Will the Real Hotel Sales Director, Please Stand Up?
By Neil Salerno
Friday, 3rd August 2007
The General Manager's role in hotel sales; wise sales directors welcome the leadership and involvement of the general manager in their sales effort.

They realize that a general manager, who is involved in the sales process, can be a strong ally when it comes to budgeting and the allocation of marketing funds as well as an often needed stimulus to achieve sales excellence.

Yet, many general managers have difficulty becoming involved in a positive way. How deeply should a manager be involved; how much is enough; how much is too much? Many GM's either become sales micro-managers, or avoid getting involved in sales at all; neither case is desirable or beneficial.

I will never forget attending my very first P&L review meeting many years ago as a sales fledgling. When the bottom-line was criticized, the GM uttered those ominous words, "Gee boss, we would have made money if we had better sales last month, but I can't help that". Instead, it would have been nice to hear that this GM felt a little responsibility for the property's sales.

The sad part is that this GM's reaction is pretty typical. CYA seems to be alive and well in our industry. This reaction is typical of a GM who is not involved in the sales function with anything more than lip-service. This is usually the same GM who is notably absent when I conduct property sales training sessions; a pretty tell-tale sign.

The fact is that the GM should be the real sales director on the property. No offense to the person holding the title of director of sales, but the GM is the individual with a view for the entire operation and has the ultimate responsibility for profit or loss. Just as the GM needs to be involved in the hotel's operation, the GM needs to accept involvement in sales.

But, how much involvement is enough? Here are some suggestions.

Sales Team Leader

In his book on leadership, Stephan Covey describes managers and leaders: a manager is the one who puts the ladder against the wall; the leader is the one who tells the manager which wall to lean it against. Without this leadership, many sales people work towards the wrong goals, accomplishing little of value and adding to their own frustration.

Being a leader, a GM provides direction to the sales effort. It really doesn't matter if the hotel has an entire sales team, just one person, or one person who has sales duties only part of the time. The GM co-ordinates all the many sales activities necessary to stay competitive in today's business environment and insures that a balanced sales program is maintained.

Along with the person responsible for sales, the GM defines the hierarchy for time to be devoted to the Internet, electronic sales, corporate transient sales, tourist sales, and group sales. Each area has its own level of importance.

Internet Marketing

Today, the sales role is more complicated and complex than ever before. The Internet and electronic sales are increasing in their importance to overall sales success; yet many hotels spend too little time and resources working on them.

Although most hotels, today, have their own web site, the sales job only begins on the day the site is published. Many people feel that the GM is best equipped to be the leader in the online sales task. A well-designed hotel web site should produce as much as 40% or 50% of all the reservations produced in the hotel; this amounts to a huge responsibility.

Web site marketing is not a function of the web master who designed and maintains your web site. Since your web site represents the entire property, the general manager is perfectly equipped to lead the online sales effort. GM's should lead the effort to develop a web site link strategy to increase popularity of the site, develop viral marketing opportunities, participate in blogs/newsletters, and develop online package promotions.

Site marketing includes reviewing and evaluating the site's data; especially reservation production generated by the site. This data provides information on the "health" of the site and points-out changes which need to be made. Most hoteliers tend to rely solely on data provided by the web master or, in the case of flagged properties, data provided by the franchise.

The general manager should monitor the site's data on search engine ranking, searches generated by various engines, unique user visits, the popularity of each page of the site, the number of users visiting their reservations page, and, of course, the number of reservations made from the site. Today's data generating engines can provide a whole host of useful information about the productivity of your site; learn to use them.

In the case of franchised hotels which direct reservations to their franchise booking engine, several franchises now have the capability to track the number of reservations which originate from the hotel's site versus those generated from the franchise site. Check with your franchise to see if they can do so. If they cannot, why not?

Electronic Marketing

The general manager should also be involved in the electronic marketing elements of the hotel sales effort. By virtue of the GDS, hotels participate in several third-party aggregator booking portals. Your rates and inventory, as submitted to the GDS, are those which the GDS submits to the third-parties.

I know that many GM's have a tainted view of third-party aggregators as a result of the Franchise/Third-party wars of a few years ago, but, if you play the game right, third-party booking portals can deliver needed reservations to your hotel. If necessary, get an expert to show you how to manage all the elements of your electronic marketing effort. A web site is a living breathing sales tool and needs to be an active part of your sales effort.

Pay-per-click advertising is an excellent way to increase the popularity of your site, but it's not a place for the timid or uninformed. Managing pay-per-click advertising requires some expertise, but the results can be very rewarding. Most hotels receive a return-on-investment of many times the money invested.

Corporate Transient Sales

The Internet has changed the way we solicit corporate transient business. Many companies are now instructing their travelers how to "find" best available rates; thereby making corporate negotiated rate programs less reliable; but, lowest rates are not the only criteria needed to book this business. Combining special amenities and services with negotiated rates can "lock-in" business from many companies.

The general manager should be involved with the sales team to develop "rate programs", versus rates alone, for volume corporate business. Another reason for this involvement is the fact that it can produce additional confidence in the hotel, which only the "person-in-charge" can do; this can often tip the scale to win that juicy corporate account. Sales calls made by the general manager can make a huge difference.

Group Business

For those hotels large enough to book group business, the general manager can play an important role in building group business. Most group planners don't simply book hotel rooms; they judge the ability of the hotel to properly service the needs of their group. This includes the accessibility, facilities, staffing, and services available at the hotel.

Don't underestimate the importance of competent hotel staffing to a group planner. What better representative to demonstrate the competence of the hotel staff than the general manager. No group representative should visit your hotel without being introduced to as many hotel team members as possible; especially the GM.

Wise sales people use the GM and staff to help book groups. The general manager represents the attitude, functionality, and competence, which group planners are seeking. Let's bust the myth that selling group business is just a matter of rates and amenities; your rates and amenities could be perfect, but you could still lose the group if the planner doesn't have confidence in your operation.

Voice Reservations

Whether your hotel is large enough to have a dedicated reservations staff or not, someone has to answer the phone to "sell" voice reservations. GM, does your staff represent the way you would answer the phone and sell reservations? Proper training aside, have they ever heard how you handle a reservations call?

Most successful general managers are an integral part of the hotel's sales effort; they are "examples" to the entire staff. Everything starts with a sale being made. Keep the horse in front of the cart; maintaining a profitable level of expenses is important, but improving sales can cure many ills.

Neil Salerno, CHME, CHA
Hotel Marketing Coach

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