Developing 'Imperfectly Inimitable' Skills for Effective Sales

By Michael J. Cheatham Director of Sales Recruitment, Hyatt Hotels Corporation | May 19, 2010

Upon encountering a potential client that was non-responsive to phone calls, a young but determined sales manager realized that he was one of many hotel sales people soliciting her business. He decided to take a novel approach. He sent a letter informing her that she had two opportunities: 1) a chance to be a winner and 2) a sure-fire way to be a winner. The chance was a ticket for the Colorado state lottery, enclosed with the letter. The sure thing, he explained in the letter, was that his hotel's service and amenities would exceed her expectations and, in doing so, make her a winner in the eyes of her boss and meeting attendees. His creative approach set him apart from the competition and ultimately led to a lasting professional relationship with this client.

Let's assume for a moment that every person in hospitality sales knows the importance of qualifying prospects, knows how to develop an effective opening, understands how belief in their product helps them to exude confidence, knows that to close the sale you must ask for the sale, and that service after the sale is as important as the sale itself. While we're at it, let's just assume that everyone has read those endless lists of "sales tips" written on how to become an effective salesperson.

If we assume that colleges and universities are adequately training sales people, why is it that all new hires are not excellent sales people from the get-go? Further, with all the professional development opportunities available, shouldn't there be armies of effective sales people and no shortage of great candidates for those looking to hire?

So, what is missing? What sets excellent sales people apart from the plebeian masses? According the Resource Based View of strategic management (Porter, 1980, 1991; Peteraf, 1993), an excellent sales person would be one who is able to deliver consistently above normal economic performance. In the parlance of RBV, they would possess a "competitive advantage." The sustainability of this competitive advantage is dependent on the degree to which an individual possesses resources or skills that are valuable, rare and "imperfectly inimitable" (Peteraf, 1993). These skills, by their very nature, are not easily copied or transferred.

What are these imperfectly inimitable skills that excellent sales people possess? We believe they include sense of humor , creativity, timing and common sense. These elements are missing from most undergraduate sales curricula, seminars and most of those lists of sales tips precisely because they are difficult - but not impossible - to teach. With respect to these essential elements, it is often said, "Either you have it, or you don't."

Every sales person ought to know that selling involves identifying customers, successfully communicating with them, increasing their awareness and interest in your product, and persuading them to act on that interest. In addition, to truly set themselves apart, we argue that sales people must develop these imperfectly inimitable skills. This article offers thoughts on how sales managers and sales educators can develop and utilize sense of humour, creativity, timing and common sense to impact the bottom line.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.