by Carol Verret

Hotel Sales Training that focuses on the sales process alone misses the point. There is no shortage of hotel sales people that know the process. The pace of business is so fast that a salesperson that continues to go through the 'steps' often fails to hear buying signals.

Has anyone noticed in those Smith Travel reports that the demand side of the REVPAR equation is little bit delicate? Mark Woodruff of PKF points out the implications of that in a new study. 'While the number of hotel rooms occupied will continue to grow at a 1.4 percent pace, the number of new accommodations is projected to increase by 2.0 percent in 2007. The net result is a forecast of a slight 0.6 percent decline in occupancy for the nation's largest lodging markets.'

The implications of this is that hotel sales people will be competing for business in 2007 and the trend that Mr. Woodruff outlines is expected to continue with Lodging Econometrics forecasting 119,426 new units in the pipeline for 2007 and 131,517 for 2008. Hotel sales people will have to find new ways of differentiating themselves from the hundreds of other hotel sales people vying for the same piece of business.

To a client the WIFFM (What's In It For Me) is the most important thing. When product and rate are relatively the same, a sales person who can zero in on what's 'personally' the most important thing to a customer is likely to make the sale. Hotel sales people who can figure this out offer a powerful differentiation from the rest of the field.

In a recent seminar program, I asked the group please don't tell me that you are still sending those letters with bullet points that outline coffee makers, irons and boards, etc. An owner looked up at me and asked why not? The answer unfortunately is that nobody cares. The 'commoditiztion' of hotel rooms has made it so that those things are minimum expectations - everyone has those as well as TVs, beds, etc.

So in a world where the vast majority of hotels and rooms are relatively similar, what makes the difference? A hotel and a hotel sales person that can give the client what they want. Finding out what they want is the most important thing a sales person can do.

Sales people are preoccupied with the 'pitch' - outlining every feature and every product that they can offer. When they are done, they pause as if waiting for the client to applaud. Even after the client gives them a buying signal that they are ready to buy, the sales person proceeds with the 'process' until they get the section on 'close' - nobody has time for that anymore.

From the first contact or approach, a sales person has to offer the client a benefit, a WIIFM, for engaging in a dialogue with them. People are just too busy to waste their time retuning a message, (they have way too many to return), or responding to an email unless there is something in it for them.

How do you find out the WIIFM?

- Do the research. Go online and check out the web site, go to Hoovers and check out their numbers. Is their revenue up or down, what does this mean for the contact person? Find out where they had this event last year - are you a comparable facility?

- Ask your current clients in similar positions, 'Why do you use our property'. If you are using the DNA model of new business development, you have clients similar to the one you want to approach. Existing accounts are a wealth of info about the hotel and why they use us - we just seldom ask them.

- Put your self in their position. Imagine that you are the prospect that you need to reach. What does the prospect's world look like? If you can't imagine your way into being them, find someone in a similar position and spend some time observing their world. What would be important if it were you?

When you make contact, ask them what is important in their hotel selection. They will always say rate first because if they don't they are afraid that the sales person might overcharge them but that is usably not the deciding factor. Sales people tend to get stuck in the 'qualifying' step asking things like number of rooms, arrival/departure pattern -- important to us but we almost never ask them what is the most important thing to them.
Certain market segments are easier to figure out than others but one common response to this question is to make it easy. Staples isn't selling a bunch of those Easy Buttons by coincidence. We all are so busy we just want someone to make something easy.

The client wants a hotel that gets their reservations right, their rooming list correctly entered, and the catered function is on time, etc. Finally, they want accurate and timely billing - this all equates to easy.

Go to Staples - buy a case of those EASY Buttons. Ship or take one to every new business prospect you are having difficulty closing and write a note that says, 'This is what will happen when you book your next event at our hotel!'

Carol Verret And Associates Consulting and Training offers training services and consulting in the areas of sales, revenue management and customer service primarily but not exclusively to the hospitality industry.