Sales reshuffle could boost efficiency
31 OCTOBER 2014 6:16 AM
Restructuring your hotel sales office could boost your organization to a new level of sales excellence.
In recent Hotel News Now columns I explored how the emergence of electronic tools such as Cvent, Zentila and Convention Planit, as well as email inquiries, have resulted in sales managers being overwhelmed with sales leads. These articles focused on what salespeople need to do to stand out from the competition and what hotel sales directors need to do to audit sales activity and processes.
One additional consideration to improve hotel sales performance is the importance of staffing to in this department. It is easy for us trainers and consultants to say that hotel sales managers need to be doing more to respond promptly and with personalized correspondence and documentation. Yet, we must also acknowledge this level of sales excellence requires a bit more time.
As in previous articles, let’s travel back in time to the hotel sales office of the 1990s and before. Back then, a typical 250- to 300-room hotel would have three hotel sales managers, a catering manager, and at least two or three sales administrative assistants and maybe even a receptionist. Hotel sales managers, when they were not traveling, spent most of their days on the phone responding to inquiries, or working through folders (or electronic records) containing the histories of past groups to call them about rebooking again in the future.
When it was time to send a proposal, a yellow post-it note was attached to the record with a message to the sales assistant to send a particular proposal template.
Incoming calls were screened, and many requests were completely handled and fulfilled by the sales assistant, especially from those who already had signed contracts. Planners called fewer times, asking several questions or making multiple requests all at once.
Then came a new era of technology. First, sales managers each got their own direct inward-dialing lines, eliminating the need for the sales assistant to field their calls but also resulting in voicemail overload. Then came word processing so that each sales manager could type up his or her own correspondence to send via fax and soon thereafter email. Sales lead tracking systems such as ACT, Goldmine and then Delphi soon replaced the need to have physical file folders for each group, thus eliminating most of the work of hotel sales assistants who started to become extinct other than at larger hotels and resorts.
If we could bring someone from that era into today’s sales environment via an H.G. Wells time machine the changes would be obvious, but for those who have lived out the experience the changes were more subtle. While the industry has kept up with technology, most hoteliers have not adapted their organizational structure and staffing to keep up with these ever-changing needs.
As a result, today’s sales managers are increasingly overwhelmed with an overload of communications coming at them from all directions. Meeting planners from groups that are already booked fire off emails with each request or special need as it comes to mind, expecting rapid fire responses. In-house groups text their sales managers with every question or concern. Similarly, during the Great Recession many larger hotels cut back on their convention services staff and have been slow to replace them as business has rebounded. As a result, salespeople are more involved than ever with servicing existing business, limiting their time for fielding new leads and even more so for prospecting new business.
At the same time the ability of planners to inquire at a long list of properties with a single click at an electronic service, versus contacting a much smaller list due to the time it would take to call or send separate emails, has resulted in hotel sales lead fatigue which was addressed in previous articles.
While many sales superstars are still managing to keep up by working longer hours, conducting business everywhere from mobile devices and working at home after hours, many others are responding late or not at all, and responding with basic, generic correspondence.
Maybe it is time for the industry to take a look at how the hotel sales office is organized. A good starting place is to audit your existing processes for factors such as timeliness, follow-up, personalization, and customization of correspondence.
In doing so, take a hard look at the amount of time it takes to truly complete each task as it should be done. Conduct a test study on how long it takes someone to respond to a few different categories of leads, to send personalized correspondence, and to follow-up on service requests for upcoming and in-house business.
Then count up the number of leads coming in and also the number of communications from existing clients. A simple math exercise will allow you to determine if there are enough hours in the day.
Also, reconsider the job descriptions and titles. Consider adding a new position, which would be great for an entry-level salesperson. Call it what you will, but the job to add would fall somewhere between the sales assistants of old and the full sales manager level. This individual could be responsible for sorting and prioritizing all inquiries. He or she can respond directly to requests for sold-out dates, offering alternatives, or for groups that do not fit the profile of a prospect you want this time but might want in the future. He or she also can provide an initial response when sales managers are tied up with other clients or when they are traveling. This individual can be given access to the emails for all hotel sales managers and tasked with the job of responding to questions about existing business or in-house groups on their behalf.
Too many GMs and sales directors manage the sales department with only a “cost-control” paradigm. Based on what my company has measured in its group sales mystery shopping experiences, which is slow response times, a high frequency of non-responses, and a low level of personalization, most hoteliers would easily generate a return on investment many times over by adding a new position such as this.
By staffing according to need and having a “revenue-optimization” paradigm, your hotel can easily out-sell and out-service its competition.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly.
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