The sales department: Where do we go from here?

The sales department: Where do we go from here?

In these days of continual hotel chatter on the value of social media and third-party distribution systems, it occurs to me that the term “revenue” has seemingly replaced the word “sales,” and the function of direct sales is seldom highlighted as an irreplaceable source of revenue. What has happened to the sales department? Has it become as passé as “cold” sales calls? And where is management’s commitment to this function and to actual sales training?

After recently touring several Manhattan hotels and being escorted by hotel sales personnel, it was apparent that the sales department is being left behind in the hotel training pipeline. Questions I posed about their own hotel product were often answered with “not sure,” and when asked what made their hotel stand out from the competition, the responses were even more disappointing. I experienced the reverse situation, however, when touring with an operations manager. 

So where is the disconnect? It has to be in a commitment to training. Are we so focused on getting a sales executive “out selling” that we simply neglect to provide the most fundamental tools for success through orientation and training?

I went back into my file archives and dug out the components of a sales training program that I taught years back called “professional selling skills.” The basics still apply today. It taught us how to “qualify” a customer as a potential customer by knowing his buying habits and preferences. It schooled us on how to overcome “objections” and how to convert product features into customer benefits. We knew our competition as well as our own product. Most importantly, we learned how to ask for the business and close the sale. We incorporate many of these training tools into operational service training, but I suspect many hotels neglect to formalize a program with their sales departments. Sad to say, there is always a section of a hotel’s revenue budget attributed to direct sales, but seldom do I see a line item in an expense budget for sales training expenses. 

Sales personnel should have a month-long orientation period during which room night and sales call quotas are replaced with a defined sales training program at various skill and experience levels. We should never assume that even a seasoned account executive will hit the ground running when newly employed. Time should be devoted to product knowledge and targeted market segmentation, including a thorough understanding of any operational challenges that impact booking patterns. Getting to know the competition and overall market dynamics is a must, and that goes way beyond walking around a competitor’s hotel incognito. Attendance at hotel “ops” meetings, revenue forecast meetings and staff meetings should be required. Training time to master the group sales/catering automated system is a must. Joint sales calls should be made with more seasoned colleagues within the department. At the end of this training time, a sales account executive will be armed with the tools to tackle designated sales goals and will have a better sense of integration into the hotel culture.

If asked why we don’t do more sales training, I suspect most replies would be along the lines of “we’re too small a hotel, we don’t have anyone to do it” or “they shouldn’t be hired in the first place if they can’t sell.” What would your response be?