The Art and Science of Killer Sales Prospecting

By Brenda Fields Founder, Fields & Company | September 11, 2011

Now more than ever, most hoteliers are searching for demand generators and are relying on direct sales to impact revenues to fill the significant void left by the ailing economy. Depending on the type of property i.e. transient vs. group-based, direct sales could be responsible for as much as 50%-90% of the occupancy. But many times, the sales person or sales leader is at a loss as to find new prospects. The tight security of companies has made it virtually impossible to prospect thru cold calling in person, the previously traditional means of finding leads. And the sales software to maintain account information and history is more often than not, poorly utilized and provides no information for prospecting. Additionally, many of the big companies hire third party meeting planning companies which add an additional layer for the sales person to identify and sell. This article will address some key tactics for uncovering sales prospects and in maintaining consistent systems and procedures to produce quality information for current and future prospecting. Implementing new tactics, combined with a motivated sales department will ensure that the sales organization is fully productive in accomplishing their roles of generating business.

The New Normal

This one phrase alone captures what is happening in the world now: Business is down; security is tight; and technology is rampant. When it is all put together, the hotel sales function and how business is generated has changed dramatically. For the most part, the new generation of hotel sales people has been raised on technology i.e. text messaging, emailing, and social media. Therefore, conducting business using all the latest technology comes naturally to them. But, they have also, for the most part, entered hotel sales when business has been strong and the biggest challenge has been finding space to book business that came to them. Therefore, unless there has been exceptional sales management, the tools and skills required now either are not used or haven't been developed to generate business in a down economy. The combination of art and science for the sales person is critical for identifying and booking business in a highly competitive marketplace.

Now that it is a buyer's market, most hotel sales people are faced with the challenge of finding customers. The sales department working with a sense of urgency, attention to detail, and expert sales skills will place a property in high rankings against its competitors regardless of its product deficiencies and drawbacks.

According to meeting planner David Ezer, Conference Director, Jewish Funders Network, headquartered in Fairfield, CT, the sales person who takes the time to understand his business and his needs will always get high marks and will certainly get his attention. A generic email or scripted phone call will be ignored. According to David, "I know it's more work for the sales person, but something that recognizes they've spent even five seconds looking at my organization's website will always get a response from me."

To Danielle Cattani-Post, CMP, Conference & Event Manager at McKinsey & Company in NYC, her "pet peeve is when a hotel sales person does not really understand what (her) company does". She states, "When a hotel sales person requests a visit to my office, they should be taking advantage of trying to get as much information beforehand so they are fully prepared. Of course this might be difficult and I understand that they are not always given that opportunity. But when they do come in, I expect them to listen to everything I say. When they follow up, it's nice to hear them reiterate some of the key points I had made. For example, I had a hotel sales person visit my office and I explained how having windows in the meeting space is extremely important to my company. The next time we met, they had created a custom made packet of all of their properties that had windows, listed by city. I was extremely thankful and impressed that they had listened to my needs."

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.