The sales environment we return to will be different than the one we left pre-pandemic, so preparation now is key.
As I write this article for Hotel News Now, most hotel sales teams in the U.S. are somewhere around week four of experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Although individual experiences vary according to market segment, geographical location and hotel classification, most hotel sales associates went through similar cycles. First, there was the massive wave of cancellations and postponements of meetings, events and conferences. About seven to ten days later, hotel salespeople watched as members of their team, as well as hotel staff, went on layoff or furlough. Now, remaining hotel salespeople are figuring out on their own how to do tasks typically completed by missing coworkers from support staff and other departments.
It is my prediction that now in late April, many hotel sales leaders will find they have accomplished their to-do list earlier and earlier each day, but to initiate aggressive outbound sales just yet might seem insensitive. However, it’s the perfect time to prepare yourself and your remaining hotel sales colleagues for what is sure to be a completely new sales habitat.
Before we look at the future habitat, let’s look back at the most recent sales environment pre-pandemic. Most hotels have been experiencing year after year of demand growth. Until now, the biggest challenge every day was keeping up with the flood of inbound RFPs coming from mostly digital channels, pushing the revenue manager for a quick response, then dropping the details into a meeting planning website app, a proposal template sent via PDF or an electronic proposal.
It has truly been a seller’s market for a very long time, so long that even 10+ year veterans of hotel sales have never experienced selling in a recessionary economy.
For readers of my hotel HNN sales training columns, for my workshop participants and for those who have seen my conference presentations, you will likely recall a mantra I have repeated for years: Resiliency in sales is best built in an up-market. This downtime which most hotel sales professionals are experiencing is now the second-best time to build resiliency. Smart leaders will prepare their teams now for the new habitat.
The following are training tips I present for our KTN clients, now via private, online hotel sales team training events.
- “Sales hunters” will prevail. Anyone who ever took an anthropology class will recall that it was when our ancestors shifted from a society of “gatherers” to “hunters” that cultural evolution accelerated. Likewise, those who hunt down new leads and pursue them like a bloodhound after a fox will prevail.
- Rehumanize the sales process. When we emerge from social distancing, relationships are going to be more important than ever before. When rates, terms, amenities and the “physical product” (rooms, meeting/event space) are the same across a comp set, it’s going to be the people who make the difference.
- Tech for touch approach. Embrace tech, but not as it has been used recently where communication was mostly done via email and in-app messaging. It’s a great time to use online meeting tools, with the webcam on. For example, our hotel clients are showing interest in my training on multimedia sales skills.
- Master your CRM for lead tracking. It’s a great time to take those online tutorials offered by your sales CRM. Clean up and customize the “auto-tasks” that populate when business turns definite. Learn how to integrate your email messages with client contact records. CRMs will enable salespeople to set a cadence that is perceived by clients to be persistent but not pushy.
- Hone your negotiating skills. You can surely bet that planners are going to be in deal-seeking mode.
- Research history for the booked business, as well as that which was proposed but lost, that is most likely to recur post-pandemic. Get the list ready for when the time is right for outbound sales activity, but be careful not to restart so early as to appear insensitive to the personal disruptions everyone is feeling right now.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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