Analyzing Technology's Impact on the Hotel Sales Department
By Todd Ryan Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel | February 17, 2013
Without question, technology makes our lives easier. Early humans figured out that sharpening a rock and attaching it to an end of a stick was a much more efficient method of hunting and, when combined with controlling fire, increased the availability of food sources. Compared to what we know today, that may seem very simplistic but with some perspective that small idea had a huge impact. Take the mobile device that you undoubtedly have within reach as an example. Your device has more memory and a faster processing speed than the computers of yesteryear, where it would have taken a room full of equipment to match what you are currently able to carry in the palm of your hand.
Technology can also be a curse. There are many examples of where misguided individuals have used technological advances in detrimental ways. Even those devices that are supposed to make our lives easier can have unintended consequences if not controlled or used correctly. How many opportunities to connect with loved ones are lost because of our insatiable need to read an incoming text, tweet or Facebook post while on a dinner date? How often do people truly check out and recharge on vacation versus staying connected to work, which only adds to your worry about the last-minute report that is now due in two days?
Anyone who has been in this industry for more than 15 years can attest to how much technology has changed the way we sell. At the risk of sounding like a grandfather sitting around the dinner table with his family on Thanksgiving, back in my day we did not have software to reserve space for a customer. Customers had to call individual hotels to inquire about space. The Internet was not available to research a hotel's website prior to sending an RFP. It often took a couple of weeks for a meeting planner to obtain enough information from a hotel from which to start considering options. Proposals may have been sent via fax with thermal paper that rolled up in the file. Contract changes were even executed over the phone with final copies sent through the fax machine for signature.
For a salesperson, the process often started on the phone. In some cases, the salesperson received a call directly inquiring about the hotel's services and pricing. On the other hand, the customer may have sent a lead through the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) or the hotel's national salesperson at which point the seller would pick up the phone to "qualify" the business. Regardless, a conversation took place and the two parties had an instant chance to build rapport. The seller would ask a few key questions from which they could prepare a proposal and perhaps pitch the hotel in a way to see if there was a potential match. If not, each party went on their way. If the salesperson did an effective job matching the hotel's features to the customer's needs, they may engage in further conversation. Skip ahead a little when the customer tells the seller that they have earned the business, a contract was often prepared and the two parties would work through the details together over the phone. Then the Internet and email were introduced to the general public and a revelation occurred. Over the coming years, this sales process would be turned on its head.
This was a drastic change in the way that business was conducted, especially as younger adults were entering the workforce who had little to no experience with this new technology. If you are over 35 years old, there is a good chance you were not exposed to the Internet or email until you were an adult, when "you've got mail" meant something to you. If you are somewhere between 30 and 35, you may have had it in high school. If you are between 25 and 30, you may have been introduced during grade school and if you are under 25 you have most likely had it all your life. To put these advances into a little different perspective, my three-year-old thought our laptop was broken because she couldn't swipe the screen like she does on our iPad.
The sales process has not changed much over the years. The manner in which sellers use the various principles of sales theory have evolved over time but the foundation from which a buying cycle starts for a business has not been altered much. Organizations and economies only thrive when people and businesses part with their money in exchange for goods. There are countless studies and theories relating to this topic, attempting to assist the people responsible for keeping a company thriving. The word "sales" can still evoke a negative connotation among certain people and that perception can be valid depending on the industry. In the words of author Jeffrey Gitomer, "People don't like to be sold, but they love to buy."
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