Mr. Ryan

Sales & Marketing

Analyzing Technology's Impact on the Hotel Sales Department

By Todd Ryan, Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel

Without question, technology makes our lives easier. Early humans figured out that sharpening a rock and attaching it to an end of a stick was a much more efficient method of hunting and, when combined with controlling fire, increased the availability of food sources. Compared to what we know today, that may seem very simplistic but with some perspective that small idea had a huge impact. Take the mobile device that you undoubtedly have within reach as an example. Your device has more memory and a faster processing speed than the computers of yesteryear, where it would have taken a room full of equipment to match what you are currently able to carry in the palm of your hand.

Technology can also be a curse. There are many examples of where misguided individuals have used technological advances in detrimental ways. Even those devices that are supposed to make our lives easier can have unintended consequences if not controlled or used correctly. How many opportunities to connect with loved ones are lost because of our insatiable need to read an incoming text, tweet or Facebook post while on a dinner date? How often do people truly check out and recharge on vacation versus staying connected to work, which only adds to your worry about the last-minute report that is now due in two days?

Anyone who has been in this industry for more than 15 years can attest to how much technology has changed the way we sell. At the risk of sounding like a grandfather sitting around the dinner table with his family on Thanksgiving, back in my day we did not have software to reserve space for a customer. Customers had to call individual hotels to inquire about space. The Internet was not available to research a hotel's website prior to sending an RFP. It often took a couple of weeks for a meeting planner to obtain enough information from a hotel from which to start considering options. Proposals may have been sent via fax with thermal paper that rolled up in the file. Contract changes were even executed over the phone with final copies sent through the fax machine for signature.

For a salesperson, the process often started on the phone. In some cases, the salesperson received a call directly inquiring about the hotel's services and pricing. On the other hand, the customer may have sent a lead through the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) or the hotel's national salesperson at which point the seller would pick up the phone to "qualify" the business. Regardless, a conversation took place and the two parties had an instant chance to build rapport. The seller would ask a few key questions from which they could prepare a proposal and perhaps pitch the hotel in a way to see if there was a potential match. If not, each party went on their way. If the salesperson did an effective job matching the hotel's features to the customer's needs, they may engage in further conversation. Skip ahead a little when the customer tells the seller that they have earned the business, a contract was often prepared and the two parties would work through the details together over the phone. Then the Internet and email were introduced to the general public and a revelation occurred. Over the coming years, this sales process would be turned on its head.

This was a drastic change in the way that business was conducted, especially as younger adults were entering the workforce who had little to no experience with this new technology. If you are over 35 years old, there is a good chance you were not exposed to the Internet or email until you were an adult, when "you've got mail" meant something to you. If you are somewhere between 30 and 35, you may have had it in high school. If you are between 25 and 30, you may have been introduced during grade school and if you are under 25 you have most likely had it all your life. To put these advances into a little different perspective, my three-year-old thought our laptop was broken because she couldn't swipe the screen like she does on our iPad.

The sales process has not changed much over the years. The manner in which sellers use the various principles of sales theory have evolved over time but the foundation from which a buying cycle starts for a business has not been altered much. Organizations and economies only thrive when people and businesses part with their money in exchange for goods. There are countless studies and theories relating to this topic, attempting to assist the people responsible for keeping a company thriving. The word "sales" can still evoke a negative connotation among certain people and that perception can be valid depending on the industry. In the words of author Jeffrey Gitomer, "People don't like to be sold, but they love to buy."

To earn someone's business, a seller must find potential customers and cultivate those relationships. Once that occurs, it is incumbent upon the seller to ask the right questions to better understand exactly what a customer wants and needs to achieve their objectives. If a seller is not able to illustrate how their product will benefit the customer and match what they are seeking, the customer will select another option. There are also the times where a customer is doubtful or has questions and that gives a seller an opportunity to continue making an effort until they are able to come to an agreement and negotiate the terms of a deal. To recap: a seller begins working with a potential customer, seeks information from which to make an offer, presents their offer and product, answers questions about the proposal or claims, comes to an agreement and then finalizes the transaction. I reexamined some tutorials on the sales process that I obtained from my first training class more than 15 years ago - the process has not changed.

Technological advances have given meeting planners greater reach in the sense that they can conduct extensive research prior to submitting an RFP. They can rule out hotels that do not meet certain logistical needs and save valuable time via the Internet whereas in the past they may have had to make several phone calls and await responses from individual hotels identifying their unique features in the form of proposals. Today, much of this information can be found in various formats all over the Internet and RFPs can be responded to without a planner having to take phone calls to answer the same ten questions from ten different salespeople. Information can even be validated. Ever hear of a hotel salesperson indicating how average their service was compared to competitive hotels? Now, there are sites that offer instant feedback in the form of peer reviews from which to gain a better feel for the service that you can expect.

Even with all of this information accessible to prospective customers, what is most interesting is the notion that even though technology has changed; much else hasn't. Ask 100 sales professionals today what the most important part of the sales process is and ninety percent of them will tell you that sales success is dependent on relationships. Guess what? That answer is the same as it was in our industry 20 years ago. The challenge for salespeople of all ages seems to be how to adapt while maintaining a balance where you use technology as a tool for selling, not the method of selling.

At some point during the process, a salesperson and meeting professional will either benefit or falter based on the nature of the relationship they are able to forge during the planning process. Consider this: one of the biggest challenges our industry faces is convincing government officials, the media and leaders of organizations the true value in bringing people together for face-to-face meetings. Internet dating sites have understood this for years. In the beginning, they offered their customers a way to find potential match's based on peoples' similar interests. Proponents would argue that this is an efficient method from which to start the dating process and eliminate some of the risk when meeting new suitors. Sound familiar? They have even taken it a step further by hosting face-to-face events so that the attendees do not have to worry about a person's relationship status as they would if they were simply going out for the evening.

As director of sales and marketing for Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, the premier convention hotel in Arizona, Todd Ryan has an overall responsibility for overseeing the sales strategies, advertising plans, client development and marketing initiatives for the hotel. With Mr. Ryan's strong vision and professional leadership, he has helped shape and refine Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel’s concept into an unparalleled and flourishing urban convention hotel. In 2011, the hotel was named Sheraton Hotel of the Year within its parent company’s North American division. And in 2010, he was named Sales Leader of the Quarter - West Region for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Mr. Ryan joined Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel in May 2007 as the director of sales for the hotel’s new build opening team, and was even honored with the New Build and Acquisition Sales Team of the Year. Mr. Ryan can be contacted at 602-262-2500 or todd.ryan@sheraton.com Extended Bio...

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