Gretta Brooks on the Importance of Sales Training in Hospitality

Gretta Brooks

At a time when hotel sales and marketing managers—often under pressure from their management companies or GMs—struggle to adhere to budgets while ADRs stagnate and employee costs rise, it seems that all too often it is their investment in sales training that is subject to the axe.

Gretta Brooks, who was a sales executive for more than 30 years before founding SalesBoost in 2015, explains that short-changing training—particularly of employees with the greatest potential to increase revenue through direct contact with customers—is a mistake. That’s why she developed an online solution that aims to affordably address the challenge of improving the performance of sales executives by applying today’s technology to the time-honored path to excellence: practice, practice, practice.

Brooks created SalesBoost—the software as a service (SaaS) training technology for which she recently obtained a provisional patent—to address problems she herself faced as a hospitality executive. “Traditional training programs were expensive—typically $6,000 per employee—and managers under pressure to reduce costs kept canceling this training.” This, she says, is understandable, given the expense of training, the time away, and the burden training places on remaining on-site employees.

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Training also often has a negative association, Brooks says. “Everyone agrees that training is needed but it’s rarely enjoyable, especially when it involves days on end of classroom-style lectures or webinars focused on cramming in unfamiliar information—little of which, it turns out, is retained.” Noting the 20 percent retention associated with passive learning methods such as lectures, webinars, and reading, Brooks says active learning approaches such as repeated role-playing, rehearsals, and simulations—all famously used by airline pilots, athletes, and performers of all kinds to develop “muscle memory”—increase retention by 90 percent, a percentage that increases even more with repetition.

Based on learning science research, SalesBoost is a web-based, on-demand sales development coaching program that uses voice analysis training designed to help hospitality sales professionals develop that muscle memory. It aims to boost confidence and sales performance through micro-learning, scenario simulation, and instant feedback, providing sales scenario simulation and immediate coaching to improve sales effectiveness.

Like many entrepreneurs, Brooks developed SalesBoost only after failing to find what she was looking for in the existing marketplace. “I was unable to find what I needed—a true development tool, a resource that was engaging like in-person training but that would enable people to really dig in and get better at their own pace. I wanted training that would be interactive and fun, show immediate results, and give sales teams the ability to gain competence, and, with it, confidence.”

She also knew it had to be affordable—especially compared to traditional training, which companies are increasingly reducing or eliminating. But most of all, the training needed to be effective. “I wanted to reduce the cost, and improve the outcome. After all, training that can’t successfully get people to adopt a new skill has no return on investment.” She recognized, too, that a tool that helped employees grow in their jobs improved hotels’ ability to develop and retain top talent and would, therefore, not just improve sales, but also staff morale and commitment.

Given that 92 percent of all sales interactions are over the phone, Brooks explains, adopting an effective tool for hotel sales professionals meant honing in on vocal skills in tandem with familiarity in handling a wide variety of hotel service and sales scenarios. “You have to be really good at using your voice as a powerful tool to engage customers, but you also need to be able to nimbly respond to a wide variety of challenging situations that can, if handled correctly by a prepared professional, represent significant sales opportunities.”

She stresses the importance of teaching people not just what to say but how to say it to sound competent and professional. “This is what we do through our sales simulation process. Once you know what to say, you are able to focus on the call and how to direct it and deal with any situation as it arises.”

The program, she says, is offered in courses, and each includes a two-minute video to engage, a quiz so that the employees can gauge their own understanding, best practices, and rehearsals that simulate a sales scenario and can be taken multiple times. “The best salespeople are problem solvers; they like to figure things out,” Brooks explains. “We want people to make new good habits—practice until they’re comfortable—so they don’t need to think about what they’re going to say before they pick up the phone.”

Brooks says that online platforms like hers are not intended to completely replace the in-person experience, but that they offer the opportunity to use that time in more productive ways, including, culture building, brainstorming, and strategy development. “Rather than just dumping information on employees, you can instead put them in situations, maybe allow for more peer sharing and learning and team building, getting people to relate differently.”

Brooks says her overall objective has always been effective sales development, and she hopes to offer that more broadly to the industry and help hospitality move in a new direction. “I want to help cultivate a new way to develop people in the hospitality industry, so they can be anything they want to be,” Brooks explains. “My hope is to inspire team members to do better, improve revenue, improve profits, and make it a people issue—that is, changing people’s lives by providing this resource so they can cultivate the next generation of hoteliers.”