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...

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:

JANUARY: Mobile Technology: A Permanent Sense of Immediacy

Alastair Cush

A growing number of properties are implementing mobile access guest room locking systems and the apps that support them. Many chain standards mandate mobile access and independents are joining the trend. What few operators understand is that mobile access implementation has changed not only every aspect of hotel door locks but also many other areas of hospitality operations. More people are actively involved in the decision making process for hotel locks than before. Mobile access has integrated the lock process with numerous property and chain departments from sales to guest loyalty and brand marketing. The original purpose of improving guest door locks was exclusively loss prevention and security. READ MORE

Jim Vandevender

Meeting data and technology have evolved considerably since the days of the bulky ,expensive mail ordered meeting planner guides and hotel catalogues. The ways in which hotels find and book groups is far different than the antiquated methods of not so long ago. As better technology surrounding meetings and events becomes available , hotels appetites for group business seems to also increase at a parallel pace making the need to keep the related technology evolving even more paramount. The companies that provide hotels with this meeting intelligence are continually developing new and more advanced methods of gathering this sought after data to keep up pace with the demand. READ MORE

Dave Weinstein

As with so many industries, the smartphone has transformed how organizations interact with their customers. Look at the automotive industry, the airline industry, and of course, the hospitality industry. You start your car’s engine and set the climate control to the desired temperature, buy airline tickets and check-in on your flight and do the same with your hotel room, all from your phone. There is a slew of services that traditionally are offered by hotels via the “book” on the desk. The book is still there, but some hotels allow you to order via the television while others offer integrated tablets. READ MORE

Kacey Butcher

Can you imagine your bank choosing not to provide a way to check account status and transactions outside of your monthly paper statement? Can you further imagine a popular franchise restaurant only having paper take-out menus? You would be forced to contemplate what other aspects internally within the organization would make doing business with them complicated and archaic. There you find your own personal underlying immediate expectation of baseline service and operational procedures, where a decision is often made instantly to move onto the next provider. A decision to choose another provider that seemingly knows how to service customers with the utmost up-to-date standards. READ MORE

Coming Up In The February Online Hotel Business Review




Feature Focus
Social Media: Interacting with the Hotel Customer
Consider these astonishing numbers: 1.49 billion active monthly Facebook users. 1.1 billion active monthly YouTube users. 320 million active monthly Twitter users and nearly 400 million registered users on LinkedIn. 400 million active monthly Instagram users and 200 million active Google+ users. The power and reach of social media is an awesome force and it has transformed how hotels interact with their customers. In the past year, social media advertising spending increased 33.5% to nearly $24 billion dollars. Social networks are being utilized by hotels to reach more visitors, expand brand awareness, enhance brand reputation and to establish more direct and personal communication with their customers. Savvy hotel operators are adopting a comprehensive social media strategy, and there are several emerging trends to note. Video continues to be a powerful and influential element in social media marketing, with 70% of companies saying that it is their most effective marketing tool. Video generates a 62% higher engagement rate than photographs alone, and with new social sites like Meerkat and Periscope which offer live video streaming, those numbers will only increase. Sponsored content is another growing trend. Though advertorials have been around for decades, hotels are finding new ways to maximize the visibility of their content. Some are placing sponsored content on Facebook, or on influencer blogs. Another trend is the integration of a “Buy Now” button into social media websites. Customers will be able to make purchases without ever having to leave their favorite social sites. This development is a major convenience for customers and should also be an additional revenue source for hotels. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.