Lori Kiel, Chief Commercial Officer, The Kessler Collection, HSMAI Sales Advisory Board Member
The HSMAI Sales Advisory Board recently met to talk about proactive sales, formerly known as “prospecting,” in its more intimidating form. We asked the group to consider the following questions:
- How do you prospect in a world of caller ID, email spam filters, and eProposals?
- Who is your book of clientele, and how do you nurture those relationships in a hybrid world?
The conversation was revealing. While the expectation was to discuss overcoming obstacles to prospecting, what played out was a conversation about the ease of proactive sales in our new environments.
Cold Calling vs. Referral
The dread of prospecting twenty years ago was the cold call. You would sit at your desk dialing for dollars with the “Book of Lists” in front of you. Success in this environment was based on the volume of calls you were willing to make or, better said, the amount of rejection you could take in one prospecting session.
Fast forward to 2023, and as the Sales Advisory Board noted, “The value of an introduction has gone up exponentially; there is no excuse for not getting an introduction with LinkedIn.” LinkedIn allows you to search for people and shows your connection to those people through your mutual networks. LinkedIn and other social media platforms have opened doors for sales managers to fish where the fish are biting, making the introduction online and requesting a call. One of the Board Members further noted, “the only calls she takes are those referred by someone she knows.” The value of the referral has brought sales back to its original value proposition, with relationships being the priority.
Everyone is a Salesperson
There is a customer, client, or prospect in every department in your hotel. Everyone belongs to a business or association and will celebrate life events as a guest or a client. Ask your employees to refer companies they are associated with and incentivize them, as they are a source of “hot” leads.
Make it easy for the Front Desk to alert Sales on potential prospects. The Front Desk is prime for opportunities to build on business already frequenting the hotel. During COVID, many salespeople were asked to work the Front Desk and recounted a lightbulb moment when they realized how many of the people checking in had business for them. This business is another “hot” lead considering the experience of staying at the hotel supersedes a site inspection.
Networking, Mixers, and Free Meals
Post-COVID, we are hungry for interaction. Literally and figuratively, it is a prime environment for salespeople to nurture new and existing relationships. Inviting clients for lunch and after-hour mixers is a way to incentivize them to meet with you in a social setting. The best practice was shared to allow those clients to bring 2-3 of their colleagues or friends to join them, further incentivizing engagement for them and you.
Getting our salespeople active and out of the catch-and-close mindset is at the top of sales leaders’ minds. Tracking activities was a common expectation many years ago and is surfacing again with a redefined nomenclature. Some sales leaders have returned to tracking activities, including reinstating activity quotas. The definition of the activities has shifted with automation; however, the value of the activity has stayed the same, and we are still a relationship-driven discipline.
Training a New Generation
The new, younger generation we hire are also our new clients. During our conversation, we noted, “We have to meet them where they want to do everything, with automation.” Beyond the formal definition of the generations, it is a newfound preference by all generations who prefer to be sold to in a social, automated world.
The use of technology and online platforms is as essential as sales activities. Meeting Planners do their initial research online before sourcing the lead. Sales leaders must ensure that all information online is accurate, including capacity charts, diagrams, and catering menus. Your online presence speaks volumes about the quality of your organization.
Finally, the importance of our virtual settings is critical to our presentation. Video conferencing clients, virtual site inspections, and other automation must be curated and prepared with care, as the impression online is often the first impression.
Leading the New Sales Organization
The traditional sales organization has shifted with technology. Finding the balance on the team to manage the technology and convert the leads has led to an org chart that values lead catchers and sellers or closers. The volume of leads that hotels receive requires someone that is lead-catching and qualifying the business and then handing it off to the seller to close. While there is lead-scoring technology, it has yet to be widely accepted. Salespeople want to decide whether a lead is of quality before turning it down, despite the system’s filters that identify it according to the user’s settings.
Speed to convert or close the business is essential to both the salesperson and the client. Many reports note that the first to respond gets the booking. Creating a sales team that breaks tradition is vital. The salesperson previously would handle the client, lead, and booking from prospecting through signature on the contract. In today’s automated environment, splitting this process into multiple positions allows for focusing on quality, agility, and efficiency for both the client and the salesperson.
The Sales Advisory Board reminds us that regardless of time or techniques, “Sales is prospecting, finding what the client needs, overcoming objections, and closing.”