Technology cannot replace face-to-face communications

Many would lead you to believe face-to-face communications are a thing of past. Working closely with hospitality sales master David Brudney, I can tell you this belief is flat-out wrong.

We live by relationships with the support from technology — not relationships borne from technology. Selling is not and never will be a faceless or silent pursuit. It seems all too easy to use technology as a crutch these days. And indeed, many digital channels offer the verisimilitude of genuine, in-person communications, but it is a semblance and never quite the real thing.

At risk is a generation of near-robotic hospitality sales professionals working alone and using technology for 100% of their selling communications. While these individuals have enjoyed the speed and ease of social media platforms for prospecting and conversing, the practice can become habit-forming with the risk of breeding laziness. Moreover, hospitality sales professionals are often denied all of the relationship-building advantages of personal face-to-face interactions.

Meeting face-to-face is still the best way to both form lasting relationships and motivate prospects to sign on the dotted line. Not convinced? Brudney has supplied some proof to help persuade you based upon empirical data compiled from his half-century’s worth of professional selling experience, industry speeches and sales workshops. For one thing, only in-person meetings can exhibit the full range of body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone and sense of humor necessary to properly establish a connection with another individual. More distant or remote forms of meetings are often stymied by miscommunication and a lack of emotional context.

Additionally, surveys have shown executives and business travelers not only prefer face-to-face meetings wherever possible, but members of this group also estimate that more than a quarter of current business would be lost without in-person assemblies and roughly 40% of all prospects are converted during these times. Even though face-to-face communications is the most costly and time-consuming medium, it nonetheless provides the highest ROI.

It’s okay for today’s hospitality sales professionals to use technology-based selling tools if and when appropriate, but we cannot abandon the more classical relationship-based selling tools. But how does a hotelier — or any salesperson, for that matter — funnel more business through this costly channel in this technology-centric world? Moreover, what can managers do to encourage time for personal parlays?

The answer is a compromise — working towards a hybrid model where face-to-face communications complement their electronic counterparts and vice versa. To this end, Brudney offers five key suggestions:

1. Build the budget.

Yes, face-to-face meetings require far more upfront costs overtop of keeping your sales force armed with laptops, telephones and a high-bandwidth internet connection. Physical travel and entertainment are, after all, far more expensive than moving electrons around, but they are a requirement for establishing proper business relationships and increasing the successful closing rate. Moreover, there must be reasonable allowances for trade shows and hosting familiarization trips.

2. Follow a hierarchy of communications.

A phone call is better than an email, a text message is better than a tweet and an in-person meeting is better than a video conference. When in doubt, always move up the hierarchy of communications — towards the more personable and expressive communication mediums — to expedite business requests and demonstrate your full commitment to your clients. For example, instead of matching an email RFP with another email, follow up with a call within a day’s time. The telephone should be a salesperson’s best friend, as a voice is far better at developing engagement with a prospect than plain text. Skype and FaceTime also work in this capacity — providing enough emotional framing to the message when face-to-face communications are impossible.

3. Invest in training.

Your entire team must be made aware of the importance and effectiveness of face-to-face meetings as well as some tools to navigate this hierarchy of communications. As Brudney states, “If it isn’t mandatory, it won’t get done.” In a nutshell, unless you instill a strong expectation of your team to arrange for in-person gatherings, they just won’t happen.

4. Use LinkedIn.

Yes, it’s low on the hierarchy of communications, but this social network is nonetheless an excellent prospecting tool. It works like this: find the name of a potential prospect (or someone who might be influential towards a booking decision), invite them to connect, begin the dialogue and then get his or her contact information so offline communications can blossom. In essence, LinkedIn is the start of the sales funnel.

5. Look into selective volunteering.

The hotel business shouldn’t be closed off or myopic, with salespeople only seeking business through proper tourism-centric channels. In order to find prospects, you have to think outside the box — in this case via your brand’s social-responsibility platform. Seek out local organizations to volunteer with or serve on the board for a neighborhood program. It will give you heightened credibility while others will help disseminate your message through unconventional channels.