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Applying Five Tenets of Hotel Sales and Marketing
in These Tough Times

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By David M. Brudney, ISHC, January 2010

We made it through the holidays celebrating responsibly—as those alcoholic beverage commercials remind us so well—but still with that dark cloud hanging overhead, that inescapable awareness that the industry’s tough times will no doubt carry over throughout 2010 and possibly beyond.

We know there will be more hotels heading toward foreclosure, more owners giving back the keys, more discounting, more hotels turning over room inventory to the online travel agencies, and perhaps even more cannibalism than we have ever experienced. 

Smith Travel Research predicts 2010 will bring some “moderate improvement:” very slight growth in both supply and demand, overall declines in occupancy, and weakness in average daily rate—but not as bad as 2009.  Randy Smith—attempting to give a positive spin—tells us that “less bad is the new good.” 

It’s no wonder then why operators, owners and asset managers must be filled with anxiety over the outlook for business in 2010.  Have expenses been reduced or eliminated altogether? Do we have the capital to spend how and where we must to remain competitive? How can we survive? Uncertainty as to the answers to those questions can lead to poor decisions—or worse yet, management paralysis.

Unfortunately, sales and marketing become victims whenever ownership and management hesitate or postpone making critical decisions out of fear of making wrong decisions. It is when times are the toughest that hotels must have real clarity and commitment from the owner and management on the direction and implementation of the sales and marketing agenda.
Here’s a checklist for owners, asset managers and operators of items that need to be top of mind with your sales and marketing operation:

Social media. The social-media bus has arrived, and all hotels must get on or face the risks. The key is to understand this new media and foster your property’s online presence. You have opportunities like never before—at a fraction of the costs you paid pre-Internet—to reach and influence potential hotel customers; to engage in dialogue with consumers who are searching various social media in hopes of finding hotels and destinations that match their needs (and appeal to their wants). You need to go to school on this new phenomenon, and that may require going outside the hotel to seek a specialist for professional advice and guidance.

Explore LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Find out how best you can use these resources to promote your hotel and your various packages; to enter into dialogue on topics and issues of great interest to those millions of prospects who log on daily.

A Twitter account should not be overlooked either. Be sure to check out “Tweetbeat” to learn how you can connect in real time with a Twitter member who is planning a visit to your destination. 

Display these various social media icons on your e-mail signature, proposals, and releases. Doing so makes it easier for interested parties to share your information with other networking groups. And yes, you can combine social media with your existing e-mail marketing campaigns with very positive results.

Neighborhood marketing. If you have read any of my articles and columns during the past two decades or more, you already know how bullish I am on the importance of neighborhood and backyard marketing—even more so during the toughest of times. 

It is true today, more so than ever, that as much as 80 percent of a hotel’s business is generated (by direct booking and/or referrals) from within a 20-block radius of the hotel. Now is the time to make certain that your sales team has “turned over every rock” in search of local contacts—those who book direct and those who influence what hotel is booked.

I do not intend to overlook the importance of social media and all of the online reviews and dialogue contained therein, but penetrating the local neighborhood (i.e. your own backyard) is work that needs to be done by foot soldiers on the ground … office to office ... door to door. Seek out those “neighbors” that have room night, F&B and social reasons for using your hotel. If not them personally, determine if they are in a position to recommend or influence those booking decisions with other potential guests.

Identify those local organizations that have reason to cultivate current and future guests of your hotel. Find opportunities for those organizations to access your guest database and vice versa.  Seek out alliances, partnerships and co-op marketing opportunities, and spread the word that your hotel wants to become the headquarters or host of any and all appropriate community drives, social responsibility campaigns, organization drop-off programs, save-the-schools and civic/town hall meetings. Activities such as these will pay huge dividends sooner than you would suspect.

Direct sales. Make certain your sales team is directed and supervised correctly by a director of sales or a GM based on your hotel’s size and competitive market. Be sure your sales team is deployed properly, by geographical or industry type, and that each sales professional is a good “fit” for that particular market segment, horizontal or vertical. Check to be sure the sales team has the necessary tools—systems, equipment, technology, business intelligence, and, of course, a realistic budget—to get the job done. 

Don’t be missing in action at important trade shows and events that draw potential clients and prospects. And be sure to insist the sales team doesn’t become overly dependent on technology-based selling tasks (e.g., e-mails, texting, Twittering, social media) at the risk of doing those timeless, critical relationship-based selling tasks (e.g., phone calls, outside personal calls, sales trips, trade shows, face-to-face entertainment).

Bonus/incentive plans. I have found in my practice far too many operators who have not only frozen salaries, but also have either abandoned paying bonuses or have continued using dated, non-user friendly or achievable plans. Now is not the time to put a hold on motivating the sales troops. There are plenty of options open, any of which will resonate well with the team. Use smaller percentages.  Use new, more measurable metrics. Tie the bonus into improved performance in the pace report.  Replace direct cash payment with merchandise gift certificates, extra days off, and even a full complimentary weekend stay at your hotel for the recipient and family (or significant other).

Don’t be lulled into the false belief that all sales personnel should be lucky they still have jobs and being employed and getting a regular paycheck is sufficient incentive given the current bad economy. That’s nonsense, ladies and gentlemen. Sales people are different in that—whether they admit to it or not—they need extra recognition, bonuses of any kind, in order to achieve and even exceed their goals. 

Sustaining professional sales training. The hotel industry is filled with a new generation of sales professionals who are managed by sales directors that may not have that much experience themselves.  Ongoing professional sales training is spotty at best, and at worst it has been eliminated as a budget item altogether (“due to the current business conditions”).  The youngest of this new generation need professional sales training badly. Those sales pros that have been active in our business for five years or more need refresher courses. 

There have been too many changes during just the past decade on how we book business, what resources we have from which to draw, how we connect with prospects, and how we are able to penetrate a particular market segment. Again, this is no time to cut back or eliminate important and timely training.

It is so easy to fall back into bad habits, especially when the market goes south. So many sales pros were lulled into false senses of security when the sun shone brightly everyday back in 2006 and 2007.  Don’t overlook this important aspect of your sales and marketing operation. Sustaining professional sales training is an investment, not an expense. 

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I failed to comment on the importance of Web site enhancements and managing all of the Internet distribution channels, call centers, and CRM and sales and catering software. Although I will be addressing those and other topics in future columns, much has been written already by those more qualified than me. I would strongly recommend that you consider bringing in a specialist to assess the current status of your hotel’s overall electronic connectivity.
Should you find that help is needed in order to examine and evaluate these checklist items—if that expertise is not immediately available internally or within your brand or management company—help is available. Professional, independent, objective, client-tested specialists are out there and are ready and eager to serve. 
One final piece of advice: No matter how many dollars you have allocated to spend on sales and marketing in 2010, make certain you spend those hard-earned dollars wisely. Replace funding those budget items that no longer yield the required results. Be sure to explore all the new possibilities to reach your target audience through optimizing your use of social media. And be sure to put the proper metrics in place in order to measure results.

© Copyright 2010



 
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.
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Contact:

David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal 
David Brudney & Associates 
Carlsbad, CA 
760-476-0830 Fax 760-476-0860 
(c) 760-994-9266
David@DavidBrudney.com
www.DavidBrudney.com
www.ishc.com


 
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