Sales Effort

Less than a decade ago, your sales manager engaged with the community, schmoozing store owners, movers and shakers to plump up business for your hotel.

Less than a decade ago, you, the hotel operator, made sure to advertise in newspapers, on radio and TV, and ran classifieds in the Yellow Pages and on AAA. You deployed direct sales. You circulated flyers. Your guests entertained themselves in a related way.

Once the family got into the hotel room after a long day of travel, they’d kick back, watch TV, maybe rent a movie to slide into the DVD or (remember these?) video cassette player.
How things have changed. The analog world is dying, reluctantly abandoning its hold to digital just as color TV conquered black and white.

At the guest level, while mom and dad still may prefer old-style, in-room entertainment, the kids probably have their own computers along, amusing themselves with YouTube, movie streaming – and computer-to-computer communication. Not to mention smartphones, mobile computers on your hip or in your purse that are the newest kid on the block for the newest kids on the block.

Instead of placing ads in newspapers, hoteliers are counting on pay per clicks on the Internet; instead of business cards and ads in travel sections, they’re buying space in Google and on Facebook. Even AAA has moved a lot of its bookings online, though that may be too late. It’s not a great way to drive bookings, as more and more people can visit travel sites with property reviews, making AAA’s“stars” less important.

In the online world, after all, traveler comments make for truth even when advertising doesn’t. The online world is a more transparent world. The options can be bewildering when the rate of change is accelerating so fast. There was no single pivot point for the shift from the old order, but things began to change with the recession of late 2007, forcing hotel operators to scramble for business. Now, coming out of that moneyless pit, operators taking a look at their P&Ls are happy to see that this year, compared to last, revenues are up and profitability is up – though not as much as you’d expect. Part of the reason for that choked uptick is stiffer fees for branded hotels, as well as increased OTA charges.

So hotel operators have to be extra-creative.

How you ran your hotel before the recession is not the way you should run it now. Today, you have to put together a sales force that can talk the talk, explaining and promoting your business in human terms. But that sales team also has to be tech-savvy. The hotels that survived the recession have shifted in their hiring processes and become more flexible; those that haven’t are still struggling.

Sales and marketing are no longer a strictly local pairing. The market has become global because of the Internet, so hotels, especially independents, can’t limit their vision or approach to their immediate neighborhood.
Think local, act global never rang truer: While you still have to cultivate your own community, bringing customers to your property from within a five-mile radius, you have to appeal to the wider spread of the Internet, because customers can come from anywhere. That means making your hotel bookable from as many channels as possible is what you need to do.

Today, your sales manager has to straddle ever more worlds: old-school media like print and radio still count, but they’re losing their grip to increasingly important social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram. Finding someone who lives comfortably in both worlds is challenging, because the sales manager with discipline, a knack for getting along and a talent for forging community bonds is trending older – and may be resistant to picking up the skills you need to navigate social media.

Still, there’s something to be said for having a sales manager or sales coordinator in your community, someone who can explain your business and bring things down to earth. The human touch still matters because people are barraged with so much information that they will pause and listen to someone in front of them. The trick is to find someone who can multitask and “speak” both analog and digital.

Cross-training is key, so do your best to hire a sales coordinator comfortable picking up the trash while walking around the property and checking rooms. A hotel needs multi-taskers because every day is so different and moves so quickly.

But it’s not easy to find someone with field experience as a sales manager who’s also comfortable in digital marketing. So, besides the cross-training, hotel executives can train younger people with digital marketing talent so their people-friendly inner sales manager also gets a chance to shine.

To attract someone like that, you have to be sensitive to changes not only in technology but also in hiring. People’s expectations aren’t what they used to be, and today’s labor force can be downright picky. Used to be people stayed at a company for life. No longer. Jobs these days are often stepping-stones.

People looking for hotel work have a different view of the employee-employer relation than they did even five years ago, so there’s more give and take, and often, the employer has to give first.

But those great sales managers are still out there: people who can do direct sales and at the same time place ads on Facebook and Twitter and at least talk about Bitcoin, that controversial new kind of currency.

A lot of this is new and edgy and morphing quickly, meaning you have to be willing to always stay on top of it all. The best hotel operators do that just fine. Now make sure your sales force does just fine, too – and that your sales coordinator is ahead of the curve.

IBC Hotels founder and president Pamela J.W. Barnhill also serves as president and COO of InnSuites Hospitality Trust and is a board member of the Independent Lodging Industry Association. Ms. Barnhill advocates for, owns and operates independent hotels. For more information, visit ibchotels.com or contact Ms. Barnhill at pbarnhill@ibchotels.com.