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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. 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.