The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Asia Pacific's 10th Annual AsiaConnect Conference was held in Singapore on September 3, 2014 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Conference Center. At the conference, a Kekynote Speaker, Robert Gilbert, President & CEO of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association (HSMAI), delivered a keynote speech about the evolving reality of the modern sales professional. His talk was followed by a panel session led by moderator Lucas Peng, CEO of Peak Hospitality Solutions, took place together with Gilbert, Andrew Chan, CEO of ACI HR Solutions and Carmen Lam, VP Sales & Marketing AP, FRHI Hotels & Resorts. The panel discussed how technology is impacting the role of the Sales Manager, and that of the Revenue Manager in hotels. Traditionally, the role of the Sales Manager has been to manage the customer relationship and convert the sale. But as technology deepens its impact on the sales cycle, marketing is no longer responsible only for acquiring and qualifying prospects. Together with Revenue Managers, these departments are encroaching on the traditional sales relationship by enabling the conversion to sales, especially in a business to consumer sense, online. The role of the Sales Manager is changing to that with an emphasis on building business to business relationships along with strategic oversight at the regional and global level for the performance of accounts, as well as having responsibility for winning and maintaining accounts at those geographic levels. The evolution of the Modern Sales Professional Since the 1800's selling was more about manipulation - making sales through any means. These salespersons believed that the impossible was true. Sales, when they occurred, were sporadic. They used the bait and switch methods and were dubbed snake-oil or used-car salesmen. Selling evolved to control. The 'Father knows best' mentality was exercised. The power resided with the seller; the buyer listened and learned about how the product or service, if bought, was the best way to solve your problems. As sales people became wiser, the consultation method/approach was used. They explained features and benefits. The power still resided with the seller, as the expert. The sale was structured for efficiency and around how it benefited the buyer needs. The seller was someone the buyer liked to do business with. Today, the art of sales is about collaboration. A sales person solves problems, provides advice and works together with the buyer. The power has shifted to the buyer. In hotels, the role of the sales person is to communicate how their service benefits the target organization; to do account management on a global/regional or local basis for the mutual benefit of the customer. It is a long term, team approach, solving problems through planning and analysis. Bob Gilbert said, "What's driving this is that the Buyer is more educated, engaged, knowledgeable and sophisticated than ever before. Their behavior transforms all market segments." Defining the Modern Salesperson's role within the hotel ecosystem The art and science of selling today is having insight into clients, a clear focus on situations and knowing the priorities of the customer. Gilbert says that the role of the Modern Salesperson is to be a strategic collaborator. "Internally, they rely on the support of an integrated team. Externally, the client might not always be the decision maker or the sole decision maker, so the salesperson needs to source meaningful extensions." During the panel session, Lucas Peng questioned the panel as to what they suggest to transition to the Modern Sales Professional. "To transition, I think you really have to look at the customer and what the customers are doing these days", said Carmen Lam. "You have to look, not only at your own company and the product you want to sell, but at what the customer needs, how they are behaving, how they are making decisions, what is the structure in the company. Yes, you are selling the product, but you have to look at the customer first. Then formulate a plan of action". The impact of technology on the Sales role The panel stated that technology and the digital landscape is transforming the hotel sales process of the past and with the bulk of the transactional activities going online, the sales cycle is more streamlined which affords sales people more time to provide higher-touch customer service and insightful solutions that customers value most. They need to leverage data in a timely fashion, to create useful information. And they have to go outside of their normal sources to obtain information about potential clients to bring value to a package. Critical thinking skills are required. "No matter how analytical the salesperson is today, you still go back to relationships", observed Carmen Lam. "That's what salespeople really have to know. How to cultivate a relationship and what are the things you can leverage, because one size does not fit all." Sales Managers are collaborators and negotiators, not simply guardians of the customer relationship. Attracting the right skill set The hospitality industry is finding that there is insufficient talent available with the skill sets necessary to negotiate the type of sales contracts they need on a global/regional/local level. People from outside of the industry, say from logistics, travel management companies or airlines, are sometimes better equipped to negotiate the modern hospitality sales contract. According to the panel, with the shortage of skilled people in the market, hoteliers are casting a wider net for sales talent and looking at ways to restructure the sales organization, which can result in redeployment of people with specific skill sets and proximity to customers and their needs. Restructuring can mean scaling back on headcount, however the panel emphasized that hotel companies are seeking highly skilled, adaptable and efficient people, and that hotel companies are prepared to invest more in the career development and remuneration of these individuals. Andrew Chan responded "This is where I see the new talent coming to the industry do particularly well with that, because it is a bit of a paradigm shift. So you've got some of the younger talent, Gen Y talent, who are comfortable with the use of social media. Where they are particularly comfortable is using technology, and new technology, to find people and be connected, versus your more traditional sales person. Such talents are coming out of hotel schools; they may not have the experience yet, but are certainly worth exploring." The cost of customer acquisition is rising at a rate higher than the industry metric REVPAR (revenue per available room). Labour is a huge part of that cost. Brands are refining global sales to be strategic – eliminating redundancy at the property level with the use of analytics and technology to drive REVPAR. Salespersons are becoming more senior, accountable for profit generation and are now being positioned at the corporate head office, rather than at the property level, particularly for accounts that use multiple hotels in many countries. Related Link: HSMAI Asia Pacific