Of the many changes the hospitality industry has endured in the past decade or two, perhaps the biggest changes of all can be observed in the calls being fielded by our sales, front-desk and reservations sales teams. One obvious change is that callers generally are much better informed, having done their research online at our Web site and others before placing their call. As a result, we have had to train those who field sales and reservations calls to be much more informed regarding the smallest of details regarding our destination, location and facilities versus just being familiar with room types.

But an even bigger challenge we need to address in sales training these days is how to deal with today's multitasking callers. Whether calling about business, leisure or a group/function, callers these days seem more distracted than ever, and it appears to be getting worse.

From what I recall during my stint as a front-desk reservations agent, and eventually sales manager in the early 1980s, fielding telephone sales calls in the hotel business has never been easy, but at least we could count on the inquiry caller's full attention once they dialed our number. Of course that was also back in the era when the telephone was the device that hung on the wall in the kitchen or that sat on the end table in the living room and still was attached by a phone cord to the wall. Today's commonly heard phrase, "Honey, where's the phone?" had never been uttered yet, and we never had to dig the cordless out of the sofa cushions following an exhaustive 10-minute search of our home. In terms of selling over the telephone, it was a lot easier to sell to someone who was at least listening to and focusing on the conversation their hotel salesperson was having with them.

Today, one just never knows what they might hear in the background while fielding hotel sales and reservations inquiries. With the freedom extended by cordless phones in our homes, cell phones when we're out, headsets so we can talk with our hands and voice over Internet protocol, people are talking on the phone in just about every location imaginable!

Salespeople today are never surprised to hear background noises like aircraft boarding announcements, waiters offering another round and the sound of running water, although in the last instance they always hope it is just someone doing their dishes. Not to mention, today's sales agents still have to deal with the same old-time challenges like barking dogs, screaming children and spouses saying "Honey, honey, ask them about…"

There basically are two approaches salespeople today can take in managing calls placed by these multitaskers. One is to continue to let these callers and their lack of respect annoy and disgust or accept the new reality and do whatever we can on our end to make the best of the sales opportunity at hand. Because the use of personal technology devices seems to be expanding worldwide rather than going away, perhaps it's time to address this issue with the sales team instead of allowing the staff's annoyances to fester. Here are some training tips for your next sales meeting:

- Command attention with your opening greeting. A clear, charismatic opening will grab the attention of the caller early on and make him or her want to engage while listening to you.

- Paraphrase and recap the caller's stated needs. Showing callers that you are giving them your full attention fosters the same level of respect from them. Nearly every call begins with a stated need and reason for calling such as: "We need to be in the area for a wedding on May 20 and are bringing our two children." A personalized replay will immediately convey your genuine interest in assisting and show that you respect their individuality.

- Assume control of the call by asking permission to take the lead. After paraphrasing their stated needs, use a statement of transition to turn the tides and take lead for the rest of the call. "All right then Mr. Perez, if I can get a few more details I can research the best options for you right now. …"

- Ask direct questions to "check in" during the call. By checking in regularly with questions such as "How does that sound?" and "Which of those would you prefer?" you'll encourage the caller to continue to listen actively to avoid missing anything. Be especially sure to ask these questions if you are not hearing "verbal nods" from your caller such as "oh, I see," "OK" and "aah."

- Bring the caller into the "picture." When describing your "product" for the caller, to help them picture in their minds what you are describing by using the word "you" when describing benefits. Rather than saying laundry-listing a bunch of "we haves," captivate their attention by switching to "you can enjoy," "you can take advantage of," and "you can benefit from."

- Make it easy for them to secure the opportunity. As with any sales inquiry, the main objective is to end the call with a confirmed booking. However, if the inquiry caller is driving on an interstate or on board an aircraft that is about to shut its boarding doors, it's sometimes just not possible to get a credit card to seal the deal. So make it easy for them to "secure" the reservation or group booking by offering a "courtesy hold" for a limited period of time, especially when doing so has no down-side for the hotel (such as when they are calling for dates well in advance or when they are calling about a reservation for tonight and it is obvious the hotel still will have plenty of rooms.)

Like everything else in the profession of sales, there are no across-the-board solutions or magic formulas. But if you use techniques such as these and make a concerted effort to do your best to accept the circumstances of the overstuffed, overscheduled lives our guests lead, you can be assured of capturing more than your market share in any sales arena.

Douglas Kennedy is the former President and Co-Founder of HSA International, which he exited after 15 years to found The Douglas Kennedy Company. This article was was originally published in Hotel & Motel Management." .