Direct Sales: “Give 'em the Old Razzle Dazzle, Razzle Dazzle 'em”

By Brenda Fields Founder, Fields & Company | September 18, 2011

What has happened to direct sales in the hospitality industry? Once a discipline of an enviable combination of great social skills, good business judgment, and powers of persuasion, direct sales was many times the starting point for learning the business of hotels. A knowledgeable sales person understood how each piece of business or account had an impact on revenues in all areas not just limited to rooms and not just for the short but the long term as well. How has the proliferation of technology impacted the way of doing business as well as enhancing the learning curve? Does the new generation of hotel sales people offer impersonal and cut and dry customer interactions and rely solely on technology to give a red light or a green light on a piece of business? Or are powers of persuasion and good judgment still critical in generating business? This article will reflect the insights and wisdoms of key industry leaders who were interviewed for this article on how direct sales has been impacted by technology and where they seen direct sales going in the future.

Selected for this article were three industry veterans who have a wide range of experience with direct sales:

  • Heather Allison-Smith, Director of Sales & Marketing
    The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, California
  • Rose Genovese, Vice President of Sales & Marketing
    Affinia Hotels/The Benjamin/The James/The Surrey based in New York, New York
  • John Washko, Vice President, Sales & Marketing
    THE BROADMOOR in Colorado Springs, Colorado

BF: How has the proliferation of technology impacted the way of doing business for the sales person as well as enhancing the learning curve?

HA-S: Although technology has dramatically improved the way we do business, it has created significant challenges for hospitality sales professionals as it relates to relationship selling. Prior to computers, voice mail and email, a sales manager spent almost all of her time with customers, either on the phone or face to face. Our business was about building personal relationships and leveraging those relationships to win business. In addition, on line RFP systems have allowed meeting planners to explore multiple properties in multiple destinations whereas in the past it was often limited to a select few. As a result, sales managers are spending valuable time researching availability and responding to leads with little to no probability of booking. Despite the fact that some of these channels have pitiful conversion ratios, we can’t afford not to do everything we can to win the business on the slight chance that this booking might be the one! And even if you are in a preferred destination, you may have just one shot to put out your best bid with no opportunity to qualify the customer or tell him why you are the best fit for his program. With that being said, technology has provided us with a wealth of knowledge that when used correctly, is an invaluable tool. Drilling down your segmentation by industry, geography, etc. helps draw a map of where you should look for additional business opportunities. Virtually everything you need to know about a potential customer’s business can be found online. And relationships can be more easily leveraged within portfolios and brands.

RG: Technology is only as good as it accurately informs us of customer needs or streamlines and simplifies a process. It has sped up some booking processes and helped expedite simple client requests. Identifying targets and new potential customers has also greatly improved with technology and the power of the internet. Independent boutique hotels…gain an advantage as potential clients can easily locate and learn about our portfolio, greatly increasing interest and requests.

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.