Selling Hotel Rooms: Is The Process Really that Unique?
David M. Brudney, ISHC, a nationally recognized spokesman for hotels and a veteran with four decades of experience, is the principal of David Brudney & Assoc. of Carlsbad, CA
David M. Brudney, ISHC, August 2009
Selling hotel rooms as a profession can be somewhat overwhelming for this newest generation. Those of us who made a career out of it might forget the uneasiness when first seeking commitments involving thousands and thousands of dollars, facing formidable competition, building instant credibility, and having to work so hard to be taken seriously.
Experience is great because with it comes perspective - - something very difficult to have when just getting started. With time it becomes clear that selling hotel rooms is not rocket science. Individuals perform very similar tasks and follow similar step-by-step processes in any number of professions today. Allow me to share just one example.
A young, intrepid TV reporter called one morning recently to ask if she and her crew could come out to my office to film an interview with me for a story the station planned to air that night regarding a power struggle between a luxury resort operator and the owner.
Prior to my career in the hospitality industry, I was a news co-anchor for a CBS-TV affiliate in Fresno, CA - - there's never been a microphone or a camera I didn't love and so, of course, I agreed quickly.
Finding the right sources is critical. Why did the reporter call me? Good question. Actually, I was the second choice. My colleague Jerry Morrison was her first choice, but Jerry had a schedule conflict and recommended me to the reporter. Why would the reporter want to interview a hotel consultant for a local resort dispute related story? The story needed credibility - - also insight, opinion and historical background information, much like what an expert witness provides in litigation matters.
In covering a story, journalists need to dig beyond the principals - - in this case, that would be the operators of the resort and the owners of the resort. Industry-and-current-market-conditions-knowledge provided by an impartial hotel consultant familiar with the resort would help the viewing audience's interest in and acceptance of the story.
Being proactive. No TV reporter would last very long on the job if he or she sat around waiting for good stories to simply appear. The same holds true with hotel sales pros. The good ones believe in prospecting, no matter what level of experience or pay level. They look for leads everywhere - - online, local newspapers, digging up old or even dead files, drilling into existing accounts, and finding new referrals by leveraging strong, loyal client relationships.
Getting the right information, making sure it's right. This approach is no different than what hotel sales pros do every day in pursuit of group conventions, corporate meetings or incentive trips. Assuming that quality market intelligence is available and utilized (e.g., Internet resources, directories, group/contact databases providing name of group, primary contact, group profile, and preferences), the hotel sales pro searches for confirmation of available facts with parties other than the primary contact - - who may not be available or may be reluctant to share information, especially so to someone with whom a professional relationship has yet to be established.
What parties might that be? A good place to start would be with what we call the gatekeeper, an administrative assistant or someone working directly with and/or under the primary contact. Others might include a contact within the hotel at which the group last met, an attendee, a speaker or possibly a supplier who exhibited or who sponsored a particular event.
Another valuable party with whom to speak - - maybe later on in the selling process - - would be someone within the group's organization who might have the ability to influence a final decision. This individual might be someone on the group's board of directors or advisory board. It might be a local chapter president or the manager of a company's local or regional office.
Getting back to the importance of the credibility issue, the sales pro would search for someone with existing credibility with the group's primary contact - - could be a testimonial from a satisfied client representing the same or a complementary industry or profession; a relevant testimonial taken from a respected social media or Blog.
Face-to-face, in-person advantages. The TV reporter called to make an appointment because she knew that putting a credible hotel industry source on camera would strengthen the story. E-mailing, texting or telephoning me would not have been as effective as a face-to-face meeting and interview put on film.
The sales pro faces a similar situation in pursuing a valuable piece of business. If afforded an opportunity, he or she might ask, "Will I increase my chances for success by meeting face-to-face with either the decision maker and/or the decision influencer"?
A sense of urgency. The TV reporter had to work fast to set up the interview, travel to the interviewee, get the interview "in the can" so that the piece could be ready for that evening's newscast. The hotel sales pro must work proactively making an appointment, physically going to the source's office or home, meeting live and in-person. There is never a better time than "now" to get in front of a decision maker or anyone who has influence on and/or insight into the decision making process. E-mailing and texting should only be used when and if the prospect has indicated a preference for that communication form.
Connecting with the source. The TV reporter did an excellent job at putting me at ease from the moment she and her crew arrived. She complimented our home and my office and the family photos and told me that she had already visited my website and even asked a good question about one of my published articles. She asked if I had ever been interviewed on camera before and was delighted to learn about my previous life as a TV news reporter. She then carefully explained how the interview would work, what type of questions she might be asking and where I should look when responding. We had connected and I was prepared and comfortable for "cameras rolling!"
The TV reporter accepted me as a valuable resource to her story because Jerry Morrison had recommended me strongly and Jerry was already a very well established hotel expert throughout the San Diego news media. Just as the TV reporter did with me, the hotel sales pro can also use timeless selling tools and good basic people skills to connect quickly and effectively. Background information on the individual and the group is so critical for the connecting process. The really good hotel sales pros learn all they can prior to making initial contact. Knowing in advance the position the prospect holds, the business that particular company or association is in, and where and when they meet, can be extremely important to any hotel sales pro attempting to connect. If the initial contact happens to be face-to-face, typically in the prospect's office, commenting on something noticeable - - photos, hobbies, awards, recognition, and organization memberships - - is extremely helpful in the connecting process.
Having a plan. The TV reporter had a plan for what she needed before my leaving my office. She had questions prepared - - either scripted or memorized - - that she planned to ask and she needed to be sure that the filmed interview was "in the can" and would be of broadcast quality. No difference there from what the hotel sales pro plans beforehand. The hotel sales pro does not want to leave without determining how serious the organization is about holding that particular meeting, what other hotels and destinations are under serious consideration, if any, who will be making the final decision, when is the final decision date and, hopefully, holding tentative dates - - or even better, with a strong verbal commitment.
Listening. The TV reporter needed to observe and listen throughout the entire interview - - before, during and after - - in hopes of picking up on anything that could lead to a question she had not planned to ask and/or a possible new story angle to file away for future reference. The same holds true for the hotel sales pro during the prospect interaction. There could very well be a new question in need of answering, a new contact within the organization - - perhaps even the same building - - or even the possibility of getting a lead on an altogether different meeting or meetings.
Follow up. Finally, the TV reporter hurried back to the station to work on additional research, updating, verifying time allocated, preparing the live intro, recording the voice over, and making sure the visual and the voice are in synch. The hotel sales pro would need to fine tune the proposal and/or contract, possibly add value wherever possible, spell-check, read again, and then distribute the document overnight, via e-mail attachment, by regular mail or - - best of all - - hand deliver in person.
The TV reporter's goal is to get the story right and to make sure what airs that night is of the highest quality, that it's both accurate and fair. The hotel sales pro's goal is to follow a process that will lead to closing the piece of business. Different disciplines, yes, but with very similar M.O's.
As the crew prepared to leave, the reporter complimented me on how well I had done. Mindful of how soft my consulting business has been, I jumped quickly at the opportunity. "Any chance of my filling in as a news anchor summer replacement?" I said with a smile. "Oh, no," she replied. "You wouldn't want to give up your important job. I was going to ask you if you knew of any openings for me in the hotel business." Ah, yes, a sign of the times.
About David Brudney & Associates
David M. Brudney has become a charter member of Laguna Strategic Advisors and was a founding member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants. Brudney is a veteran sales-and-marketing professional concluding his fifth decade of service to the hospitality industry. Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators about hotel sales and marketing best practices and standards of care, and conducts reviews of sales-and-marketing operations throughout the world. Brudney is a professional speaker, teacher, mentor and sales trainer. Previously, Brudney held sales and marketing positions with Hyatt, Westin and Marriott.
Contact: David M. Brudney, Principal
David Brudney & Associates
Carlsbad, CA 92009
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Web Site: www.DavidBrudney.com