Mr. Robinette

Group Meetings

The Importance of Engagement During the Selling Process

By Del Robinette, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Hospitality Management Corporation

Engagement and commitment are at the core of our professional lives in a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation. No matter the size or complexity of the box, engagement and our commitments should be a core fundamental that not only surfaces in our every interaction, but guides and directs our proactive decision making and our strategies and executions. Hospitality 101 teaches us as hospitality professionals, to engage with our guests, to make eye contact at 10 feet, to speak within 5, to escort when possible and to use our guests name in conversation. We are taught to answer the phone in just a few rings, to professionally engage our customers and clients at every interaction and be the key stakeholders of their happiness during their time with us. Commitment to our client's and guest's comfort and happiness, successful planning and meetings should live at the core of our hospitality spirit. Far too often forgotten is engagement within our sales discipline. How, as executive level leadership are we asking our sales people to be engaged and how are we committing ourselves to their success? Are we hiring committed, passionate, truly professional sales people that come to work every day to do exactly what we hired them to do? Sell.

Sales Engagement - A Few Instances Where it Deserves a Deeper Dive

Several years ago, I had an incredibly dynamic, engaged and committed sales person working for me. She was polished, involved with her clients and colleagues and everyone really admired this young manager. She was in early and out late, she was committed. She was the top sales person in our brand, year in and year out, won incentive trips and best of the best awards. I was shocked when she resigned to go work outside of our industry and outside of the sales discipline. When I asked her why, she very candidly said, I'm not that great of a sales person, in fact I hate sales. The reason she was first in the office and typically locking the door at the end of each day, was because she was anxious about her sales days. I immediately reacted with "You are the top catering sales manager in the entire company, by some pretty gross margins…by my account, you are an amazing sales person!" Her response "I just follow the sales funnel you gave us. I don't miss a step, I go from A to Z and I do every letter in between and they buy." "Stop it! Seriously? You were so engaged with the sales process and so committed to execution of this sales funnel, so much so that you just won the business?" She replied "Yes." Of course, I replied, "Ok, what will it take to change your mind?" There was no changing her mind.

Professional sales people, engage the sales funnel. They take every opportunity to build rapport, in fact they build rapport first! This is the "A" in the "A to Z" They are committed to finding common ground with their client and developing a relationship, before considering selling. As professional sales people, we talk about building rapport incessantly. After all, as the old saying goes, people buy from people they know, like and trust. Professional engaged sales people, get engaged prior to selling.

As professional sales people we close, we ask for the business, we talk about it constantly. Engaged sales people ask for the business! This is "Z" in the "A to Z" and no matter your method, we typically ask for the business in one form or another.

But what about the "B through Y"? We build rapport well, we do the A, we ask for the business, and we come up short. Why? The B through Y. The most crucial piece of the B to Y is how we qualify! I believe, as professional hotel sales people, we have completely forgotten to qualify or we have devalued the qualification process. I mean, isn't it so much easier to go from A right to Z? We are friends, they like me, I have told them a bit about our hotel, I have a pretty good idea or understanding of how many rooms they need, what their food and beverage needs look like, we have a shuttle and I am sure they need one of those, so I told them about it. I also told the client we have an amazing complimentary hot full breakfast buffet, so I have every right to ask for the business. Wrong! Did you know their guests typically leave so early that they don't even have time to eat breakfast at the hotel and their company provides them transportation? Probably not, because we made a ton of assumptions and never got around to qualifying the business. We never truly understood the client's direct needs nor uncovered their implied needs. We were so excited this person loved us and focused on the prospect of their potential business, that we forgot to marry their specific needs to our fabulous product.

Engaged sales people ask open ended questions and take time to really understand the needs of their client before beginning to sell.

The best sales people understand their economic landscape and what their competition is offering. When is the last time your hotel sales people shopped their competition? How often do they shop the competition? Isn't it important to understand what your competition is offering before we even begin the dialogue? Get engaged with your segment, your competition and what they are offering. This goes for all segments, groups and meetings, catering sales and the business travel segment.

Site tours can give a client boosted confidence. When is the last time you invited the Food and Beverage Director and Front Office Manager to lunch with a client? Again, engage them before the tour and have a game plan. You are helping our executive teams understand the process, you are creating a cohesive environment where everyone feels the responsibility and accountability for driving revenues into the property and being part of the process.

Focus on your goals and know and understand your budgets and numbers. What do you have in your pipeline, what is your conversion factor from prospect to definite? Why didn't your prior year groups book this year? We all like to believe that we are making history calls, but are we? One of the best places to find business is historical bookings, but are we even calling? Raid the cabinet!

Professional sales people understand their professional development and network well. What designations are your sales people working towards, what training have they had this past year? Are they asking and thirsting for it? My advice, give it to them.

Sales leaders, engage your sales people. Ensure that they have the tools and resources they need to be successful, hire those professionals that show a genuine interest and demonstrate a passion for this hospitality environment. There are those that "engage at 9am, disengage at 5pm" and phone it in during the hours they are "engaged". Our industry is diseased, we hire sales people and immediately tie them to their desks, question whether or not they were "really" on sales calls, and then when tied to their desk, we wonder why they aren't on sales calls. Partner with your sales people and you will know what they are doing and how you can help them accomplish their goals.

Sales leaders, involve your sales managers in decision making processes…marketing plans and budget creating. Work closely with them and have commitments of their financial goals through creation and buy in.

General Managers make the same commitments. How engaged and committed as a General Manager are you to the top line revenue success of the hotel? Many of you will say "Highly." When was the last time you blitzed with your team, left the building for a sales call? Go on a few sales calls, encourage, motivate and lead them. While a handful of DOS' might cringe, trust me, it works. Have a game plan. Engaged General Managers don't simply show up midway through the month when forecasts are off or falling short of expected results. General Managers who are true leaders are there through the entire process. It takes a village. Sales Leaders, make your General Managers a key part of the goal, the responsibility and accountability should be a shared one.

In our industry, I have found far too often that we come up with great strategies that show our engagement, how many sales calls we are going to make, how much revenue we are going to book, through what segment and during what time period. How many blitzes we will execute and lay out a plan for what those look like. What travel agencies will we go see? What tradeshows we will participate in? Strategies are created behind how we fill need periods and shift clients to holes in our GRCs, but more often than not we struggle with the execution. Remain committed to laying out the plan and strategy. Meet with your sales managers daily to review their plans and understand what is going on in their markets. Set timelines and goals with consistent temperature checks and stay committed to those. Strategy without execution, gets dusty.

Del Robinette is Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Hospitality Management Corporation (HMC). His main responsibilities include supervision of the sales and marketing revenue generation goals of the company, talent development, marketing and promotional opportunities, brand relationships and ownership expectations across HMC’s portfolio. Throughout his career his focus has been on the sales discipline. Under Mr. Robinette’s leadership his teams have won several awards including Sales Team of the Year for the Crowne Plaza brand in 2008 and in 2010, and Del was recognized as Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts, Director of Sales and Marketing of the Year in 2011. Mr. Robinette can be contacted at 972-934-2040 or drobinette@hospitalitymgt.com Please visit http://www.hospitalitymgt.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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