Mr. Manderfeld

Sales & Marketing

Are You Managing Your Competitors or Are They Managing You?

By John Manderfeld, President, Marin Management, Inc.

Can you really manage your competition? Well, you can certainly manage your competitive relations and the impact your competitors have on your business. And, in good times and bad, there are ways for you to always come out on top.

Start by being realistic about who your competition is. Too often we like to flatter ourselves by imagining that we directly compete with hotels far more luxurious and packed full of more services than our own. A guideline that I use is that if a nearby hotel's rates are usually within 30% of mine-higher or lower-they are a direct competitor. And that means I need to treat them as a competitor.

Here's how with seven ways to manage the competition:

1. Build strong relationships with your competitors. Know that your competitors are not your enemies. In fact, they can be your best friends and your most active source of customers. Other hotels can send you more customers than any other single source. Treat your competitors with respect and consideration. Don't fight over the small things.

I knew a hotel executive who did not talk to a competitor for years over one hiring an employee from the other (and a couple even less important issues). The result: thousands of lost room nights from referrals.

Building strong business relationships is more than just an occasional friendly telephone call or lunch. Do something with the leaders of your competing hotels-go to a ballgame, entertain them for dinner or play a round of golf. Let's face it, when you cannot accommodate a single guest or a large group, you refer the business to someone you like.

I knew one smart general manager who regularly sent pizzas to the front-desk staff of other hotels that sent him business. It worked! He got a lot more referrals. Treat your competitors as well as your biggest customers, but compete, compete, compete.

2. Knowledge is golden. You need to know more about your competitors' features, services, policies, procedures and ways of doing business than they know about themselves. One example, of course, is rates. Hotel operators often check competitors' rates on Internet channels and think that is enough. It's not. You need to know their unpublished rates for every market segment-tour, government, discounts, city-wide events, and every kind of group. Your team should know competitors' rates for every volume corporate account.

It doesn't stop there: What is their complimentary room policy for tours? When does their sales office open on Saturdays? What audio-visual equipment do they offer gratis for meeting planners? Feel free to add a couple hundred more questions to your list.

I once knew a hotel director of food and beverage who, two years on the job, had never visited his biggest competitor just across the highway. Guess which hotel was winning in banquet and restaurant sales.

3. Use the information you gained to set the standards at your hotel. Set every sales policy and procedure to be more effective and customer-friendly than the competition. Redefine every guest service and every hotel feature to outperform the competition.

4. Outwork the competition. When I was a hotel sales director, I made it a habit to arrive a half-hour earlier and stay an hour later than my biggest competitor. I got a lot of calls they missed.

I enjoyed working weekends and holidays because that is when I booked many social events. One Fourth of July I booked a $250,000 corporate group for the following Labor Day. The decision-maker had been unknown to me and stopped in without an appointment. He signed the contracts after a short site tour. I asked the new client why he chose our hotel. He told me that he had been to the area's other hotels and I was the only salesperson working. "If they're not working on the Fourth of July, they won't be working on Labor Day" he told me.

He remained my friend and one of my biggest customers for years. The truth is that on that Fourth of July I wasn't really working all that hard. So, Woody Allen may have been right when he said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

5. Experience the competition from your guests' point-of-view. Stay at every competing hotel at least once a year. Write down six things each does better than your hotel. Challenge yourself and your management team so that those six will not be on next year's list.

You don't think you can be objective? The next time a friend calls to ask you for a free room, say no. Pay for him to stay at a competitor and ask him to write down everything the competition does better. It will be an eye-opener!

6. Be seen more than your competition. Get involved and stay involved in community events. People like to do business with people they know. If your competitors' management teams are known better than yours are, the competition will have a big edge on you.

There is a story told about Benjamin Franklin owning a small printing business. He made a point to go quite some distance to the docks every day-even several times a day-to pick up paper. Along the way he would call out a greeting to anyone within eyesight, calling them by name, of course. He even made sure that his old cart had a squeaky wheel so that he would be noticed and remembered. He certainly could have had the paper delivered-as did his competitors-but he wanted to have a reputation as being hard working, a reputation that gained him respect and new business.

If you don't have a squeaky cart, join service clubs, attend chamber of commerce events, work with your convention bureau, serve on committees and then do more. It seems inevitable that in every market the highest performing hotel is the one where management is the most involved in community activities.

Do you want to be a really tough competitor? Find out the charity supported by the chief executive of your competitor's largest client. Support that charity and show up at every one of their events. Soon you will have a new biggest client.

7. Talk about the competition. Your employees will be no more competitive than you are. At staff meetings and in casual encounters emphasize the challenges your team faces from capable competitors and challenge them to outperform the other team.

Don't file away those other hotel brochures and sales kits. Put them on display in your back office, sales office, employee break room and housekeeping areas. Your message will be clear: "We have to beat these guys; and we have to be sharp to do it!"

I can't deny that I love to compete. Maybe that's because with healthy competition everyone wins. Certainly the customers win; and certainly the better operator wins. But even the less-competitive hotel operator learns to do better.

John Manderfeld is president and founder of Marin Management, Inc., a hotel and restaurant management and sales-support company formed in 1990 and now operating more than 25 hotels. Marin Management, Inc. is based in Sausalito, California. He has served as president of the California Lodging Industry Association and currently serves on its board of directors. He is a frequent public speaker on hotel sales. Mr. Manderfeld can be contacted at 415-331-1061 or jmanderfeld@hotelpros.biz Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

AUGUST: Food and Beverage: Investing to Keep Pace

Jonathan Sharp

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not just for our bodies, but for our business. A satisfying breakfast is the fuel that sets the stage for a day ahead. Likewise, breakfast has proven to be one of the most important brand pillars of Hilton Garden Inn. An unsatisfying food and beverage experience at breakfast will tarnish everything else that follows during a guest’s stay. Getting breakfast service just right is considered one of the most crucial elements to defining a positive identity for a hotel brand. READ MORE

Danny  Py

The Kessler Collection - a portfolio of 12 artistically inspired boutique hotels and restaurants in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina - celebrates artistic expression throughout the collection, not only with hand-selected, one-of-a-kind artwork, custom-created music, rich designs and bold architecture, but also through its inspiring culinary passion - catering to all generations, with specific offerings ideal for the millennial traveler. READ MORE

James LoBosco

Beginning preparations for event or meeting planning virtually starts with a few clicks. These days, a potential guest goes on their computer and searches various sites. Perhaps it is a Google search, or using a search engine specifically for wedding venues. But one thing is certain – finding the best venue for your event is critical to executing a productive program. In our business, it truly is all in the details. In addition to site selection, confidence in the on-site team and quality and consistency in service and product delivery are of paramount importance, and contribute vastly to executing a successful event. Success can be measured in a number of ways, but the most critical is the value attendees received given their time and money invested in participating. Hosting an event, you want to leave feeling that you executed an outstanding day or evening, and that your guests’ left with a memorable experience that they won’t soon forget. READ MORE

Briane  Smith Perez

The day has just started, congratulations! We have yet another opportunity to do something great. In the amount of time it just took someone to read that first sentence, they may have received eight emails, three text messages, and missed two calls - and it’s only 7:30am. They are debating if they will make it to the gym this morning or this evening, whether they should go to dinner with friends, or just disregard the invite so they can catch up on work. Decisions, decisions, decisions. . . They seem to be more difficult the older we get. Not difficult in the sense that we do not know what we want to do, but difficult in the sense of finding the 25th hour in the day. READ MORE

Coming Up In The September Online Hotel Business Review


Feature Focus
Hotel Group Meetings for 2015
As the economy continues to improve, hotels are finally luring back business travelers, including those who are participating in group meetings and conventions. According to The Global Business Travel Association, group travel spending has grown 5.3% to $117.1 billion in 2014, a figure that well exceeds previous expectations. Given that group business accounts for as much as 30-40% of total revenues for a hotel operation, this is welcome news indeed. Still, this is no time for complacency. Savvy hoteliers are incorporating new creative ideas into their operations in order to satisfy their clientele and to differentiate themselves for their competition, with the ultimate goal of making meetings easier, more comfortable and even more fun. The emphasis seems to be on making group meetings “less institutional” and “more residential”. One hotel chain has created meeting spaces that are more like lounges than standard conference rooms. Another offers its guests unusual food options like make-your-own trail mix stations and smoothie bars. Still another provides its guests with mobile apps that will let them make requests — from ordering coffee and food to changing the room temperature — without ever leaving the meeting room. Technological innovations are also of paramount concern as meeting planners are demanding that the latest innovations be available to attendees including universal wireless Internet access, videoconferencing capabilities, charging stations, and a secure protected environment in which to conduct proprietary business. Finally, some hotels are offering more breakout rooms in order to encourage smaller and more intimate interchanges among attendees after long group sessions throughout the day. The September Hotel Business Review will examine what some hotels are doing to facilitate this segment of their business and to meet the expectations of their guests.