One of the great things about selling is that not only are we always learning new stuff, but how easy it is to momentarily forget those sales lessons we thought we had mastered so long ago.
Case in point: much of the professional selling techniques and skills I have developed were acquired during my hotel sales career back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I draw upon those hard-earned lessons and experiences every day in my present life as a hospitality marketing consultant.
I had an experience recently that reminded me how easy it is to overlook or even forget lessons that most veteran sales professionals would consider so fundamental and so top of mind.
I was invited to respond to an RFP to conduct a series of executive sales training and consultation for a company's senior executives in real estate investment, hotel and asset management. The project represented a significant piece of business for my consulting firm - - and one that I wanted very much to do.The RFP
The RFP was sent by a manager of the firm's HR department. I called her right away and asked all of the correct qualifying-type questions, but the answers I received were very perfunctory. All I could glean from that initial conversation was a) when a final decision was likely to be made and b) a time period for when the project would be done. Try as I hard as I did, I failed to connect or even learn anything new that might help in my efforts to book the business.
I did notice, however, that two senior executives in the company were copied on the RFP cover letter and - good news for me - two consulting colleagues of mine had long-term business relationships established with those two execs.
I called my colleagues immediately and learned that the manager sending out the RFP was the daughter of the CEO. We discussed the daughter and I was led to believe that, despite facilitating the RFP process, most likely she would play only a small role in the final selection.
Both of my colleagues agreed enthusiastically to make phone calls to the firm's two senior execs, giving very strong testimonials on my behalf. One of my contacts even offered to call the firm's CEO direct because of an outstanding business and personal relationship between the two.
This is when I made the first of my errors in judgment. I remember feeling "comfortable" with the knowledge that I had done some strong leveraging with my colleagues. At that time, I did not see the need to go - what I perceived to be - over the head of the manager and engage in dialogue with the two execs. I thought it best to let my colleagues do my selling for me. That decision would come back to bite me where I sit!
Proceeding forward, I crafted what I thought to be a powerful response to the RFP - loaded with specific outcomes and takeaways, examples of my relevant body of work, and differentiation of my work product, style and delivery compared to any potential competitors.
Shortly thereafter I received great feedback from my colleagues. Each reported having significant conversations with the two execs and even the CEO; sang my praises well and shared with me how highly regarded the firm thought of my qualifications and my RFP response. I also learned some not-so-good news. Apparently, the firm's preference would be for someone from "outside" the hospitality industry to conduct the training and consulting. I was told the firm was seeking someone with experience with clients that made lodging product loans and made selections on real estate asset management companies and asset managers.Another lapse in judgment
What I should have done immediately was place a phone call to either or both of the firm's execs at which time I could "qualify" first-hand how important the "hospitality industry outsider" factor would be in the final decision. Instead, for whatever reason or reasons I may have had at that time, I opted to call another colleague and past client of mine who had engaged me to conduct a very similar assignment when he was the CEO of one of the biggest brand names in the health service industry.
When my colleague and past client agreed to make the call to the firm's CEO, I thought that I had now done more than enough to secure the assignment. Wrong.
About two weeks before the decision date, I realized I had not done enough homework - - I had failed to learn anything about my competition. That is so basic in any type of selling situation. How could I have overlooked that? Not enough time spent strategizing? Was I too complacent? Was I just over confident? Could it have been simply a lack of focus?
I thought again about calling either of the two execs or the CEO direct. The reason why I did not was that I was too concerned with going over the head of the daughter and what potential damage that might create - - either by my not being selected or even more so, starting work with a new client with possible bad chemistry after having been selected.
I called the HR manager once again and she was either very reluctant to share more information or she simply did not know. I learned nothing about my competition. Again, I failed to connect. And instead of calling anyone else at the firm, I opted to just pack it in and take my chances. In hindsight, it was a big mistake on my part.
A few days or so later I received a standard e-mail communication from the HR manager thanking me for my RFP response, advising that another consulting firm had been selected, and hoping we would have another opportunity in the future to work together.
When we lose a good piece of business, we must come away with at least something we learned from the experience
A few weeks later I learned that I did have a connection with one of those two execs at the firm. I discovered that he had been employed by one of my major clients and that we had several colleagues and good friends in common.
I called him and left word on his voice mail that I wanted to ask him about the project decision, whether or not I received strong consideration, anything at all that I could learn that might be of value to me for future solicitations - - a very good idea, by the way, for anyone involved in selling a product or service; if we lose a good piece of business, we must come away with at least something we learned from the experience, something we can apply next time, something we could have done better. Keep in mind that in selling, nothing stays the same. We are either getting better or getting worse.
The exec called me back and we had ourselves a great conversation. I learned that my proposal was given very serious consideration and that I was the runner-up in the final decision. The winner was a consulting firm with a long history of work outside the hospitality industry and one that had been soliciting this firm's business for more than three years.
The exec also gave me some constructive criticism - - anyone in sales can't get enough of that, we should always be seeking constructive criticism, for that is how we improve. He told me that he was surprised that I never called him direct. Although a call from me most likely would not have changed the final decision, I learned that the fact that I did not call did not help my chances.Always weigh the benefits against the risks
A lesson for all who earn their livings selling a product or service: when in doubt, always make that call. I placed far too much importance on not wanting to ruffle the feathers of my initial contact. I learned (once again) that the value of doing anything helpful to my getting the business far outweighed the risks of upsetting the CEO's daughter.
Whenever responding to an RFP or soliciting a good piece of business, sales professionals should always determine who the decision makers are and who has influence in the decision making process. We should always respect and value our initial contact - as we do every day in interacting with the ever-present gatekeepers who stand between us and the decision makers.
But when it comes to an opportunity to help our chances by getting in front of the actual decision maker - or anyone else who might influence that decision - we have to jump on it!
I will be addressing various effective strategies and techniques for dealing with gatekeepers in future articles in my series on lessons for the new generation of hospitality sales professionals.
© Copyright 2008 David M. Brudney, ISHC, is a veteran hospitality sales and marketing professional concluding his fourth decade of service to the hospitality industry. Brudney advises lodging owners, lenders, asset managers and operators on hotel sales and marketing "best practices" and conducts reviews of hospitality (as well as other industry) sales and marketing operations throughout the U.S. and overseas. The principal of David Brudney & Associates of Carlsbad, CA, a sales and marketing consulting firm specializing in the hospitality industry since 1979, Brudney is a frequent lecturer, instructor and speaker. He is a charter member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants. Previously, Brudney held hospitality sales and marketing positions with Hyatt, Westin and Marriott.Contact:
David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal
David Brudney & Associates
Carlsbad, CA USA
Phone: 760-476-0830 Fax: 760-476-0860