By Kristi White

Recently, I was attempting to source a new vendor for an installation. I did an exhaustive Google search and found three potential companies (they shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). I reached out to them via their websites inquiry form and waited for a response. Fortunately, all three companies responded promptly (within 2 hours). However, that is where the positive vibes ended. Four frustrating hours (and over 40 emails) later, I had scheduled appointments with all three companies but only AFTER I insisted on the call from each.

Is This What Sales Has Become?
This agita led me to drop by a colleague’s office to ask this simple question: “Where have all the good salespeople gone?” After her hysterical laughter (honestly, there were tears), she asked me to explain what I mean by “good salespeople.” It was a fair question. One that made me take a moment to contemplate my definition. The long and short of it is this. Where have all of the salespeople with fire in the belly, those who pounce on a new prospect, want to learn everything about them, convert them to a sale, and then own that customer forever gone?

Her answer was simple, “They’ve been replaced by order-takers who want to send you some information and pray you can understand it enough to decide on your own if they are a good fit.” It was my turn to laugh, only my tears were not from laughter but from sadness. Sadness because, I fear this epidemic might be endemic in the hospitality industry. Group business within the hospitality industry has become complacent in the last decade. This is attributed to third-party eRFP engines delivering leads to hotel inboxes with the pressure to respond fast and first without understanding the true need of the customer. Then hope and pray to convert the business and retain the business. (Not to mention the profitability hurdle this creates.)

The Hunter Mentality
The days of hunting for group business in hospitality are long behind us. We no longer train for the skill and, one could argue, value the skill. So, is the Hunter Group Salesperson simply endangered or already extinct? To really answer the question, it’s necessary to understand how a species makes it to the endangered list. Once again, Google was my friend; to be considered endangered, a species must meet one of these criteria:

  • A 50-70% population decrease over 10 years
  • A total geographic area less than 5,000 square kilometers
  • A population of less than 2,500 adults
  • A restricted population of 250 adults
  • A statistical prediction that it will go extinct within the next 20 years

Looking at it through this lens, I believe we can stick the Hunter Salesperson definitively on the endangered species list. They meet the litmus test on three of these criteria:

1. Decrease in population over 10 years – The last decade has seen unprecedented growth in our industry. At the same time, third-party vendors have entered the group space magically dropping business in our laps. Because of the high demand, many hotels have been able to feast on the droppings to keep their hotels full. As a result, many have stopped looking for the high- octane salesperson in favor of those with excellent typing skills to keep up with the influx of “leads.”

2. Population of less than 2,500 – The high-octane sales people aren’t dying, they are just moving to greener pastures. Some might have moved up in organizations into leadership roles but others moved out of the hospitality industry altogether. Quite simply, they found other industries where they could put their hunter skills to work and where they were valued. Either way, those valuable hunters are no longer in positions to sell our hotels.

3. Prediction of extinction – The first two are creating the environment driving the “Hunter” salesperson to the point of extinction. We stopped valuing the skill, stopped supporting it, and those with the skill moved on to more accommodating hunting grounds.

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Many of you might be shrugging at this point, thinking to yourself, “Why should I care? My hotel is doing well with my order-takers.” And, to some extent, you might be right. For now. But what happens when the economy softens or, God forbid, takes a downturn? Can your order-takers sustain you? Will they be able to pivot when the well of leads dropping into their laps dries up and they actually have to find business on their own?

Chances are you may have one or two people who will step up and fill the gap. With hotels “grouping-up” in preparation for next year’s uncertainty, now is the time to start preparing your whole group sales team for what will come.

Whether you are an owner, manager or operator, now is the time to examine your sales organization and how it’s deployed. This isn’t a time to candy coat the review. Be honest and be critical. Look at each individual member of the team with an eye towards understanding where they sit on the spectrum of sales skills:

Three Types of Salespeople

1. Hunter – These are your go-getters. They spend more time looking for new business. Most likely they are your top performers. Whether it is turning that third-party lead into a six time a year piece of business or finding a new gem from another market, these individuals are always pressing for more. Oddly, these people are often the ones management has the most difficulty managing. They can be impulsive and they often view the admin side of the job as a chore. These individuals are always on the move and looking for the next opportunity. Additionally, they are usually exceptionally skilled at understanding the customer’s needs and values and matching those to what their hotel can offer. Their customers tend to be extremely loyal and will follow them from one hotel to another. In other words, lose the salesperson, lose the customer.

2. Order Taker – These individuals fear prospecting more than anything. They wait for the phone to ring. They love and embrace the RFP process. They will always seem busy. But when you look closely, they don’t have the greatest close rates. Additionally, they often don’t create lifelong customers. Examine their customer base carefully and you will see a lot of “one and done” deals. Some of this is because they rarely ask for additional business, they focus on what’s at hand only. They rarely truly understand what the customer needs so they miss the opportunity to “wow” customers. They need a constant influx of “leads” to fill their pipeline because they either can’t or won’t generate their own. Their customers are not very loyal. If this person leaves, you can fill the gap with another warm body because they create no brand loyalty.

3. Farmer – Realistically, these aren’t strictly salespeople. These individuals are more closely aligned with account management. They don’t typically find new business but “harvest” additional bookings from within their own book of business. In a perfect world, they are the opposite side of the coin of hunters. Combined they are an almost unstoppable force of nature. As with their hunter counterparts, if you lose this individual you typically lose their accounts.

Where do your group sales teams sit on the spectrum? Ideally, you have a healthy mix of Hunters and Farmers. These individuals will provide a healthy balance of new business and repeat business. If your teams are mostly Order Takers, your business is at the mercy of an unpredictable source of business. It leaves you at risk when one of your competitors changes their model and starts hunting in your book of business.

The unprecedented growth period will come to an end. Whether that’s merely a slow-down or a full downturn remains to be seen. Hotels only defense will be in Group. Now is the time to prepare for it. The place to start is within your own group sales teams. Balancing your teams so you have a healthy mix of hunters and farmers will position your hotel to shift share and ride out the coming storm.

Hunters can find business in all economic times and farmers make sure you keep as much of that business as possible. During lean times they keep you afloat and during boon times they help you find even better business.