One really interesting thing about being a hotel trainer is that you get to peek behind the scenes at so many different types of hotel and lodging companies. Regardless of the location, property classification, or brand, right now it seems that most hotel salespeople are having similar challenges.
One such “challenge,” ironically, is that most salespeople are overwhelmed with inquiries. On the surface this would seem to be a good “problem” to have. Yet too many sales offices have not re-organized their processes to meet this challenge.
The “problem” of too many leads is caused by the increasing use of meetings management technology systems and other electronic channels by both professional meeting planners and those planning social and other SMERF-type meetings and events. Many professional meeting planners have migrated to using various networking services to send out their RFP’s, often keeping the name of the group anonymous. Those planning social and other SMERF meetings and functions also seem to prefer to send their initial inquiries via email.
As a result, in today’s world planners are inquiring at far more properties than they did not so long ago when inquiring meant placing a phone call to the hotel sales office. Whereas a few years back a planner might phone three to five properties, now at the click of the keyboard they can instantly inquire at a dozen or more hotels. Consequently, hotel sales staff finds themselves overwhelmed with inquiries.
Many hotel salespeople seem to be handling the challenge of too many leads coming in electronically by trying to respond to them all with equal attention. When leads bottle-neck during periods of peak demand, the end result is slower response times and generic proposals. This levels the “playing field” for all the hotels contacted and does not allow any particular hotel to stand out from its competitors.
Instead, hotel sales directors need to take a step back and re-evaluate the processes in place at their sales offices to make sure they have re-organized to keep up with these emerging trends.
For those just starting this process, the first step is to train your sales team to sort and prioritize electronic inquiries, especially on days when they are overwhelmed with the volume of inquiries. I call this “reading the lead,” just as an experience waiter “reads the table.”
- What is the source of the lead? Is it a direct inquiry? If not, which third party did it come from? Was it through a listing service? A convention & visitors bureau or tourism office?
- Are their requested dates during periods of moderate to low demand? Do they indicate flexibility?
- What special requests or comments have they mentioned? Many of those who email their inquiries to the email@example.com address include in-depth details about their plans that can be used to personalize the response.
Of course it is also important to evaluate the overall revenue opportunity of the meeting or event.
Having sorted and prioritized the inquiries, hotel sales staff can then spend more time responding to those that are truly the best fit and hottest leads for their hotel. If necessary, others can get a more generic, template response or be delegated to a sales administrative assistant for basic follow-up.
Here are some additional training tips to help your hotel stand out from its competition.
- Respond promptly to all inquiries, 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 and thus could be a future prospect.
- Pick up the phone! Never respond to a RFP with only an electronic form of communication. Even if you only get through to voicemail, an energetic, friendly and engaging voicemail message will start to make your proposal rise up in the stack. For those specifically indicating they do not want to be called, send a personalized letter or card by standard 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 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. Instead, provide personalized details along with the link.
- 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. Or create a fun flash movie using iMovie or Windows Movie Maker.
- Use your sales lead tracking system diligently. With so many RFP’s coming at us these days, it is impossible to organize tasks using folders in your email server. Always systematically enter the next follow-up action step into your tracking system so that it appears on your daily task list.
- Research the organization online prior to responding so that you can personalize the response.
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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