Do you ever feel like just a number?
So many hoteliers are wondering why group business is so far behind last year. The canned answer is the economy. Groups are smaller in size because fewer people are allowed to attend; they are not spending as much on training and development; there are fewer employees because sales are down; groups can’t go to places that have spa or resort in their name; non-essential travel has been cut. While all of these things may be true for several markets, there are markets that continue to travel and the hotel sales team should be prospecting for new business on an ongoing basis.
As an independent meeting planner, I am amazed by the lack of passion and sense of urgency I have experienced in the site selection process. Frequently I have to call the hotel to ask if someone would please respond to my request for a proposal. Once I receive the proposed bid, I have to call back to address several key points that were requested and not addressed. My request for a proposal has not been examined to see how they can best accommodate MY needs … it is just a matter of offering space, rates and dates without satisfying any emotional needs. It is rare that I encounter a benefits sales approach or even a genuine interest in the “pain” that I need help solving … I am simply a number.
I have spent my adult life in the hospitality industry. I love working with my clients and so many become dear friends. That doesn’t happen simply responding to requests with the “take it or leave it” quote. If business is so bad out there, what is the sales team doing that is more important than responding to a request in a memorable way? It isn’t about the lowest rate or the most attachments to documents that I have to sift through to get answers to my questions. It is about being excited to create a lifelong relationship, being thorough in responding to specific needs that are mentioned, asking valuable questions that let me know you understand my goals and being creative in presenting the additional benefits that put the icing on a well thought out proposal.
Because of the experience described above and my lifelong network of professional colleagues throughout the world, I saw a need to design a sales training program for hotels. What would it take to ignite the sales team? Just as the needs of each meeting planner is different, so are the needs of each hotel sales team. first analyze the needs of sales organization.
Phase one is a mystery shopping service where we contact the hotel with 5 different types of groups from various areas of the country and varying market segments in an attempt to shop 5 different group or catering sales managers. These 5 leads all come through different lead sources to also shop the effectiveness of 5 major revenue streams. The results are given on a standards scorecard as well as the complete written dialogue of the mystery shopping experience. Each shop experience gives a written recommendation on ways to enhance the marketing tool and suggestions for how that proposal could have been improved.
BONUS ~ At least two of the shopping experiences will also include competitive responses to the same lead. Here you will see how quickly primary and secondary competitors are responding as well as the way they have addressed the specific needs and to what degree they engage in a benefits sales approach. The results do not reveal competitor rates that were quoted.
Phase two is a customized on-site training program. Based on the results from Phase One, we know which areas required the greatest amount of attention and each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Some of the training is done on an individual one-on-one basis and some can be conducted as a group. Several support pieces are required from the hotel prior to arrival to point me in the right direction. A complete checklist is requested in my initial proposal to the executive responsible for deciding on engaging my services.
BONUS ~ The sales staff helps to write a living training program that can be used as a refresher course or taught when new members join the team. The standards that are set and tools that are designed truly clarify the roles, goals and responsibilities of each team member and it gets them back on course in a positive uplifting environment. The sales staff recognizes the investment in their training and it stimulates new excitement for the property and several new, creative ideas.
All of this training impacts the customer experience in a positive way. The client will recognize the smile and the genuine interest in the response they receive. If they need to leave a voicemail for the sales manager at your hotel, the client will smile at the creative prompt to leave a message rather than groan until they hear the beep. If a voicemail is left for them, the client will want to get back to that sales manager because they respect one another and are building a bond. The client will look forward to booking business at your hotel this time and in the future. They become part of the sales team and look for other opportunities within their organization or will provide outside introductions and referrals if asked.
Selling is not just taking an order. It’s not about getting to the “close”. Selling is step one to building a relationship. It is about finding the need and genuinely responding to the “pain” in a way that encourages a partnership ~ not just for this time but for a lifetime.