by Doug Kennedy
June 10, 2015
If you could put a hotel sales manager from the 1990’s into one of those time machines such as H.G. Wells wrote about, they would find that the sales office of today is a completely foreign environment. Gone are the pink message pads waiting on their desks with names and numbers of voice inquiries, long since replaced originally DID lines and voicemail boxes, then by fax machines, and finally nowadays by email. Also gone are most of the sales administrative staff, along with their IBM Selectric typewriters, their Pitney Bowes postage rooms with outgoing proposal packets and even most of the copy machines. Our time-traveling salesperson would be shocked that they have to do more typing than talking these days. Also missing are the meeting planners sitting in the reception areas waiting for a site inspection.
Instead they would find themselves spending much of their day dealing with electronic communications and playing catch-up in their email boxes.
Borrowing a term from my friends in the military who speak of “mission creep,” I would call what hotel sales departments have experienced in the last 10-12 years as being “electronic process creep.”
As a result, today’s sales managers face a virtual tidal wave of electronic communications hitting them from numerous devices. Whereas a sales manager from the past might have rejoiced at seeing a stack of pink message pad notes when returning from lunch, today’s salespeople face an overwhelming stream of electronic inquiries. With the increased use of third party meeting planners, they often receive more than one inquiry for the same piece of business. At the same time the ability of planners to inquire at a long list of properties with a single click at an electronic service such as CVENT, Starcite, and a host of sources such as CVB’s other destination marketing groups, versus contacting a much smaller list due to the time it would take to call or send separate emails, has caused what I call “Hotel Sales Lead Fatigue.”
To make matters worse, many hotels cut back on sales support staff and conference coordinators during the last downturn and have yet to replace them. Therefore hotel sales managers also find themselves more bogged down than ever servicing events they have already booked. Rather than carving out time for prospecting, they find themselves responding to emails a planner fires off on a whim or to text messages coming through at all hours.
While many sales superstars are still managing to keep up by working longer hours, conducting business everywhere from smartphones, and working at home after hours, many others are failing to respond to inquiries, not offering alternative dates when sold-out, and replying to inquiries with generic correspondence.
Yet as all this “electronic process creep” has taken place, it seems that few hotel companies have updated their hotel sales training programs. Instead, newly hired salespeople are sent to attend three day classes that focus on topics that were much more relevant in the past than in the present. I spoke with one seasoned hotel sales manager who told me that in the last two years she has been to no less than four sales training workshops and all focused entirely on making in-person sales presentations, while she rarely ever gets to meet the decision makers in person anymore.
If you have not done so recently, maybe it is time to audit your current hotel sales training program and to make sure it is providing your salespeople with the tools they need to succeed in today’s new environment.
What should sales training focus on these days?
Whereas in the past hotel sales training focused mostly on people skills needed for interpersonal sales communications, today’s training needs to be address a much broader range of skill sets. Salespeople of today need to develop a rare combination of both creative and analytical thinking skills. Some salespeople are the stereotypical “left brain analytical thinkers” who focus only on the processes of electronic communications. These people are quick to respond to inquiries but their communications come across as impersonal and generic. They miss opportunities to make their hotel stand out from the competition. Other salespeople are skewed towards being the “right brain creative types” who take the time to connect with customers by phone and to send personalized sales collateral. However many of these types are very disorganized and do a poor job at managing the flood of leads they face daily. They also fall short at follow-up.
Sales training today needs to focus both on process and on people skills. At KTN our hotel sales training addresses both topic areas with equal emphasis, helping people make the best use of whatever sales tracking and lead management systems they have in place, while also training them on practical and easy ways to stand out from the competitors at all steps in the sales cycle. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you review your hotel’s sales training agenda and workshop content.
- Does my sales training help my people understand how to best organize their lead steam processes? Is it integrated with the technology systems we have in place?
- Do we emphasize how to sort and prioritize incoming leads and to determine if it is a good fit?
- Do we help them manage the sometimes overwhelming amount of electronic communications?
- Does our sales training show our people how to stand out from all of the other hotels that are responding electronically?
- Do we encourage some “old school” methods such as making phone calls and sending handwritten notes?
- Do we train people on skills that match they processes they actually can use, such as how to best use online meeting tools when site visits are not possible?
- Does our training address the fact that the meeting planner has most likely already seen our online pictures and read the lists of features, and therefore benefit selling to “narrate the pictures” is more important than ever before?
- Do we emphasize the use of innovative sales follow-up tools such as Skype video messages and video emails?
When it comes to hotel sales, its easy to stand out from the competition these days. Make sure your hotel sales training gives your team the tools to be not only the most efficient in responding, but also the most creative and most personalized people to deal with at each step in the sales process.