January 17, 2019
By Katie Davin, CHSE, Associate Professor, Johnson & Wales University College of Hospitality Management, and a member of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board
Of course, the answer to that headline is: Yes! But as the question suggests, hospitality sales leaders are regularly asked to justify their teams’ existence — partly because the rise of online booking platforms and easily available rate information has led to the impression that, really, can’t anyone book group business, including groups themselves?
With this in mind, I moderated a conversation about the value of hospitality sales during a recent call for HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board (SAB) that in part grew out of two previous articles about the topic. Here are four key takeaways from our discussion:
1. Moving beyond transactions. Do all of your salespeople have the same titles, and do you expect them to have the same responsibilities? Many SAB members say that an organization needs both demand generators and demand managers. “We’ve pushed our salespeople to live in the transactional stage of the process,” one SAB member said. “And with them within that transactional stage, you all of a sudden say, ‘Do we need salespeople anymore, or do we just need order-processors or order-takers that can push it through?’
“We need both,” the member continued. “We need people that are dedicated to the transaction side, so we’re not bogging down our senior-level sellers with transactions. Then we need people who are sellers, who are prospecting, hunting, networking, building new relationships, being consultants — all the things that we need senior-level sellers to do to generate the leads.”
2. Sales optimization. Salespeople are known for having skills for connecting emotionally with their clients. That is still essential, but we must also embrace the newest tools and resources that can help us sell. We don’t have to choose between using technology or making personal connections with our customers.
“As salespeople, we cannot ignore those new and exciting disciplines that have evolved and grown in our industry — marketing, eCommerce, digital life and revenue management, business intel,” an SAB member said. “I still have some directors of sales and sales managers that are not into business intel, that are not into eCommerce, that are not embracing this new technology. So, first, we need to make sure that we are working sales optimization, embracing all of those new elements in our industry.”
3. Telling the B2B story. The fact is, we sell a complicated product, and the procurement process is most complex in a business-to-business situation. For a simple meeting, maybe a customer will spend $5,000 just booking online on their own. However, for that big group that is booking multiple meetings or booking with a three-year lead time, a salesperson is needed to guide them through the process.
“A couple of us attended [HSMAI’s] Chief Sales Officer Executive Roundtable,” one SAB member said, “and one of the biggest outputs from that day was that we’ve done a very poor job educating internally around B2B. The B2B channels seem to be the most misunderstood internally, and I don’t know how you leverage those channels without strategic salespeople opening them. That is something we need to focus on — doing a much better job educating upward.”
Another SAB member added: “The real value of salespeople is that they go out and find the right business that that hotel needs three years from now. The original revenue managers were the directors of sales, because they were the ones who were evaluating the business that the salespeople were bringing in. It was before we had a department called revenue management. Those sophistications originated as part of the sales process and were intended to help us sell more effectively, not replace the profession of sales.”
4. Ring that bell. Several SAB members have been around long enough to remember “the bell” in the sales office. When a booking came in, someone would ring the bell. People in and outside the office would get excited about the bell and about all the great business the sales department was bringing in.
The focus today seems to be on what’s happening now, in this quarter. But we need to communicate our ongoing strategies and accomplishments. “It seems like we squawk at month’s end and fill out reports, and all during the week we just talk about the groups that are coming in,” an SAB member said. “That’s operational, in my opinion. When I was on property, we had reports every Thursday, and it was very detailed about who did what, who made calls— solicitation calls, outside calls, contracts written. All that stuff seems to have gone by the wayside if we just print a report at the end of the month and say, ‘Here’s a booking report.’”
We also have to make it clear how we are getting the business. If our colleagues and GMs and revenue managers have the opinion that the leads just keep coming in and the salespeople catch them, we need to explain how we got the leads. No lead comes out of thin air; it comes from marketing efforts, prospecting, relationships, and all of the other work that sales and marketing professionals put into generating business.