Speakers at the Southern Lodging Summit at Memphis said sales, marketing and revenue management must collaborate and communicate swiftly to meet the basic needs of customers who are waiting longer than ever to give hotels leads.
MEMPHIS, Tennessee—Smart sales departments focus on communication, collaboration and swiftness if they want to achieve success in the age of late-arriving leads and shrinking booking windows, according to speakers on the “Making sales and marketing a success” panel at the recent Southern Lodging Summit.
Educating, training and empowering salespeople to make fast, intelligent decisions and provide solutions is a more important part of the sales process than ever, according to Renee Wilhite, corporate director of sales and marketing for Hostmark Hospitality Group.
“It’s important that they’re familiar with all the different platforms, that the data that they’re providing on the platforms are accurate and updated and relevant because … it’s all about timing, and you have to be one of the first three to respond (to a lead) to even be considered,” Wilhite said. “We have to collaborate.”
Bruce Rosenberg, COO for HotelPlanner and Meetings.com, said the importance of acting swiftly on leads—whether it’s through phone calls, email or texts—can’t be understated.
“(There are) a lot of people still trying to do business the way that they’ve always done business for the last 10 years,” Rosenberg said. “That’s over; that’s gone.”
Because the buyer comes to the seller so much later in the process than they previously did, split-second decisions often mean the difference between getting the business or not, according to Wilhite.
Focus on the future
Sales teams should always be focusing on what lies ahead to keep the sales pipeline full, speakers said.
“The salesperson should always be thinking in the future, or else our futures are in trouble,” Wilhite said.
“Any time, hours, minutes at the hotel, they’re spent dealing with the client of today … . That’s what I try to get across to my general managers, my operations team … too often they’re doing other things. That’s great and you see them as productive salespeople because they’re helping out operations. But then tomorrow we’re all in trouble, right? Because they should be dealing with our future.”
Jack Ferguson, founder of JPF Solutions, agreed the focus should be on the transition from the sale to the servicing.”
“That bridge has to be crossed because otherwise you’re going to be met where the funnels aren’t filling and your futures are at risk,” he said.
Failure to respond to a lead because a salesperson is focused elsewhere is a recipe for disaster, Wilhite said.
“Whether you’re a short-term hotel and it’s next month or … next year or two years from now, that person isn’t going to book that piece of business, and you’re going to ask, ‘Why don’t we have that business?’” she said. “Well, you don’t want to hear this, but they were servicing the client that was there last month, so they didn’t have time to book. It’s really important that we draw that line because people can’t be all things to all people.”
Betty Wilson, VP of Americas sales for InterContinental Hotels Group, said it’s important to identify those salespeople who would rather focus on managing booked events or anything else besides sales. “They should not be in sales; they should be doing something else,” she said.
Ferguson said salespeople should be focused on the future at all times because it’s the nature of the business.
“For every one they get, they’ve had 99 rejections,” he said. “So if they want thank-you letters, get into convention services and get into catering sales, where people say, ‘Oh my god, the banquet was beautiful; I couldn’t have done it without you.’”
Collaboration and communication
Success also requires collaboration between the sales, marketing and revenue-management disciplines, speakers said. Whether sales or revenue management is more important is relative, but there is one fundamental that drives the relationships.
“In order to yield revenue you have to first sell it, so I would start with the salesperson … but today’s processes have changed so you really have to have both,” Wilhite said.
She said her team calls itself the “SMART team”—sales, marketing, revenue team.
“There has to be strategic collaboration,” Wilhite said. “The salesperson has just really evolved throughout the years. … The seller used to be in control; the buyer’s now in control of the sales process.”
Wilson said her team calls itself the “top-line team,” but it might need a name change.
“Sales, revenue management, marketing/digital, but now I’m going to go back and see if we should be called the SMART team,” Wilson said. “All three legs of the stool are involved to decide the strategy for the particular hotel, cluster of hotels, region, division, brand, whatever you want to say.
“Everyone has to agree from the get-go on the strategy we’re laying out—here’s who’s responsible for what and who’s accountable to each piece of the work,” she added.
Following that process avoids confusion and anger down the road if someone tries to bring in business that doesn’t fit the original strategy, she said.
Working with revenue teams to make decisions is essential to making the process seamless and timely, Wilhite said. Because leads are coming in from so many different platforms, it’s important to integrate information through technology.
Clear goals, roles
With suggestions coming from all directions, having a clear and cohesive plan can often be the difference for success, according to Wilson.
“For an individual’s leader, set really clear goals, certainly financial goals as well as goals around action planning and how are we going to get to that financial goal,” she said. “Then measure, and just good old-fashioned following up, tracking, coaching, understanding where things might be going really well and where some opportunity for improvement might exist.”
Wilson said talking straight and listening well can get to the root of an issue if improvement is needed.
“You really home in and understand that and can activate and get beyond what the goal is and hold the person accountable,” Wilson said.
Ferguson added the team and everyone on it should have a clear understanding of the goals.
“It’s the role of the leader within sales to make sure that he or she communicates one-on-one so that if it’s going fine, great. But if it’s going south, you also have to have that conversation,” he said.
For example, a salesperson must understand above-the-line revenues and their role in achieving them.
“You’ve got to give them information, the data ... (because) things happen very quickly,” Wilhite said. “If you haven’t provided them with the information, the training, the resources, and then empower them to make decisions, they can’t respond quickly.”
Providing regular feedback rather than waiting until the end of the month or end of the quarter is essential to ensure everyone is on the same page, she said.
“Too often we want to review the goals, what happened,” Wilhite said. “Well, I can’t change what already happened, so you’ve got to help them out along the way.”