Tips for Closing Deals with Tough Customers in a Competitive Group Environment

By Jesse Suglia Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel | August 31, 2014

Competition for group hotel business can be fierce, whether your sales team vies for business in a crowded market like New York City, or you are simply competing with the new hotel next door. Closing group business isn't about meaningless presentations with fancy bells and whistles, or price-cutting just to beat out the competition. The proverbial tough customer may get stuck on a room rate – that's nothing new. Weaving together a customized plan of attack that hits client hot buttons, maximizes relationships and steers the conversation from price to value can make an incredible impact on closure rates.

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As a 1,781-room hotel with 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, meetings have always been an important part of business at the Sheraton New York Times Square. New York City room inventory has grown exponentially, bringing more choices for customers, which requires an unparalleled need to focus on sales fundamentals. Our recent $180 million top-to-bottom renovation is a selling point for the hundreds of major functions we host each year, including recent events such as the Super Bowl XLVIII Media Center and the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. But even with new facilities, upscale room product and being the most-awarded convention hotel in Manhattan – if our sales team doesn't have the tools to develop meaningful partnerships with meeting planners, none of that matters. Standing out in a big crowd requires differentiating your sales process.

The New ABCs: Always Be Closing is Dead

It's no surprise that in this era of change, clients have little to no interest in insincere sales tactics and sellers that lack the ability to develop authentic partnerships. Understanding the buying needs of your customer is the new mantra. In my experience leading global sales teams as well as hotel sellers for several top hotel brands, the most successful teams understand client trends and quickly cater their techniques to changing customer demands. What will not change is that you win business if the client believes that your hotel team can deliver.

If it comes down to understanding the customer's business and buying process, then try articulating in a deep and sophisticated way just how your hotel can be a solution to their meeting needs. Sound lofty? Here is an example: Let's say that Global Corporation XYZ can hold their annual 800-room meeting anywhere in the U.S., or the world. They want to be in New York City because of the prestige and cachet…within their budget, with the level services and amenities that their attendees expect. Start from the basic level and build it up – beyond the RFP. Actively listen to their most important takeaways from the meeting. We talk to clients about their specific needs and how to satisfy them, working closely to listen in and develop a truly meaningful and customized plan.

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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.