Selling Like It’s 1999: Sales for Focused Service Hotels – Then and Now

If you own or operate a focused service hotel and your RevPAR Index is everything you’ve dreamed of, put this article down – it is not for you. But, if you are like most owners or operators in this market, you owe it to yourself to read on.

Having a dedicated sales professional who knows your hotel’s market and owns local relationships within it is non-negotiable. Twenty-five years ago, it meant having someone on site. Today where they office is becoming less relevant.

Twenty-five years can mean the difference between a rotary dial phone and an intelligent device that fits in your pocket and navigates your car, controls entertainment in your home, and monitors the HVAC systems at your property.

Even though the hotel industry readily acknowledges how technology has monumentally changed the operations of our businesses, some are reluctant to admit just how much it has transformed our sales. That blind spot may be leaving money at your competitor’s property instead of in the till at your inn.

Remote hotel sales support is a steadily growing trend, fueled by technology and a hyper-engaged generation that owns the Internet. This trend is especially noticeable in the focused service brands. To fully understand this shift, we look back at how we did business prior to the 2000s and contrast that to how modern hospitality managers are excelling today.

The Good Old Days of Sales

In the 1990s, conducting hotel sales calls amounted to securing appointments facilitated by an afternoon of banging on office doors to “drop in” on some potential decision makers. Most of these visits were met with an “I’m booked today.” If you were lucky, you might receive a “Get with my assistant to schedule lunch sometime next week.” At lunch, you sat for hours with your prospect, building rapport by discussing their family and golf scores, until you finally pitched your best room rates.

On your way home, you would pick up a couple dozen donuts and the makings for a large pot of coffee so you could stand in someone’s lobby the next morning when you started your day all over again.

Those were the days. Businesses were brick and mortar structures. Everyone that worked for the business had an office there, in the same building, in the same city. Working your way up an org chart was literally done by climbing stairs.

Wildfire of Change

In the mid 1990s sales changed with a velocity that no one could have predicted. The Internet hit the world with an impact that shifted it on its axis. In less than 5 years, we went from reading paper phone books to finding contact information via online searches, filtering intelligently not only for business names and addresses, but for contacts and key individuals. In another 5 years that same technology found its way into our pockets as the world’s first smart phones emerged. Systems were connected, professional contact sites emerged and the modern sales era began.

Today, if you ask any successful hotel salesperson what their best tool is, their answer is almost guaranteed to be some sort of online resource. And the person answering the question was probably born after the world was online. More importantly, so was the person they are negotiating with to sell room nights at your property.

So, if the world we live in is now administered by the children of the 1990s, why are we still selling like their parents did? Understand this: if you are using tactics from the 1990s, then while your salesperson sits at the lunch table with one of your prospects, your competition has already called your top 5 most strategic accounts, sent them a virtual tour, and most likely emailed them an LNR agreement to e-sign. Meanwhile, your team is having espresso talking about the latest brand merger.

Still wondering why your index is moving in the wrong direction?

Sales in this Century

If you think having a salesperson on property is essential to your success, it’s time to think again. Remote sale service offerings are growing in number and their effectiveness is impossible to deny. Their collective success is a direct result of the change in business climate.

Cost + Quality = Value

More over hiring an on-site salesperson is more expensive than ever. It means salary + benefits + taxes + time off + more + more. Add in the cost of finding that salesperson, which could amount to 20% of their annual salary in addition to your time spent interviewing the numerous candidates. Alternatively, with a remote sales service, you are normally planning for a fixed budget line item that is a fraction of the cost of on-site staff salary alone.

To compound the frustration, once you have found an onsite candidate for your hotel, you may realize they’re not exactly the best. There may surely be exceptions, but in general, the best hotel salespeople are downtown at the big box bringing in the mega accounts. They are not out in the suburbs working weddings. Remote sales service companies, on the other hand, have seasoned professionals that are on par with or better than the big box reps. Often you will find that the remote salesperson delivering this type of service has been in the industry for years. They have an intimate knowledge of your systems as well as established relationships with key brand contacts. They will hit the ground running, and in fact you may find yourself challenged to keep up with their pace and efficiency. In short, even if your expensive on-site rep is using modern tactics, they are typically no match for the caliber of sales professional the remote services are hiring.

Think Locally, Hire Remotely

The vast majority of business is done electronically today. Phone calls, emails and video conferencing take the place of most face-to-face meetings. Having a physical presence is less important than having an urgency when it comes to closing. Today, all parties are about velocity of business rather than what’s on their lunch plate. Relationships are still key, they are simply built differently today.

And remember remote teams are not new to the sales game. They have worked many markets in many conditions. They know who and when to call to get the most leads for your property. They will not waste time with methods that do not work in your market – they will get down to business, quickly and efficiently. Most markets today fit into one of several categories, and your professional will have had experience with all of them.

Experience Breeds Efficiency and Integrity

While an unseasoned sales coordinator can spend hours searching for leads, the professional associated with a reputable firm has set of resources at their fingertips. The remote sales person is not distracted by local interruptions on property. We have all been in the lobby trying to pry ourselves away from the chatty vendor that just dropped in to talk. The remote professional is situated in a quiet environment and is necessarily a highly organized person. In most cases, their one hour of work equates to 4 hours of an on-site sales coordinator’s time.

If you do your due diligence in hiring a remote sales service, you will undoubtedly choose a company that has longevity in the business and a solid privacy policy in their contracts. If they have references, call them and ask the references what their experience is. A good remote sales provider will protect your business as if it were their own, be focused on long-term relationships with their clients, have a proven track record and a relationship with your brand. You are trusting your revenue to this entity, they need to be trustworthy.

Don’t Just Tell Me, Show Me

Metrics. Here we are not talking about a reprint of your STR report, as you already have that and can read it for yourself. What you should be asking for are metrics that show you what the service is doing for you on your behalf. In a declining market, overall performance may not be as great as it once was. (Think oil and gas right now.) But is the remote sales service actually doing something that is helping to soften the blow? Conversely, in a hot emerging market (think tech), is the remote service professional just taking orders or are they working hard to increase your RevPar index, renegotiating LNR agreements for higher rates? If the service cannot provide a way for you to monitor those activities and measure their specific ROI to you, you may want to look at alternative suppliers.

It’s Not Too Late to Step Up Your Game

It may seem convenient to hire a local sales person and perform business as if nothing has changed. But the reality is that we operate in a different world. We move at an intense, no-frills, fast velocity. More importantly, your competitor may have already made the move. Right now, there may be someone making calls on your best customers, they are getting their attention, and they are getting results.

If you are still wondering what has happened to your market share or RevPar, then you missed the larger point of this article, times and sales methods have changed. Now is your opportunity to engage with high-powered, polished, experienced hotel sales professionals, armed with a network of support. They are representing the hotel across the street with the accuracy, professionalism and efficiency that businesses are attracted to today. Make sure they are representing you, too.

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