Protecting Assets: Positioning Hotel Sales Teams for Success

sales teams

It is time for ownership and management groups who have been 100-percent focused on operational issues and cost management to start rebuilding their sales teams. Supporting this shift, getting the proper sales tools and training salespeople, whether at the property level or within regional clusters, will be vital to the hotel industry’s success in the second half of 2021 and beyond.

Travel is coming back with a vengeance. On July 19, 2021, TSA checkpoint travel numbers were at 2.1 million as compared to 695,000 at the same time in 2020—getting ever closer to 2019 traveler throughput of 2.6 million. This is a strong indication that the world is re-opening and travelers are hitting the road (and taking to the skies) as the desire to travel for pleasure and business continues to ramp up.

Over the last eight weeks, average weekly meeting volume growth has been 51.8 percent, according to Knowland data. As group continues to recover, a frame of reference is important. Even in 2019, only 3.6 percent of meetings hosted greater than 1000 attendees while over 60 percent of events had 100 attendees or less—a trend that is already happening and will continue—so it’s important to focus beyond the return of the “whale” events.

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The above indicators are a solid sign that now is the time for asset owners and managers to invest in their sales teams. Waiting for business to actualize further before doing so might be too late. According to Deloitte and STR, the opportunity for business and group travel is expected beginning after Labor Day when the pent-up desire to reconnect with colleagues, partners, and customers will replace the leisure surge.

Hoteliers should consider increasing their focus on making investments that will help re-build and upskill their sales organization. Adopting new ways to prospect and sell will assist teams in building out their group pipeline more efficiently and help move towards a quicker return to profitability.

Invest 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. Leaner teams mean less time for on-the-ground sales personnel to devote to selling activities. So how can hoteliers ensure talent is deployed to optimize growth while maintaining service levels? How can they make sure teams are working smarter, not just harder?

Today, owners and operators need to be nimble and patient while also accepting the fact that the days of single-segment sellers or sellers who book and walk away are behind us and will not likely return. Hotels need utility players with the ability to hunt, close, service, and then retain business—and they need to be able to do that across multiple market segments.

Buying behaviors are also evolving. To be successful, sales teams—regardless of size, require easy-to-use tools that allow them to make rapid, informed decisions on accounts, RFPs, and contacts in their target markets. The most successful sellers are tracking market and account changes so they can respond quickly. Ultimately, the right tools in the hands of the right sellers allow asset managers and owners to increase productivity and enable growth.

Leverage Data

While hoteliers have had to adapt to new ways of doing business, they are also finding they must be more selective about which business to take. Managing inbound inquiries by a “first-in-first-out” strategy is not the best way to return to profitability. Not every inbound RFP is worth the time if the data does not indicate it is a fit for the hotel.

Leveraging data to gain insight to better understand how a hotel’s competition and prospects have changed is key to succeeding today and into the future. Providing access to reliable data makes sales teams smarter, faster, and more efficient because it helps them focus their time and attention. Meeting planners are pressed for time, too, so making sure a hotel team is properly equipped and able to make timely decisions could be the difference between success and missing out on business.

Consider the new opportunities opening up for hotels. Yes, meetings look different. For example, the hybrid and distributed meeting infrastructures allow hotels with smaller spaces to host events for a combination of both in-person and virtual attendees. Similarly, the work-from-anywhere phenomenon has created demand for agile workspace in hotels.

Having data at their fingertips will allow sales staff to start building relationships with local companies downsizing their brick-and-mortar footprint. Today’s meeting reality includes a need for flexible space for training, working sessions, and social events. Hoteliers that leverage data to respond to these needs will come out ahead of the competition.

Hire for the Changing Sales Role

Regional and domestic business travel is rebounding first, and companies and specific industries are resuming in-person sales and customer meetings once they can do so in a safe environment. The sales profile has changed as well and no longer requires only order takers.

For instance, hybrid meetings will require hoteliers to work with technology partners to ensure their property is able to seamlessly manage production, bandwidth, and programming while at the same time supporting the evolving needs of meeting planners. Doing so will ensure both customers and meeting planners have access to a full-service solution.

As always, the people component of hospitality remains critical, specifically from a sales relationship perspective. This is not going away; in fact, establishing and nurturing relationships is increasingly important in today’s connected world. Focus on hiring all-purpose players who can sell and service an account. Building relationships and managing them will be key in today’s ever-changing sales culture.

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.

By working with technology partners, particularly data providers, asset owners and management companies can gain the advantage to successfully sustain this type of business.

Looking Ahead

Conviction and courage are the only way forward. That starts with leaders. Now is the time to set a new bar. The next 12 months will be telling for the industry—some companies will survive, others will not. Don’t get left behind during this market surge. Invest in people, upskill teams, incorporate technology, and provide reliable data sources. Doing so will ensure growth through recovery, not only for assets but also the industry’s most important resource: people.

Tools for Success

It’s important that hotel owners and operators ensure their sales teams have the necessary tools to help them better understand today’s sales landscape, including identifying the prospects and understanding the meeting customer profile.

  • Provide the right prospecting tools. Ensure sales teams have the tools they need to understand past meetings and events trends and gain actionable insights into the data that matters most—and the customers that match the hotel’s profile.
  • Retrain on the basics. Sales teams became complacent in the days of high-volume inbound RFPs. Instill the basics of selling from making informed sales calls to evaluating each opportunity to build account relationships and optimize profitability.
  • Invest in booking technology. Look for options that have low-touch requirements. This will free up the sales team in the short term to spend time on high-touch, high-revenue sales opportunities.
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Jeff Bzdawka is the CEO of Knowland.