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Ms. Fox

Sales & Marketing

Why the Personal Touch in Hospitality Must Not be Lost

By Amber Fox, National Director of Sales, Signature Worldwide

Not too long ago, I was researching for a presentation that I needed to deliver during an annual conference for a major hotel brand. The topic was networking and this brand had seen a drop in personal interactive skills of staff at all levels. People in all roles - front desk, sales, even managers and owners - were losing their ability to connect with others due to their reliance on electronic tools. Being in the world of hospitality, where a premium should be placed on service and relationships, this void was seen as critical.

During this research, I came across a study that was conducted by UCLA that I found fascinating. These researchers found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices. "Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs," said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. "Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues - losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people - is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills."

The psychologists studied sixth-graders in a nature and science camp. Half the study group used electronic devices and the other half did not. At the beginning and end of the study, both groups of students were evaluated for their ability to recognize other people's emotions in photos and videos. The children who had been at the camp without their electronic devices performed significantly better at reading facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to emotion, compared with the students who did not take a break from their media devices. "If you're not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills," said Greenfield. She said the implications of the research are that people need more face-to-face interaction, and that when people use digital media for social interaction, they're spending less time developing social skills and learning to read nonverbal cues.

How is this relevant to the hotel business and our sales efforts today? Anyone who has been in a hotel sales office quickly sees the amount of time being spent on filling out RFP's and sending emails. So what is happening to those traditional sales skills? In some respects, they are drying up. What is the impact to close ratios? Many studies have shown, the further removed the buyer is from the seller, the lower the conversion. Face to face selling to phone interaction to email to RFP or form. Each of these remove the seller one more step from the buyer.

What does this do to the psyche of the sales person? Traditionally sales people have been thought of as outgoing, excelling in communication, and truly enjoying engaging with others. We recently conducted a focus group of some of the top sales leaders in hospitality to establish some priorities for our sales training enhancements. What we heard was that sales people were losing those social skills. Most of their day was filled with completing RFP's and sending emails. It has become intimidating for them to pick of the phone and make a call. The discussion then progressed to, "Is it really necessary for them to do so anymore?" The sales role has changed so much over the years, what is the best use of their time to generate the most amount of revenue for the company?

I am old enough to remember the days of sales blitzes and cold calling by walking into offices and delivering hot cookies. Backyard marketing, knowing the contacts at businesses located around the hotel, was critical to relationship selling. I also saw the changes as security tightened and many sales leaders shifted to feeling this approach was too folksy, not professional and ineffective. But the biggest shift happened with the influx of mass distribution methods for RFP's through technology. Suddenly, the leads were pouring in. They may not be hot leads, or even slightly warm, but they had to be responded to all the same. The one size fits all approach was the solution. Create a form, change a few lines and send it out. Factory sales. There was no time to reach out to the neighbors. There was barely time to have a conversation by phone to potential clients. The sales contact was reduced to only the end of the sales cycle. We lost the luxury of all those touch points along the way and after the sale.

As a positive, technology has provided us tremendous benefits in the world of marketing. We now know more than ever before about the habits and background of a prospect. However, in many cases, sales has been left behind. They are no longer part of the process in managing relationships during all the stages of a sale. They have tools, but you really have to analyze if the tools available to your team are creating additional revenue or just additional work. Does this mean sales people should reject the shiny new objects, apps and tools? Definitely not! We can't go backwards, you need to create a plan that utilizes both traditional selling skills and embraces new methods. The challenge is determining what new methods add relationship touch points, are time saving not draining, and ultimately create new revenue.

To determine the where sales people are missing out, let's take a look at the new sales cycle. This begins long before a sales person ever knows of a lead. This is when the prospect is in the dreaming stage. Savvy marketers can capture this information and insert their hotel, brand, or destination into that dream. This is well before the potential buyer even begins any planning which may result in contacting the property or sending out massive RFP's. Sales people are typically left out at this point. Their role comes into play a couple of steps later. Why is this dangerous? Because most buyers have already collected so much information online that they are almost ready to make the decision. The sales person then becomes an order taker rather than an influencer. What's more damaging is that many of the potential buyers have been influenced to go somewhere else and the sales person never has the opportunity to connect with someone that could be a perfect fit.

The answer is for the sales person to insert themselves into the process at earlier stages. This will allow them to cultivate those relationships. So how do they do this? By incorporating some technology, and the right technology, into their selling repertoire. Social media is a great way to engage throughout all the stages of the buying cycle. Cultivating a personal brand (not just relying on the one created by your hotel brand or individual location) puts the sales person back in the driver's seat. Contacting to a wide range of potential buyers through LinkedIn, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can be ways to engage. Of course, the creating of these brands and the connections have to be done very strategically and professionally. The end user should be kept in mind at all times. If these social media sites are going to be used to cultivate business then that professional brand must stay intact!

Once the infrastructure is in place through social media, there are some excellent tools to create infographics, videos, email blasts directly from the seller, blogs and targeted collateral. Now your buyer is past the dream phase and needs the sales person to guide and captivate. This will transition from the dream phase to the traditional sales conversation or proposal stage. That transition should be filled with strategic reminders of what your hotel can do for them. This is where the sales person must set themselves up as the expert or the consultant. However, these touch points should not be sales-y. They should be informational, educational, and inspiring. Through using tools that have been thought of as marketing, but using them in a way that drives direct sales, the lead is warmed up and the relationship between the sales person and potential customer happens much sooner.

There is one final way that many sales people miss the mark in the modern sales process. In the golden days of relationship selling, the sales person would follow up with an in person meeting to debrief on the event, discuss next steps and ask for referrals. Once again, much of this has been taken out of their hands. Many times, the customer goes directly to social media to post their feedback and the sales person, along with other potential customers hear all about it at the same time. It is important for the sales person to talk back control of the relationship before, during and after.

The sales role may be different but there is still room in it for those communicative, engaging, relationship driven sales people of the past. In fact, those exact skills, incorporated with technology know-how can create a winning combination. What will the hotel sales role of the future evolve into? It is difficult to say. However, we can be guaranteed that those who expand their education and skills to keep up with new trends without losing their winning personalities will end up on top.

Amber Fox is National Director of Sales for Signature Worldwide. She has over 20 years of hospitality sales and marketing experience and is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with hospitality organizations throughout the United States. She serves as a respected consultant to her hospitality clients, offering suggestions to increase revenue and improve guest loyalty through training and business solutions. Ms. Fox specializes in sales training programs for the hospitality industry and has worked with sales leaders to identify key objectives and create plans to help reach their goals. She has developed classes and presentations on such topics as social media prospecting, business writing, and networking for profit. Ms. Fox can be contacted at 614-734-2813 or amberfox@signatureworldwide.com Please visit http://www.signatureworldwide.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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