Asset Protection: Investing in the Hotel Sales Team

A member of a hotel sales team answers a call virtually

With the rollout of new COVID-19 vaccines, optimism is beginning to replace the malaise that has embroiled the hospitality industry since the beginning of the global pandemic. Stronger-than-anticipated leisure demand in the fall of 2020 led to better-than-originally-forecasted performance by industry experts.

However, holiday travel and a rise in COVID-19 cases dampened some of the excitement. Even with this, STR and Tourism Economics recently projected that hotels will recapture 80 percent of the demand by the end of 2021. For many hotels, the recovery will not be as strong as this. With staffs stripped to the bare minimum and all but the essential tools tossed to the side, hotel teams may not be equipped to capture demand as it returns.

In light of this, it is time for asset owners and managers to begin taking the steps toward investing in their sales teams to build the pipeline once again. To do so will require the right people calling the right contacts at the right time with the right message.

Investing to Stimulate Growth

While investors are now, and always will be, concerned about cash flow, operators are looking to increase that cash flow in new and creative ways. To provide the type of asset protection needed to drive revenue, one key component is investing in and empowering a sales team that can help increase revenue. To do so will require that they have the tools they need to be successful at their jobs.

In the before COVID world, most hotels were able to amble along with strong profitability by simply sitting back and waiting for the RFPs to roll into their inbox. In a post-COVID world, RFPs aren’t falling into those inboxes. Teams are going to have to find business through their own methods and likely the competitive landscape is going to be vastly more crowded than many anticipated.

Combine this with leaner teams and it means those teams will need to be nimble, clever, and enterprising in their approach to finding business. The days of single-segment sellers or sellers who book and walk away are behind us, possibly forever. Hotels need utility players with the ability to hunt, close, service, and then retain business—and they need to be able to do it across multiple market segments.

They are also going to need the tools to do this. Not only have the levels of business changed but likely the buying behaviors have changed and will continue to change. Sellers need to be able to track those changes quickly to respond appropriately. The right tools combined with the right sellers will most likely allow asset managers to get away with fewer salespeople for the next year or so.

Relationships Are Key

It is clear regional and domestic business travel will rebound first. We are already seeing a shift in companies and specific industries that want to resume in-person sales and customer meetings as soon as they can do so in a safe environment. McKinsey recently reported that peer pressure may also play a part; once one company gets back to face-to-face meetings, their competition may not want to hold back.

When these “keeping up with the Jones’” meetings begin, planners are going to start with the hotels with whom they have a relationship; rather than starting with an RFP, planners will first call sales representatives they know and then filter out from there. Before the race to meet begins, hotel sales teams need to be making friends like they never have before with local businesses.

Manage a Compressed Booking Window

While many companies have adapted to new ways of doing business, including the work-from-home model, others see a need to get back to the business of coming together sooner than later. This is leading to a compressed booking window and the need for hotels to provide just-in-time meeting inventory.

This shorter booking window is another strong argument for getting sellers back in the office or on the phones. Planners are calling and often booking in the same call. They might start with the person they know but if the meeting is within 30 days, they may not be able to wait for a return call. Having someone available who can, at the very least, answer availability questions might be the difference between capturing the booking or losing it.

The End of Transactional Relationships 

In the revenue management world, the battle cry for the past five years has been “total revenue management.” It’s time for sales to embrace their own version of this: “total account management.” Teams need to stop looking at business transactionally and start looking at the holistic value of an account.

This extends to all transient revenue as well as all group revenue. Salespeople need to understand the entire breadth of what an account brings to the table. They need to be able to speak expertly to every aspect of an account’s potential and develop action plans to capture as much wallet share from that account within their market as possible.

Accepting a New Competitive Landscape

Brand, chain scale, even location may not carry the loyalty that it did in pre-COVID times. Hotel sales teams need to understand the competitive landscape across all of those metrics and be ready to respond. Each segment of business will likely move around significantly. Some of this will be driven by reduced sales staff and the shorter booking window, and some of it will be driven by price. Teams will need to be able to look across the spectrum and respond accordingly.

All of this means a hotel’s old competitive set is probably no longer useful. Sales teams will need tools that give them the flexibility to monitor competitors of all flavors.

Next Steps in Recovery: Inspire, Evaluate, and Take Action

How can hotel staff manage the likely onslaught of travelers booking last-minute accommodations? It will be important to get ahead of this momentum and prepare the team for a sprint rather than a marathon. Here are several key strategies to help a hotel’s sales team succeed in the coming months:

Re-evaluate your investment and make sure you have capitalized in your sales process. This is not about the people—although you need that investment as well; this is about the tools they need to do their jobs. Expecting them to hunt for new business from the quagmire that is your CRM is tantamount to sending them into the woods unarmed. The ability to invest even when you might not be able to see the return is a true hallmark of leadership.

Partner with your vendors to make sure all of your staff—both on property and above property—know how to expertly use your tools. They are the experts in their products and know better than anyone how your teams should be using them. Hold them accountable for the training and then hold your staff accountable for using them. This is not a one-and-done scenario. Instill the usage of those products into your processes and they will pay dividends.

Instill confidence in your team by recognizing and identifying the challenging circumstances of a world ready to get back to business. You’ve already taken the steps to ensure safety protocols, but in addition to that, have you instilled the confidence your staff needs to accommodate the new requirements your customers will require for conducting small group meetings? By laying out a solid plan for next steps, identifying customer expectations, and setting new metrics for your team’s success, you will put your hotel ahead of the pack while re-invigorating your new business pipeline.

Take action and keep an eye on your team’s daily activities. After months of sitting still, it may take some grease to get the gears moving again. You may even be looking at an entirely new sales team, so make sure they have the tools they need to identify new prospects, connect with your loyal customer base, and go after the new small group business that will precipitate the need to get back to work.

There won’t be an “all-clear” sign that tells customers it is safe to return to group meetings. Your sales team must be pro-actively checking on your customer base while identifying new business opportunities. The mix of the two will be critical. Your job is to make sure they not only have the tools they need to do this, but you also have the capability to understand at a glance what is working and what is not.

Finally, conviction and courage are the only way forward. That comes from leaders, that comes from you. Now is the time to set a new bar. By creating a sales team of high performers and incentivizing them to hit new and different sales goals, everyone will succeed.

Sales teams are competitive by nature, so use that to your advantage. If you do it right, you will be one of those companies looking back at 2021 with pride.



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Kristi White is the vice president of product management for Knowland. As a hospitality veteran by trade, with two decades of experience in the hotel and revenue management side of the industry, White has a pulse on the needs of hospitality group business. She has advised hundreds of hotels worldwide on improving their business strategy, hotel performance, and overall profitability. She is a recognized expert in hotel group sales and meeting intelligence and a frequent speaker at industry conferences and universities, as well as a former member of the Board of Directors for the HSMAI Revenue Management Special Interest Group. White also began a podcast entitled “Bring It On” during the pandemic to provide useful information from industry experts to help the industry with recovery: