Sales Mistakes to Avoid in Today's Competitive Marketplace.
By John Hogan CHE CHA MHS.
Wednesday, 27th August 2008
Mistakes do happen - that is human, understandable and part of our professional learning cycle, what we need to remember is to improve and learn from those mistakes by not repeating them needlessly.

Here are ten mistakes to avoid:

1. Not listening. In this highly competitive marketplace in an uncertain economy, not listening to a potential customer is the surest way to NOT making a booking. If you are a hotel sales manager, this seems very elementary. We must remember however, we are dealing with multi generational buyers in the market, as well as culturally diverse professionals.

This means allowing the prospect to talk about themselves, their company or association or their potential use of your facility. When appropriate, succinct responses allowing them to give you feedback is often a key missing in today's fast pace. There are many online resources to help improve listening skills, including a new one from Cornell's Judi Brownell, Ph. D. titled Building Managers' Skills to Create Listening Environments . While it targets the manager more than sales, it does provide an easy to follow structure for evaluating listening effectiveness.

2. Viewing the prospect as the 'enemy' or an adversary. In the process of sales, each party has a role and a position. It is not like an athletic competition where one party must WIN and therefore the other must LOSE. The term 'win-win' was popularized by Stephen Covey in 'Think Win/Win: Principles of Mutual Benefit' If the prospect is viewed as someone you are trying to outwit or outsmart, they are likely to be very hesitant to trust your hotel or services.

Today's buyers understand the supply and demand aspects of revenue management. Your offering optional dates when you might have rate flexibility or other enhancements will demonstrate your professionalism and concern for an ongoing relationship. David Evans , an award winning career industry sales leader with Westin and Starwood, recently shared a quote with me he learned from an asset manager who David says manages a substantial portfolio "I never learned from statements, only my questions" Everyone wins is a much better way to succeed.

3. Not taking detailed notes. We are in an information overload society today, yet the process of sales still has basics. The stages of sales include prospecting or qualifying, interviewing or meeting, presentation and closing. When you finally get the one on one meeting with the potential client regardless if they are an association executive or the parents planning their daughter's wedding, accurately noting the clients needs is crucial.

The fact that you are taking the time to write down what they are saying tells them you care. It encourages them to keep talking, which means you have an increased opportunity to match your hotel's services and features to their needs. The notes you take also can become part of the sales file and are helpful the next time you meet and are looking to book the next meeting or event.

4. Not Following up. A neat, professional and courteous follow-up note keeps you in the prospect's mind and lets them know you are detail oriented. Think of how many calls, emails and meetings we all face daily. The simple follow-up that arrives a few days after your meeting can make the difference in how you are judged. It is a sign of personalized attention in an era of impersonal contact.

5. Not keeping contact with past and current clients and customers. Repeat customers are ideal, in that they do not need to be wooed each time IF they were satisfied. These people will not become repeat customers or guests unless they feel appreciated and acknowledged. I recall several major training accounts over the years at different hotels that were very cost conscious, with two trainees to a room and food budgets that was marginal to profitability.

Our hotels managed to maintain these accounts over the years and increase the rates and budgets, even in times of economic uncertainly such as we face today. I believe the main ingredient for making these inroads was not financial, but the fact that these clients regularly were kept in the communication flow and interacted with even when the contracts were not in renewal time lines. When was the last time you contacted past and current customers?

6. Not Planning each day efficiently. Almost all hotels have the challenge of asking sales managers to perform other activities. The argument of building team work, or responding to a staffing crisis or other reasons seem to pop up for why the sales manager does not have the time to do what they are hired to do: sell the hotel's services and products.

To be effective, a sales manager needs to plan each week and day, allocating prime hours for selling, following up as needed, and measuring their activities against the marketing and sales plans. The crises will be there and teams must be supported, but regular planning and accountability is crucial.

7. Underestimating the client's savvy. The role of hotel sales professionals is not to outsmart the client. You both have needs and budgets. The sales manager of today needs to follow the guidelines of revenue management, space allocation, maximization of resources and attempt to meet or exceed the budgeted financial targets. As a representative of your hotel, you are the conduit between meeting the client's needs and your hotel's ability to meet them.

We must remember they probably know their challenges and problems better than we, just as we know the challenges in changing meeting room sets, or providing transportation to the airport during rush hour better than they. Clear and honest communication on both sides makes the difference, and we must remember to be transparent and accurate in that exchange of information.

8. Rushing the Sales Close. The stages of sales include prospecting or qualifying, interviewing or meeting, presentation and closing. At any given point during these stages, your objective is to complete the current stage and move on to the next at the right pace. This means listening and following the lead of the person you are conversing with. If one attempts to close before there is a comfort level with any of the first three stages, there will likely be no sale.

9. Not keeping up to date or current with industry trends. This industry has changed much in the past ten years. Technology is an essential part of it, as is the means of finding clients, booking reservations and communication to the outside world once they are at your hotel. Technology can also expose you to thousands of ideas without leaving your hotel. Suggestions include the online service that you are reading now and

1. Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International www.hsmai.org
2. AH&LA SmartBrief www.smartbrief.com
3. HFTP InfoLine (Newsletter)Finance&Technology http://hftp.hsyndicate.com/index.html
4. wiredhotelier (Newsletter) www.wiredhotelier.com/newsletter.html
5. HFTP.orgFinance/Technology www.hftp.org
6. Smith Travel Research (STR) http://str.hsyndicate.com/index.html
7. IH-RA.comGeneral Hospitality Interest www.ih-ra.com/newsroom/ihra_articles.html

10. Not taking Professional Pride in your appearance and in your hotel. Synonyms for the word pride are conceit, smugness and arrogance. Additional ones though are delight, satisfaction and pleasure. In these days of business casual, it may be appropriate to forego the business suit on occasion.

There should never be a time, however, when the professional appearance of the individual, the office or the hotel should be in question. Many brands are transitioning from inspectors for QA, saying the guests' comments and the online blogs are the real assessment of the every day hotel. This is not meant to be lecturing to anyone reading this - it is meant as a reflection of many years of observing what customers want and expect. It is also a reflection on the many real professionals I have been proud to be affiliated with in my career to date.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication

All rights reserved by John Hogan. This column may be included in an upcoming book on hotel management.

John Hogan's professional experience includes over 35 years in hotel operations, food & beverage, sales & marketing, training, management development and asset management on both a single and multi-property basis. He holds a number of industry certifications and is a past recipient of the American Hotel & Lodging Association's Pearson Award for Excellence in Lodging Journalism, as well as operational and marketing awards from international brands. He has served as President of both city and state hotel associations.

John's background includes teaching college level courses as an adjunct professor at three different colleges and universities over a 20 year period, while managing with Sheraton, Hilton, Omni and independent hotels. He was the principal in an independent training & consulting group for more than 12 years serving associations, management groups, convention & visitors' bureaus, academic institutions and as an expert witness. He joined Best Western International in spring of 2000, where over the next 8 years he created and developed a blended learning system as the Director of Education & Cultural Diversity for the world's largest hotel chain.

He has served on several industry boards that deal with education and/or cultural diversity and as brand liaison to the NAACP and the Asian American Hotel Owners' Association with his ongoing involvement in the Certified Hotel Owner program. He has conducted an estimated 3,100 workshops and seminars in his career. He served as senior vice president for a client in a specialty hotel brand for six years.

He has published more than 350 articles & columns on the hotel industry and is co-author (with Howard Feiertag, CHA CMP) of LESSONS FROM THE FIELD - a COMMON SENSE APPROACH TO EFFECTIVE HOTEL SALES, which is available from a range of industry sources and AMAZON.com. He resides in Phoenix, Arizona and is finalizing his 2nd book based on his dissertation - The Top 100 People of All Time Who Most Dramatically Affected the Hotel Industry.
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