Sales after the Tsunami of the Digital Evolution

As we continue exploring commercial strategy’s evolution, one discipline remains in its original form, Sales. Revenue Management and Marketing disciplines evolved with the coming of the information age, having to reinvent their skills around a world of technology that took the art out of revenue management and the creativity out of marketing. What was left? The science of analytics. Revenue Management no longer had to determine whether a weekend needed a two or three-night minimum length of stay because a computer algorithm that could analyze trends faster only required the human to confirm the data. Marketing was shamed from the pages of magazines because of an inability to prove its worth through a KPI.

When the tsunami of data analytics settled, what was left on the shore was Sales. Sales would attempt to ride the waves, however an undercurrent of power via KPIs would leave them at the mercy of a field of data that they were not privy to. Revenue Management would recount strategies evolved from pages of reports from the “system” directing Sales on what they could and could not book. Marketing would use words like SEO, PPC, and ROAS, in a new digital strategy that was based on a call to action that was devoid of the sales process, to determine the value of ad placement.

Through all of this Sales continued to sell. When they could no longer walk in buildings to make cold calls, they picked up the phone. When they could no longer make phone calls because of caller ID, they emailed. When email got trapped in spam filters…well, you get the idea, Sales kept adapting continuing to sell. This is not to suggest that the sales landscape was not evolving as technology replaced “big red books” to block space and evaluate meeting room occupancy, but it is to suggest that there was much more being done “to” Sales than “for” Sales .

As we continue to see the inroads of technology into the sales discipline, it is now that we must stake our claim before it is decided that sales can be replaced with online RFP forms, lead qualifying software, and electronic agreements that are DocuSigned without any form of human interaction.

How do we secure a place for Sales in the new discipline of Commercial Strategy? How do we ensure Sales has an equal place at the table and, more importantly, a voice? What used to be the most powerful position in sales, revenue, and marketing (DOSM) is now a position where the sales leader is left hoarse from attempts to be heard and understood about why their piece of business is worth considering beyond what the binders of reports say otherwise.

Let’s consider the landscape as it has evolved:

  • Revenue Management analyzes the demand trends to optimize the strategy for the “whole” and determines how the parts will be sold, including the segment of group sales.
  • Marketing has been taken out of the Sales office and into the digital world, requiring the ability to think critically and analyze data. The limitation of analytics in Sales is reflected in the call-to-action requiring an offline agreement with the hotel directly. Sales must lead the marketing strategy on their behalf to create awareness and consideration that leads back to the Sales office.

In addition to the other disciplines that have evolved around Sales are those that have come straight through, adding a middleman to what used to be a straightforward process.

  • TPIs, as described by www.gainintegrity.com, “A third-party intermediary (TPI) is an entity that helps connect two or more trading partners by acting as a conduit for goods or services between suppliers.” Two of the largest are Helms Briscoe and Conference Direct.
  • Online platforms, the most prominent is CVENT which describes itself as software for Planners and Event Managers. Who decided that Planners and Event Managers needed software?? Gone are the days when they only needed a solid relationship with a Sales Manager to book their program. Additionally, sites like WeddingWire.com and HotelPlanner.com require Sales to create an online profile to best represent who they are and what they offer through copy and pictures.

The risk of these middlemen to Sales is a threat to the core of the Sales Manager’s existence in building relationships. TPI and online platforms require the Sales Managers to breach the obstacle of selling through these middlemen to make an impression on a client they cannot yet touch. To add to the complexity is the commission that is required. The client is harder to reach and now 10% more expensive.

Adapting to the TPI and online environment left Sales with one task “catch and close”. In this environment, the onus is on the Director of Sales to ensure their hotels are well-represented via marketing profiles that will attract TPIs and clients to submit an RFP online. Once the RFP is submitted, it is all about the Sales Managers ability to be quick, thorough, and efficient in response to close the sale. The skill level of a Sales Manager in this environment is tech-savvy enough to use the sales systems efficiently to return a rate allowing a quick response to a client.

Where in the scenario is the relationship between Sales and the client built? We can woo the client with our knowledge and expertise if we are fortunate enough to have the benefit of getting in front of them. However, ultimately being quick to respond has shown time and time again to be a top defining factor in a client’s decision, and since their decisions are often determined before they ever speak with us, we must make sure we get it right in our profiles, in our strategies, and ultimately in the ability to close a sale.

The skills that are heightened in today’s environment:

  • Sales having a seat at the Commercial Strategy table is vital. Understanding the strategy as Revenue Management leads the analytics is where Sales finds its place in necessary dates and segmentation shifts, allowing Sales to sell unrestricted. Collaborating with Marketing on what is working in the sales landscape of awareness and consideration involves defining the targeted client and highest converting platforms.
  • Sales having proficiency with the technology that drives the sales system is a must. They must be as efficient as they would be with pen and paper. The technology works on data quality, requiring every lead, regardless of fit, to be put in the system to provide the intelligence that the algorithms optimize. The input determines the output, but it can be cumbersome when dealing with large quantities of leads.
  • Lead quality is key to this equation and is done in collaboration with a commercial strategy team. Where your hotel will be seen, by whom, and how is primary to receive the “right” leads. A healthy funnel is all about quality and not quantity. The higher the quality, the higher the conversion.
  • The bottom line is that catching those leads and converting them is the “call to action” in Sales. All of the activity that occurs beforehand in building online profiles, navigating lead volume or TPI negotiations, and following up fast is a precursor to the ultimate goal of CLOSING!

Ask yourself as you assess your Sales organization,

  • Have we spent the time building an online presence that can represent all that we offer? Are the leads we are receiving qualified? If they are not, check your online profiles and create opportunities for webinars to introduce your property to TPIs.
  • When was your last on-property client event? Post-pandemic, everyone is hungry for interaction and good food! Host an event that gives your local clients a reason to leave work early or come out of their remote environments and interact with each other and you. Create an impression through good food and fellowship that keeps you front of mind for your clients.
  • Have we trained the sales team to use the systems with mastery of data quality and efficiency? Garbage in, garbage out is “real” and will tie up efficiency with insufficient data that will require more time to create an offer, threatening your speed to the client.

Sales Teams, it is time to evolve, not adopt. You have adopted all of the changes that have occurred to you while the disciplines were evolving around you. Stake your claim at the table by ensuring your discipline is recognized and has a voice in the strategy. Analytics are phenomenal in defining trends, not relationships. Sales is outstanding in creating relationships, and those relationships are optimized when the analytics “per life of the client’s business” is understood. A good piece of business does not pencil out as a one-time event but one that has value in repeat business. Ensure the Commercial Strategy Team understands the whole, not the parts, when doing the business evaluation. This is your place at the table, sit down and speak up!

Life as I live it – L.

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