Selling the sales department short

Selling the sales department short

I admit that I have a soft spot for the sales function. Sales is where I began my own hotel career. Although those sales trips and frequent client luncheons can seem glamorous to the operating team, I know how difficult it can be to cement relationships with clients in order to convince them to buy your product. With the emergence of the revenue management function, it often appears that the sales department is being left behind.

This hit home with me when I recently took a tour of 10 newly opened hotels in Manhattan with two consulting colleagues. We diligently keep current on published information on the city’s new supply, but you really need to tour the properties to see the product firsthand and experience the service tone of the hotel. We had pre-arranged tours in some, but purposely left other visits open and simply introduced ourselves at the front desk. Some hotels were branded and others independent, but all were “lifestyle” or “boutique” hotels. Although the overall products did not vary greatly in style, there were clear differences in the details and amenities — and that was expected. What was most surprising was the lack of product knowledge of many of the sales representatives who escorted us on our tours.  We asked the same questions on each tour and were astonished at the misinformation we received or the lack of information they were able to provide. Although the hotels were newly opened, most tour guides did not know who owned, built or designed their hotels and had no grasp of market data, competitive set information or their own competitive features and benefits.  

I found this extremely disheartening and wonder about such fundamentals as a management commitment to hotel orientation programs and sales training. It is impossible to be successful in the sales function without being armed with the proper tools — not only thorough product knowledge of your own property, but also of your competition. Additionally, management needs to school sales personnel on how their roles and goals fit into the overall financial objectives of the hotel. We need to wrap the sales department into the operation by having that team attend daily ops meetings to give them a clearer understanding of the operating challenges. Conversely, having members of the management team make sales calls is always an eye-opener for them. Instead of leaving the sales department behind in this era of third-party distribution systems, we need to commit to the sales function. Who knows? Sales associates can become the revenue managers of the future.