By Doug Kennedy
In the current market, most hotels, resorts and other venues are experiencing a significant softening in group demand. However, this does not necessarily mean that hotel salespeople are fielding fewer inbound leads, but rather multiple leads are coming in for dates that are in peak demand for transient and for other group business. Here in the era of electronic RFP’s, where one piece of business generates a proposal request for 8, 10 or more properties, hotel salespeople are perhaps busier than ever simply keeping up with what often feels like “lead spam.”
Unfortunately though, the time spent responding to electronic RFP’s and working with revenue managers to determine the net value of the business and therefore what rates to quote, is preventing hotel salespeople from doing their most essential job, which is to pro-actively prospect for leads to fill in “gap” dates.
In many markets, it’s relatively easy for hotel sales managers to meet their overall sales numbers solely by closing inbound leads. Yet when you think about it, the most important task for hotel sales teams is to seek out and target new leads for soft dates when transient demand is low and/or when demand is otherwise soft.
The profession of revenue management has evolved extensively, and these days most RM leaders can easily forecast dates for which group business is needed to fill major gaps. I’m pretty sure that a line-item on the agenda for all revenue optimization meetings at well-managed properties is to notify the sales team of dates where demand is forecasted to be low.
However, the problem our industry is going facing is that too many of today’s salespersons have either forgotten how to effectively prospect for new business, or they have never had to learn how to do so in the first place. With 11 straight years of economic growth in most areas, a 10 year veteran of hotel sales could conceivably have never had to deal with a down-market and only lived by fishing in an in-bound lead stream. When it comes to the more experienced sales professionals, the challenge is that the demand side of the industry has changed so much that the “old school” methods of cold calling no longer work. Needless to say, the hospitality industry will have to change how they sell group business from a reactive to proactive model in order to stay relevant. Knowland did a great white paper blog on this recently that caught my attention.
Here are some sales training tips from KTN’s hotel sales / event sales training workshops to share at your next sales meeting:
· Every sales manager needs to block time on their schedule for pro-active prospecting and be disciplined enough to follow through. Depending on the volume of inquiries being fielded, this might require that sales leaders provide sales support staff to assist with sorting and initially responding to inbound leads in order to free-up the professional sales managers to have tie to prospect for new business.
· Further, within the prospecting time, block a good portion for specifically targeting clients who are most likely to be able to fill-in gap dates. It is hard enough to dig-up new “suspects” to prospect to in general, so we have to work even smarter to find leads for needs-dates.
· Look back to leads that have come during the previous one to five years for your current-year gap dates. Chances are that your salespeople have not been tracing leads that in previous years were lost to competition or declined due to rates/availability, which would have been ideal, so this requires some targeted searching of the lead stream. For most hotels, the reality is that leads are stored in Outlook folders by source (CVENT notifications, website RFP notifications, CVP platform notices, etc…) Hopefully the leads are sorted by year, but from what I see there is a lot of inconsistency, so searching requires more diligent work. Search historical lead folders for names of months and dates along with “meeting” and “inquiry.”
· Similarly, look back at the hotel’s history of actualized business to find groups that might meet the same time each year at rotating sites and thus be ready to return to your destination.
· Research on the web to identify meetings and events that have been held elsewhere in the region during the same date ranges. Google is always a great place to start.
— Use an “Exact Match” Search by putting a word or phrase inside quotation marks. For example, “Sales Conference Boston 2018” or “Leadership Conference Chicago 2017” This will narrow down the search results.
— Or add the name of competitive hotels in your city or geographic region.
— Use Google Advanced Search options; google those three words to find out how!
· Stay up to date on the latest offerings from subscription-based lead sources, which continue to evolve their offerings. Sales leaders, do not fall for the “Well we tried that but it didn’t work” excuses, as the offerings continue to evolve.
· Once you identify an organization, it can be a challenge to find the right contact. If searching previous business at your hotel or leads that were lost or declined, you will have a contact name even if it is outdated. Search on LinkedIn to try to find the new contact or at least someone currently working with the same company or organization who can direct you to the same contact. If you cannot message them on LinkedIn and cannot find their email there (some people do post their email addresses on their profiles) you can at least guess the person’s email
address by using the same pattern as the old contact. For example, “first initial last name” or “first name dot last name” @domain.com.
· Start with an email, but then – if you have a phone number – also make a phone call even if you only leave a voicemail.
· Humbly ask for the person’s assistance in getting in touch with the right contact who plans future meetings.
· Use “high tech” tools to stand out, such as by sending a personalized video email message addressing them by name.
· Whether reaching out by phone, email, IM or video, demonstrate that you have done your homework and want to be a true partner in their success by sharing the insights you have learned about their event portfolio.