Time for a sales force obituary? Not so fast!

By John S. Parke

As our industry continues to change, so does the discipline of account management. Four major factors contribute to the changing roles of account managers today:

  1. Industry consolidation: Never before has major consolidation happened on such a large scale or at such a rapid pace. It seems like once a month, the news reports that more major brands are merging. This can cause chaos for sales deployment and account management coverage.
  2. Senior account executives are retiring: Many long-term associates who have worked major accounts with high-level client relationships are baby boomers. Now they’re retiring and creating B2B relationship gaps that are hard to fill with experienced talent.
  3. Rapidly evolving sales deployment structures within companies are quickly becoming multi-level, requiring account management activities at the global, national, regional, and local levels.
  4. Continuing intermediation of third parties and technology platforms is eroding human contact between senior account executives and senior clients.

Will we need human sellers in the hotel business in the future?

I believe the answer is yes. More and more owners and general managers casually comment to me that the need for sales and account management is becoming obsolete and the end of these jobs may be near. I completely disagree. The emerging discipline of revenue management is getting a lot of attention today, and deservedly so—after all, it is a still a relatively young and growing discipline. But revenue management will not make sales and account management obsolete—changing roles are simply coming to the logical intersection of account management (strategic relationship-building) and science (revenue and data management). These interdependent disciplines are coming together to help owners make more strategic, informed, and purposeful decisions to maximize their assets (hotels with good RevPAR and high occupancy).

When was the last time you saw a revenue manager make a sales call?

If you want proof, just wait until the cyclical nature of our industry begins to be affected by the next economic recession and phones stop ringing, e-leads slow down, and leisure and business customers throttle back their travel (a common byproduct of corporate cost-cutting because business travel is typically one of the top five cost areas for corporations). Every general manager and owner who has continued investing in their sales team’s efforts will be rewarded with account managers selling to customers to get more group business on the books, filling the gaps and convincing local corporate accounts to select their properties over the competition…one human to human (H2H) sales call at a time.

So what changes should owners, general managers, and sales leaders make in the near future with account management?

They need to either eliminate account coverage duplication by having one account manager assigned to be the primary point person on key accounts, or decide that duplication is good and create a multi-level account management team against high-volume accounts to solicit and manage accounts at the various tiers.

  • Global: works with mega-accounts and coordinates B2B interactions at the highest levels within the account for strategic initiatives that are mutually beneficial, working to shift desired share of group business, strategic placement of business travel volumes.
  • National: works to coordinate account strategies upwardly with the global account executive and nationally with regional account executives to grow source and destination business.
  • Regional: works with accounts that primarily drive business within the region they oversee to aggressively shift account share to their properties from competitors.
  • Local: services accounts that almost exclusively buy locally.

With this approach, you don’t need to deploy account managers to accounts that buy exclusively online (like those that only buy small meeting packages).

In a good economy, what should account executives be doing?

  • Expand and initiate new relationships with key account influencers and buyers, both vertically and horizontally.
  • Proactively look for and identify the best business within their accounts and spend a disproportionate amount of time selling and closing that high-value business.
  • Work with revenue management to evaluate incoming business from key accounts to prioritize the more profitable and desirable business to sell to first.
  • Serve as internal mentors and coaches to less experienced sellers.
  • Conduct client needs assessments to better understand each account’s decision-making process, buying influences, and culture to gather more insights for how to expand the relationship and gather usable data to take a more strategic approach with the account(s).

Ask and you shall receive

Owners and general managers should not be asking, “Do I need a sales force?” Instead, the question should be, “How can I find the right balance between account management selling and revenue management efforts to drive top-line revenues and improve bottom-line results?” The answer to this question will provide a strategic approach that can weather all types of market turbulence.

To address these and other changes, HSMAI offers a new Sales2Win Account Management e-course for sales professionals.

Author: John S. Parke, President and CEO of Leadership Synergies, is a frequent writer and speaker on sales and leadership topics and is the co-author of Effective Sales Force Leadership (available at Amazon.com).

Categories: Sales, Sales Strategies
Insight Type: Articles