Kennedy Training Network have been training workshop and webinar participants on how to use three specific “tech for touch” sales tools. What follows is a brief overview of each option, along with feedback from some KTN training clients using these tools: Online scheduling apps, personalized video email sales messages, and selling via online meeting platforms.
Online Scheduling Apps. Examples: Calendly, SetMore, and SimplyBook.me
These apps make it easier for salespeople to be able to connect for real conversations. Rather than having to exchange multiple emails with prospects to find a mutually convenient time, the buyer clicks a link to access the seller’s calendar in real-time and pick a time that works. The apps then send a confirmation to both parties, block time in Outlook or Google calendars, and automatically generates a link to an online meeting. Salespeople control how far out the meetings can be set, the duration, reminders, and much more.
Amelia Glenn is the DOS at Hilton Garden Inn, Twin Falls, ID, “I absolutely love the Calendly online scheduling app! It has helped me set up virtual tours of our property while prospecting for new clients, and all the while keeping things organized with my own schedule.”
Nicole Beck, DOS at Hyatt Place Huntsville – Research Park says “Calendly has made setting up appointments with Clients convenient and easier. It eliminates all the frustrations of back-and-forth emailing to nail down a time.”
Online Meeting Platforms. Examples: Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting, WebEX, Skype, Google Meet.
While most hoteliers have attended meetings from their brand or management company as participants, few have harnessed this tech to have face-to-face conversations with buyers. Ever since the pandemic, the general public has become increasingly comfortable with being on webcam due to all the family, work, and school events being held there. Smart sales leaders see this as a huge opportunity to put a little “old-school” face time back into sales conversations.
Nicole Keeney, Senior (National) Sales Manager for Drury Hotels has been using Teams. “I conduct brand presentations over this platform, and it provides a way for me to showcase our unique amenities and services. Being live on webcam allows me to put a face with a name and be more relatable.” She added, “I also enjoy being able to record them and review them for self-improvement!”
Beck from Hyatt Place Huntsville says “When Covid-19 shutdowns began, I utilized Zoom with the lead planner of a city-wide to showcase the hotel (common areas, amenities, and rooms). We were also able to meet ‘face to face’ and add the personal touches for our meeting. I mean, who doesn’t want to put a face with the name nowadays?”
Personalized Video Email Apps. Examples: BombBomb, Covideo, and Vidyard.
When I talk about this concept during our sales training workshops, most think of generic, professionally made videos such as those posted on websites or embedded into email campaigns. Instead, video email sales involves sending short, personalized video email messages to individual prospects and clients.
These apps embed the video message directly into the email, so it previews as a thumbnail, complete with a “play” button and indicating the length of the message, which should be under a minute. Best sales habits for using video email include sending “putting a face with a name” messages after responding in CVENT, following-up after proposals or contracts are sent, and getting prospects who “ghost” you to finally respond.
Kim Knop, VP Sales & Marketing for McNeill Hotel Company, says “Our sales leaders who have been through the KTN’s Remote Sales Skills course have shared many great stories of how they have used video email to connect with clients and deliver a more “personal approach. Even through this time of isolation and social distancing, we can still connect with and support our customers and answer any questions about cleanliness and protocols, while being live and ‘face to face.’”
Keeney from Drury Hotels has also been using video. “I genuinely believe video messaging sets me apart. The number of responses received back is unparalleled when compared to that of traditional email messages. Plus, I just love hearing the feedback from our partners and clients.”
Glenn from Hilton Garden Inn Twin Falls shared this example: “I had been in communication with a group for a Christmas party booking, but unfortunately the point of contact started “ghosting” me. Then I sent a video email about how we can meet the group’s needs. I received a response almost immediately, and with a confirmation that the group would like to move forward with the booking.”
Glenn added: “Another way that I’ve used video email is to thank some of our top accounts for their continued loyalty towards our property. I received many heartfelt responses and feel that it allowed me to gain a stronger connection.”
Debbie Denyer is National Sales Manager, Corporate and Associations, for the exquisite Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, MI. Deb has been using video email sales since going through an on-site sales workshop with me two years ago. Besides using the medium for prospecting and follow-ups, Deb has added her own creative flair. “More than once I have sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to clients by way of video email,” she says.
Debbie’s boss, Liz Ware, VP of Sales & Marketing, shared this example with me. As an alternative to the traditional holiday cards sent to clients, this year Debbie wrote a parody of the holiday song “12 Days Of Christmas” she called “The 10 Months of Covid.” While standing in front of her Christmas tree at home, Debbie performed her version, which I have to say was completely hilarious and very heartfelt. Apparently, many of her top clients agreed, as Liz Ware sent me a list of “kudos” messages from over 30 top-tier meeting planners. When I spoke with Debbie she shared this success story:
“In late November, I received a CVENT lead from an out of state corporate meeting planner (not a third party). From the time I received the Cvent notification, the client was very responsive and had nice feedback. However, for a month he had given me no indication on whether or not a decision was made to bring the meeting to Mission Point…Until my ‘Ten Months of Covid’ video hit. His response reassured me that video email has helped me set Mission Point apart from other properties. ‘Debbie! OMG I have seen your video – and it is absolutely fantastic!!! Great job to you!!! I totally love it and I hope we can work together just so I can meet you!’”
While so many hotel salespeople await conditions to return to “normal,” sales superstars like these recognize that disruption creates opportunities to evolve in ways that will benefit their hotels long after the pandemic subsides.
Knop from McNeill Hotel Company added: “With site visits being on the decline even before the pandemic, we can connect with our out-of-town clients, face to face, using these tools. But they also help with in-town clients who may not be able to leave the office and stop by for a tour.”
Beck from Hyatt said “I believe the tools and skillsets learned through this Remote Hotel Sales course will help my career in the future. Technology is quickly evolving and taking away personal touches. However, with these new tools, I can preserve the personal touch when connecting with clients and keep the relationship growing!”