As a hotel industry sales trainer, I have been hearing feedback for some time now about how overwhelming the flow of incoming electronic RFPs has become for hotel sales associates. With all of the website portals and subscription-based listing services being used by meeting planners to send RFPs at the click of the mouse, its easier than ever for them to reach out to virtually all of the prospective hotels in the area to find a host hotel. As a result, hotel sales departments are finding themselves flooded with requests. Whoever opens the inbox for the day must sometimes surely dread the thought of finding the box over-stuffed full of leads, when the fact is they should be celebrating this occurrence.
As a result, the vast majority of sales offices fall short on response times even when it is a hot lead for low demand dates. More often than not, those who inquire about dates that are sold out, or those that have needs that cannot be met at this time by the property, fail to receive any response. This leaves the meeting planners hanging and leads to frustration and complaints about the state of hotel service these days. It seems that at most hotels, no one responds anymore to say, “We are fully committed for your requested dates, but if your plans are flexible we would welcome a chance to look at other options.” Few if any respond to say “Since your meeting space cannot accommodate a group of this size, we do hope you will keep us in mind when you are planning smaller meetings.”
Even when the dates are available and the property meets the needs, many salespeople are simply juggling too many balls in the air at one time, or like a kid in a candy store, grasping at whatever opportunity is in their face, instead of sorting and prioritizing the leads that could be closed with a little more effort.
Being in the hotel sales department mystery shopping business, I am personally appalled at how far the “sales and service excellence” part of selling, and it is sad to see hotel companies inadvertently commoditize our hotel product. I listen to recordings of our mystery shoppers being asked questions by salespeople such as “Tell be about the objectives of this meeting…” or “Walk me through the agenda of your event…” and then after our shoppers tell their elaborate stories, I hear salespeople saying “Okay, that’s great. Now here’s the rates I can offer at that time…” rather than using what they have learned to differentiate their property from all the others who on the surface look so very similar. Or worse yet I hear salespeople who don’t investigate at all and instead just get the “inventory search questions” about dates, number of people and meeting or event specifications.
I hear our mystery shoppers say “We really want this top-tier client conference to be special, can you give me some information about off-site activities in the area?” and then I hear too many hotel salespeople saying “Sure, I’ll send you a link” or “There’s lots of great choices. I’ll attach a complete local directory.” rather than personally recommending and suggesting appropriate options and offering those “local insider’s tips.”
As to salesperson availability on the first call and also response times, when I look at the results we are reporting back to our hotel management and hotel ownership clients, I cannot believe I often see a non-response rate upwards of 25%. What is by far the most shocking, when our shoppers call hotels directly and are sent to off-site sales offices managed by major hotel brands, we have several times been sent proposals for the wrong hotel in a different location.
Aside from better-handling incoming leads, hotel salespeople could also use some reminders about relationship selling when it comes to outbound sales. In speaking with meeting planners these days, what I’m hearing is that they are rarely solicited directly any more in a personalized way. The phones hardly ever ring. The “snail mail” mailbox is empty too. Whatever outbound sales efforts are targeting them is usually always limited to email solicitations or a generic request to link to an online professional networking service.
My meeting planner friends have sent me dozens and dozens of so-called “prospecting” emails that they say look more like spam. Here is a typical example:
Dear Meeting Planner
Allow me to introduce myself. I am the new corporate sales manager for the Brand X hotel in Anytown, US. We are a wonderful four-star hotel located in the heart of our city. We have over 10,000 square feet of meeting space. We also have a restaurant, a bar, and a business center. Oh, and WiFi is now free. Please keep us in mind when you plan your next meeting here. Let me know if I can ever assist.”
Hotels that handle their inbound RFP’s and outbound prospecting like this are stuck in what I call profitable mediocrity. As I always say, “If you want to get the same business that everyone else gets, just do the same things that everyone else does.” This will result in your hotel getting its fair share. Many wise people have said it is good to be thankful and happy with your fair share in life, which I happen to personally believe is a good philosophy for living. But when it comes to sales, when it comes to hotel sales, we should never be happy with our fair (market) share. How do we get more business? We out-charm, out-sell and out-serve the competitors. In today’s world of mostly standardized hotel brands, especially in some market segments, in a world of rate parity, it’s the hospitality and service excellence that makes the difference.
If you are looking to move your hotel sales department to the next level of hotel sales and service efficiency excellence so that you can stand out from all of the other competitors receiving the same flood of electronic RFP’s, it’s time to re-focus your staff on relationship selling. Here are some reminders:
- Respond promptly to all inquires, even those for which you have no inventory or otherwise cannot meet their specifications. Plans change as meeting details are finalized, and many planners are involved with multiple meetings. This might require some re-organization of the sales office so that someone is always in charge of managing the inquiry in-box and trained to sort and prioritize the leads, not unlike the receptionist’s job at an upscale automobile dealership on any Saturday afternoon.
- Pick up the phone! Never respond to an RFP with only an electronic form of communication. Even if you only get through to voicemail, an energetic, friendly and engaging sounding salesperson will start to make your proposal rise up in the stack. For those saying not to call, send a personalized letter or card by mail.
- Speaking of the phone, always call to verify that the recipient received the email proposal or contract. With so many of us business travelers reading email on various devices, it is easy for something to get deleted or mis-filled and overlooked.
- Send a personal hand-written note. Rather than just sending emails that say “Just checking to see if you reached a decision,” stand out by using the good old fashioned postal service. A handwritten note really means something these days. When was the last time you received one?
- Sending a link to property information pages on a website is not relationship selling and does not show you know your product. Nor does it provide any sense of pride and ownership of what you are representing.
- Sending a link to an online concierge service does not demonstrate your knowledge of the area and is not relationship selling. Instead, assist with needs-based suggestions and recommendations.
- Use “high tech” resources to go “old school.” Rather than just sending an email, use your webcam to record a short video message saying how much you want their business.
- Use your sales lead tracking system diligently! With so many RFP’s coming at us these days, it is impossible to organize tasks using the common, basic email solutions.
- Always systematically enter the contact details into your tracking system so that it appears on your task list.
- Always set aside time for outbound sales, even if only 15 minutes a day. If you send email first, then call. Or call first, then send an email to follow-up. Then the handwritten note! If the business is important enough, start the cycle again next year when they start the planning phase again.
Research “suspects” so that you can mention something about how your property can meet their needs.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades.
Visit KTN at: www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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