By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Kristi Griffith, CGMP, CHSP, Corporate Director of Sales Performance Support for Prism Hotels & Resorts, is the recipient of HSMAI’s Off-Property Sales Professional of the Year Award, which was presented at the first-ever Sales Leader Forum in Frisco, Texas, on Nov. 5–6. Joining Prism in 2011 as Task Force Director, she brought her expertise to the company’s Miami, Tampa, and Phoenix properties before being promoted to her current position. HSMAI recently sat down with Griffith to discuss her career, why she loves hotels, and what she thinks about the industry as a whole.
What was your first job in the hotel industry?
It was 1982. I worked at the Wyndham Greenpoint hotel, at the front desk. I worked there for six months before moving to Austin, Texas. Upon arriving in Austin, I joined the Wyndham Southpark Hotel and worked at the front desk. From 1983 to 1986, I moved from front desk agent to supervisor to front office manager. I can remember while working the desk, seeing the sales & catering team moving around, and thinking to myself, “Wow that looks like an easy job. I could do that.” I was approached in 1988 by the GM Jack Highsmith and Director of Sales Susan Penny. They asked if I was interested in sales, and it all started then. I had a short venture in the beginning with the corporate market then was moved to the government market. There I worked the government market and assisted in SMERF for seven years before moving into the association market. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with so many directors of sales, general managers and coworkers who have helped me in learning and loving what I do.
Why do you like working in sales?
I love to talk to people. I can honestly say that I don’t work a day in my life, because I truly love what I do. I love being able to train people and make them successful, because once I do that, I’ve done my job. I work for a phenomenal company, and my co-workers, hotels and boss are so good to me and to all of us within the organization. I’ve been very lucky to be a part of their family and wouldn’t trade it. My job is making people successful, owners satisfied, and customers happy. A happy customer is a customer that’s going to come back as well as tell others.
How has hospitality sales — or the industry in general — changed during the time you’ve been a part of it?
I’m very old school. I am so old that when I started in sales, all the people had a file; on one side was contract, on the other was a tracking form with notes and we had a diary where your meeting space was printed in the book and you would mark the space you needed (in pencil). I remember getting excited when the fax machine first came out. People that come in now in our industry work with Delphi or SalesPro. The technology has made a huge impact and difference on how we all sell.
I personally think it’s still about one-on-one interaction. Wherever the customer is, I’m going to hand-deliver that contract instead of emailing it. I believe in face-to-face contact, getting to know the customer, and taking notes to build a relationship. Even though technology is great, people buy from people they know and like, so you must be thorough and a good listener. It gives you credibility when they see you taking notes and being engaged.
What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in sales?
I’ve got a lot to tell people. What’s important is that you’ve got to have the passion, whether you have a degree or not. I don’t have a college degree, but if I had that, I’m sure I would have been in this position a little bit sooner.
However, you can’t teach someone to sell, you’ve either got it or you don’t. Get out and meet the customer, write it down, don’t think that you can remember it all. Get involved with associations, clubs, chambers, whatever it is you chose. Don’t sit at a tradeshow and be like everyone else; instead, be out in front of the booth and talk to the customer. Be yourself, be genuine. Don’t be on your cellphone, and don’t take it in to the customers. Don’t judge a person or an organization by the cover. You’ve got to get to know them. Be different, get out of the box, don’t be normal.
I’m no expert, I learn something new every day from peers, bosses, coworkers. I never stop learning. That’s why I’m so honored to get this award. To me, this is like the Oscars for an actress. Everyone I’m around keeps teaching me things, and I hope to keep on learning from them and teaching others.