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Direct Sales: Some Challenges for Leadership
By Feature Writer Brenda Fields
Could it be that following the Age of Industrialization, we have entered into the Age of Impersonalization? How many times have you been a victim of "statistics" and not viewed on your individual merits? For example, did you pay premium rates for car insurance or health insurance just because you were a certain age or gender? Or was a loan denied despite an excellent credit history because "statistics" indicated you were a poor risk? And have you ever felt the frustration of trying to reach a "live" person to resolve a dispute or just to ask a question? And you went round and round in circles by pressing various numbers on your phone, without having an option for your particular issue, just to end up where you started?
Our customers and guests in hotels are no different. They want to know that their business is valued, that they are heard and that they have access to someone who will listen and respond to their particular situations.
The new generation of hotel sales staff was raised on text messaging, instant messaging, and video games. They do their buying online and are adept at condensing conversations to 140 characters in a Tweet, not to mention throwing grammar and sentence construction out the window.
Recently a video went viral showing a young child trying in vain to get the pictures in her book to move around! It caught on because of the absurdity of the situation but also, perhaps, because of the secret fear that our children will only be stimulated by action instead of the written word or appreciating the beauty of pictures.
But does this type of communication and interaction translate to increased business? Clients still want to know that there is a real person at the end of the phone, text, or email who is responsive to their needs; will seek out a better understanding of their needs; and will respond to them quickly and communicate in whole sentences. Many times, a piece of business is booked just because the sales person responded quickly.
The challenge of sales leadership is to work with and inspire this new generation to see each customer as unique and to work with a sense of urgency and personalization.
This article will address some insights and practical tips in working with sales staff to ensure greater productivity.
Establish Standards and Maintain Consistently:
How could properties operate without specific job standards? For example, the Accounting Department is responsible for the smooth and efficient running of a property by ensuring adequate cash flow. But what would happen if bills were sent out only when the accounting clerk had time or if delinquent accounts were pursued only when the clerk got around to it? And in Rooms Division, what would happen if the housekeeping staff cleaned the amount of rooms per day that they felt they could? Some days it would be five rooms cleaned and another day, twelve.
It's safe to assume that that these practices would create chaos in the organization and the property would eventually not survive. But understanding the workflow, processes, and responsibilities in the sales and marketing department is just as critical.
Technology provides the opportunity for instant communication and allows sending and receiving messages any time and to anywhere in the world. But ironically, despite the ability for instant communication, there is a growing trend in hotel sales that it may take days to return client calls and emails.
The harm of that is two-fold:
Therefore, as in any other department in the property, it is important to establish standards for this most basic, but important practice. Rather than leaving this to chance and in order to ensure that every opportunity to book business is met, the following areas to address are:
In addition to having established standards, it is just as important to establishing a culture where everyone communicates directly with both clients and each other and does what he/she says they will do. Things happen despite all good intentions. And it is important to communicate if a promised proposal will be sent at another date.
Formal Sales Training:
Many times, especially in small, independent properties, there is not a commitment to sales training because of the expense. It happens over and over that the General Manager is emphatic about hiring the sales person with an existing client base. It may seem like a good idea, but a client base has a short life span and the client is, often times, more loyal to the property than to the sales manager.
Therefore, the sales leader is challenged with getting top performance out of staff when they do not have the skills necessary to do the job. Even in high demand markets, such as New York City, one should wonder what additional revenues could be achieved if the sales manager had expert selling skills instead of just "order taking".
Responsiveness to our customers can some times be related to the sales person's ability and expertise in handling certain situations. Having a sales staff that is aptly trained will help insure booking new business, inspiring client loyalty, and staying abreast with changes in the market place. Sales training gives a sales manager the tools to deal with every situation, provides a common language among the sales staff and therefore results in the achievement of great business. Without formal training, there can be an avoidance of customers where there is a difficult situation to address and a tendency to "order take".
Prospecting for new business:
Another challenge for sales leaders is finding new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect through cold calling. Company directories rarely exist for external use and unsolicited emails many times, end up in the spam file. But there is business to be uncovered and the smart leaders will take the right steps to ensure that their sales people can uncover group leads.
A few tips are:
Sales leaders should take notice of the successful companies, such as Amazon, that use technology exclusively for their business, but simultaneously, offer personalized and exceptional customer service i.e. service that is personalized, responsive, and is given by a person! Working with technology combined with excellent sales habits will place any property in a position of strength in achieving excellent financial results.
About the author
In her more than 27 years as a marketing and sales pro in the hospitality industry, Brenda has emerged as the "go to " sales and marketing consultant for independent and/or privately owned hotels and resorts seeking cost effective, real-world solutions for today's market challenges.
From small boutique hotels to large convention properties, Brenda has created and implemented highly successful sales, marketing, and revenue management programs that enable owners to achieve target results despite market conditions.
With a "who's who" roster of clients, Brenda has worked with a number of industry leaders and real estate investment companies including Starwood Lodging Corporation, Vornado Realty Trust and Planet Hollywood, Choice Hotels International, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Olympus Real Estate Corporate, among others.
Brenda is a member of the invitation-only International Society of Hospitality consultants (ISHC); named "Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing, by HSMAI, served on the Americas Board of Directors for Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International, served as President of the Greater NY Chapter of HSMAI, and has written numerous articles for the industry.
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