A lot has happened over the past several decades with regards to sales in the hospitality industry. From staffing shortages and the difficulty in holding on to good salespeople, to the dependency on OTAs for base business, and to the reality that any salesperson who came into the industry from 2009 to 2019 didn’t have to look too far to find business, hospitality sales have evolved.
Below the surface, a dangerous trend was unfolding: The sales function wasn’t being properly managed or supported for a time when sales wouldn’t just “happen.” During an economic downtown or an increase in competition such as an oversupply of hotels in some markets, the hotels that survive will do so because they have consistently and effectively managed sales in good times and in bad.
It’s not that sales teams of the past lacked information and data. Salespeople already had the technology and tools needed at their disposal, but they were not using the information to better understand the customer. Most were not taking the time to do research or understand if they were a fit. On all fronts, it was mostly a reactive environment, and hotel teams became complacent. When the downturn hit, hotels suddenly faced a re-imagined sales environment, one where salespeople could no longer hide behind their desks as phones stopped ringing and incoming inquiries became nonexistent.
The realities of today present an opportunity for those who are willing to make some fundamental shifts in how they approach sales. What can hotels do to elevate sales in the hospitality industry and move forward with a strong sales imperative? They can start with a sales check-up.
Hotels can ask the following questions when evaluating their sales strategy:
Smiling and dialing: Is the sales team smiling and dialing without adequate planning, research, and preparation ahead of time, and frustrated because no one calls them back, and when they do, the customer wants is a cheaper rate? This is the most common symptom. It consumes hundreds of hours of time, with current statistics stating that it takes 18 calls to connect to a single buyer, and in the end, sales teams are just giving the customer information they can likely find out on their own.
No prospect wants a call from a salesperson who isn’t prepared and is just going to pitch-slap them. Despite the low pick-up rate, salespeople need to be prepared as if a prospect is going to pick up every time. Cold calling isn’t an effective sales strategy, and given the information and tools salespeople have at their disposal, teams need a sales process and a framework for researching prospects before picking up the phone or sending an email.
The revolving door on the sales office: Is the property experiencing high turnover in its sales department? Hotels lose momentum and struggle to get traction with their sales efforts. How many salespeople were hired in the past few years? When hired, is the hotel clear about the characteristics, skills, and mindset it’s looking for in a salesperson?
High turnover and not having the right person in the right seat are disruptive to businesses in many ways. It’s expensive to continually hire, train, and ramp up a new person only to have them not work out and have to do it again. Sales has changed dramatically in the past few years. Sellers need more than just strong product knowledge and interpersonal skills, and management should know how to choose the right salesperson for the right role. Each role profile requires its own skill set and mindset. Keeping good staff is also a challenge because sales isn’t a career most people choose.
Build it and they will come: If a hotel expects that its signage alone would bring in business, it feeds into another common misconception. In a thriving economy, there are enough demand generators to send a hotel and its competitors many bookings. But in a tough economy, when there’s oversupply in the industry and not enough business to go around, the brand alone isn’t enough.
The truth is that even during a thriving economy, a “build it and they will come” mentality isn’t sustainable. A successful hotel needs a strong local sales strategy and presence in the market. No brand will deliver enough business to keep a hotel busy all year round, and brands are not going to take care of a hotel’s backyard sales.
Losing opportunities at the front desk: Are front desk staff qualifying leads or letting them getaway? Do they see themselves as an important part of the sales team or do they see their role as “I check people in, and I check people out?” Do they have the tools, and have they been trained on how to qualify guests at check-in and how to convert incoming inquiries into reservations?
Don’t leave it open to interpretation. What gets measured gets done, and it’s critical to have SOPs that all front desk staff are trained in handling check-in and reservations. They can be an important part of sales strategies to identify leads and give them to the sales department or general manager for follow-up.
Making a Diagnosis
These are just a few scenarios to consider. If a hotel can see itself in any of these stories, they are likely experiencing some pain as it relates to sales strategies. They may be slightly exaggerated (or perhaps not), but they are here to help hotels recognize the common symptoms of why the state of sales in the hospitality industry needs to change.
Each of these symptoms relates back to an overall approach to the sales function that is transactional, not strategic. As a result, in most instances, the above examples demonstrate how the sales function has become reactive, not proactive. There’s an immediate problem, so they solve it. There’s competition, so they offer a better price.
The consequences of any of these examples take to the heart of the problem: a lack of sales imperative. In good times, hotels may get by with some of these scenarios, but when business begins to return, operations will likely take priority over sales. All of this changes during times of scarcity. There’s not enough business for everyone when sales drop dramatically.
It becomes obvious that hotels have not been in control of their own destiny. They haven’t been in the driver’s seat. They’ve been a passenger, happily riding along taking business as it comes along until it doesn’t. Now is the time to change mindsets about sales and take the necessary steps to re-build sales strategies in order to ensure hotels are prepared for the next downturn. The hospitality industry is fiercely competitive, it’s hard work, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But the gains and the satisfaction are hugely rewarding for those willing to put in the effort.
No one said it would be easy, but neither is the alternative.
Excerpt from “Room to Grow,” adapted for LODGING Magazine.