Sales & Marketing: Playing the Long Game


Hotel Sales & Marketing: What Exactly Are You Selling?

By Conor Kenny Principal, Conor Kenny & Associates | June 20, 2021

My late Dad spent a life working with managers and was one of the founding fathers of the Irish Management Institute along the way.

In 1979, Pope John Paul was coming to Ireland. An event so big that over a third of the entire population packed into Dublin's Phoenix Park for Mass with The Pontiff. It would require huge organisation and who better than the Clergy and Army to arrange it. The Hierarchy contacted my father, they wanted some management training in advance.

The day came and Jacob, a Texan, adored the challenge and chemistry of training. He had a special interest in sales, and he jumped at the opportunity to work with the Irish priests.

Overflowing with energy on their first day, he burst into the serene atmosphere of the training room to be met by 20 priests dressed identically in their clerical dark, dull, sombre suits.

"Good Morning Fathers, and to start, tell me, what exactly are you guys selling?"

Though a smile making moment, it is also a clever question and one that often elicits a threadbare dull mechanical cliched response.

In a post pandemic world, that will not work.

Marketing Matters

What enticed us into a hotel and tickled our ears before the pandemic is forever lost. We will focus on different things, different messages and different answers. Marketing will need to be relevant, appropriate and honest and the sales strategy will have to follow that new path but only if it is true, realistic and deliverable.

Before you can sell successfully to a new set of demands and priorities, marketing must be reimagined and then rebooted. That means a deep understanding of what now connects, inspires and motivates a buying decision.

And yet, marketing remains the greatest opportunity for a fine hotel to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Because many hotels and hoteliers are not marketers and entrust this vital function into the willing arms of a 'social media expert' who believe effective communication is measured by volume and 'likes'. It is not. There is a noticeably big difference between PR, publicity, noise and real engagement. The platforms are simply the trucks carrying your product, but it is the content on the truck that matters, not the truck.

Going back to the Priest's story, there is an especially useful question to ask the person in your hotel, or hospitality business, who is responsible for your marketing. It is this; 'What do you understand to be the purpose of our marketing efforts?'  I will wager that you will hear many answers along these lines; To sell more. To create awareness. To get publicity. To advertise. To create an image. To win new accounts. To stand out from the crowd.

Straight away, any of these answers suggest that you have a problem, and a costly one at that. These cover PR, sales, marketing components and the use of freely available tools but they do not show a deep understanding of what exactly the point of marketing is. If the understanding of marketing is wrong at the outset, then the strategy that follows will misdirect every single effort. A little like building the house foundations in the wrong place. It will lead to trouble down the road.

Marketing has only two specific functions or, if you like, desired outcomes.

- To make change.

- To create the desire to buy.

If your marketing does not achieve these then no amount of tedious academic strategy will add to your bank balance.

The first one is quite simple. If you want me to move from staying where I stay to staying with you, your marketing must make me change. If you want me to become a wine drinker from tea total, then you must make change happen. If I only ever stay in luxury camper vans and you want me to stay with you, then your marketing must inspire and provoke me to change. Think about it on a personal level, when you changed from one brand to another, what happened? Why did you do it?

Once you have created the argument for change then you need to create the desire to buy. If I have no desire, you will have no sale. Really good marketing does this overtly and subconsciously.

What's Your Brand?

But marketing must be based on something. If not, it is hollow, empty and meaningless. Effective marketing is embedded in your brand and that is the compass for every action and reaction that your business takes.

You will forever read definitions of what a brand means and if you google 'definition of a brand' then you will get millions of answers. There are 2 parts to a brand. The first is the visible representation of a brand – logo, symbols, icons and so forth. These are simply markers that distinguish one brand from the next. Think about the chrome logo on an automobile, that favoured department store, the preferred airline and so on.

However, the more important side of a brand is the emotional connection it makes with you and my interpretation is this. It is "A brand is what you think and feel about a business when you are not there". Instantly, if you think of a brand, you like and then one you dislike, you will see that you are reacting to a thought and that gives rise to the emotion. Of course, what you think I am thinking about your brand can be quite different to what you want me to think or even think I am thinking. Therein lies the danger and trap that will lead to disconnected sales efforts.

In other words, your promise needs to be real.

A few years back, I went into the vast lobby of a nice city centre hotel. I was meeting the General Manager. On that morning, I was the only one in the splendid lobby, me and the detached, disinterested Receptionist. I asked where I might find the GM as I had an appointment. "Over there" came the cold reply. I met the GM and work started. Early on, I asked him "What does your brand stand for?" With a certain pride and complete confidence, he said "Our warm and natural welcome".

I resisted the temptation to challenge it.

Once you understand the essence of your brand then it needs to be communicated to everyone who works with you and in a way that allows them to understand it and live it. If not, then remember Abu Bakr's quote.

"Without knowledge, action is useless and knowledge without action is futile".

Why Bother? Why Buy?

In a moment, we will consider what will change in a post pandemic sales world but first, there are a few obvious buying motivators that most salespeople do not consider, confuse or even know about.

First, there are only 2 types of sale – ever. Emotional and practical.

In the world of hotel sales, there is a perfect mix of both. A wedding reception is the perfect example of an emotional sale. A meeting room sale a typical practical sale, or even a cup of tea. Both sometimes overlap but one thing is for sure, if you do not know who you are talking to and you choose practical or emotional positioning when they want the opposite, then you are already destined for failure.

Secondly, there are generally 4 reasons to buy, and each reason needs a language, message and connection all of its own and that the guest can relate to.

- We buy on perceived value and that includes price.

- We buy on needs. These are things we must have, electricity, heat and so on.

- We buy on desire or wants. These are aspirational purchases or, if you like, indulgences.

- Finally, we buy because of an urgent need. Think medical treatments, or when your boiler is broken in mid-winter.

Each has a driver and each needs to have the ability to stand alone as an individual proposition that prompts me to respond to the marketing and then enter the sales process.

Whilst the motivators and drivers have not changed, the subject box and content for each, certainly will. What motivated me before a global pandemic will no longer be the same in a post pandemic world.

Standards Dear Boy, Standards!

It is a fine hotel with a big brand name and built to a remarkably high standard. A short work stay in between pandemic lockdowns beckoned. A welcome respite from it all. This time, my radar was tuning in to different stimuli. No longer was my focus on warm welcomes, quiet bedrooms and the standard facilities we all took for granted. No, this time it was different. Safety, cleanliness, Covid cleaning protocols, distance, speed, lack of chit-chat, space, sanitiser and on it went. This time, the things we used to look for are now fundamentals, this time, it is all about how you are going to protect me.

It was a well-known hotel with vigorous marketing. They were up to speed early and pumped out many well-tuned messages about care, standards, space and hygiene. It was slick, it was relevant. It gave me some comfort given the threat to all of us. I booked it and I checked in.

My room was on the 4th floor. Exiting the elevator, I turned right towards my room. As I got closer to my room, I could hear someone coughing. Nearer still and the coughing was louder and endless. I was almost afraid to turn the corner. I did. Two housekeepers stood face to face, no masks, chatting loudly in between the coughing. They had beautiful uniforms and face masks worn around their neck. I felt like I had walked into a fatal mist. Politely, I said "Would you mind wearing your masks please?" One did, the other showed complete disdain and could not have responded any slower.

Later, I went for something to eat. Coincidentally, I bumped into a manager who I had worked with before. We chatted briefly, both keeping our distance and minimum contact. He asked me how my stay was. Reluctantly, I told him about the coughing duo. He looked alarmed and acted on it immediately. I was insistent that it was information, not a complaint but it would not do the hotel much good with a wider less tolerant audience already terrified. He agreed and I was happy that the right balance was struck. He went up to meet them immediately. Of course, his frustration was magnified because these two housekeepers had just completed their Covid safety training the day before. They were lucky he had a kind soul.

A short time later, I went back to my room. This time, just outside the elevator, I had the pleasure of meeting the two housekeepers again. Both were maskless and as I faded fast from their view; I could hear the false laughter designed to make sure I knew their feelings. Sadly, this was after the intervention of the kind young manager.

It is a hotel that I will never stay in again. A hotel that had wonderful, on message marketing and a hotel that was ahead of the pack.

Unfortunately, vanity superseded health, wisdom and the brand promise but the price of that, in a pandemic, can be fatal.

Mind The Gap

There is always a temptation for a marketer to exaggerate and paint a picture that, although exceptionally beautiful, may not be an accurate image of what to expect. We have all experienced the perils of over promising. Today, that will not cut it. Messages, marketing and sales need to tune in to what guests now want, the 'magical experiences and exceptional service' will be replaced by an eagle-eyed focus on professionalism and trust. The soft filtered images will be discarded in favour of knowing I am safe. The smiling welcoming check in will be 'nice' but nothing compared to knowing my room really has been sanitised (by people wearing masks).

Yes, of course good service, a nice hotel and a cheerful atmosphere full of the necessary facilities will still be in demand but from now on, those messages will no longer be primary. Instead, they will be fundamental.

If the gap between your marketing and selling continues to widen and fails to reflect how guests have changed, then it will not be long before a small crack turns in to an impassable canyon. Too easily, your message and method will be outdated, irrelevant and those waiting for a return to 'the good old days' may end up with nobody to keep them company.

A Bad Habit

We are creatures that adapt to habits, and quickly too. Who would have thought that a handshake would look weird and a hug simply out of order?

Yes, of course, good days will return but the new good days will be different, fluid and evolving.

Naturally, we all have a choice, and this pandemic has created many new habits which, by default, execute many of their predecessors. But it is reality and smart leaders move with the tide rather than waiting for it to turn.

As an Irishman, let me close with a far wiser Irishman and his witty wisdom.

 "To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul." ? Oscar Wilde

Mr. Kenny Conor Kenny is the Founder of Conor Kenny & Associates (Corporate Live Wire Professional Development Company of the Year 2020, and Irish Enterprise Awards Best Professional Development Consultancy 2018) an Independent Learning & Professional Development Company for Service Focused Industries and Businesses. Mr. Kenny is a Board Member of The Rutland Centre (Addiction Treatment). He is the Author of 4 books: 'What Are You Saying?' (2020); 'It's Who I Am' - Irish Times Best Books of the Year (2017); 'Dancing at the Fountain' - Irish Examiner Best Books of the Year (2016); and 'Sales Tales - True Stories of How Great Sales Happen' (2014). His career started at Kilkenny Design and before Conor Kenny & Assoc, he was a Director of McNally Design & The Irish Pub Co. who designed Irish Pubs in more than 70 countries. In 2002 he founded Conor Kenny & Associates. Mr. Kenny was educated at UCD, Dublin, The University of Greenwich, London & NUI Galway. Please visit http://www.conorkenny.com for more information. Extended Biography & Contact Information

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This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.


Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.


Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.


The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Alan E. Young
Megan Paquin
Norm Rose
Carrie Trimble
Steven Schumacher
Ajay Aluri
Ranjit Gunewardane
Sheetal Singh
Matthew Lobach
Coming up in July 2021...

Hotel Spa: Immense Transformation

There is no doubt that the Hotel Spa industry is undergoing an immense transformation as a result of the pandemic. New cleanliness standards for facilities, new safety standards for employees, and new ways of interacting with guests are now the New Normal, and will be for the foreseeable future. Given that some former patrons might be reluctant to return due to safety concerns, some spas are offering contactless experiences that utilize high-tech technologies to address wellness concerns like sleep, stress, pain, and immunity. Other spas are expanding their services to include life coaches, osteopaths, psychologists, and nutrition counselors in an effort to help their guests achieve a balanced lifestyle. Some spas are tapping into traditional Asian rituals to create programs such as sound healing, chakra balancing, and intuitive energy reading. Other programs emphasize re-connecting with Nature and have developed outdoor treatments such as Star Bathing, Feet in the Creek, and Treehouse meditations. The July issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotel spas are doing to promote and manage their operations so guests can safely return for their health, wellness and beauty treatments.