The changing dynamic of group sales in management companies

By Patricia Shea

The disruption the hospitality industry has experienced over the past two years has been dramatic, to say the least. Decimated revenues, furloughs and layoffs and a level of uncertainty not seen since the Great Recession has taken its toll on sales teams—particularly those within hotel management companies (HMCs) working with owner groups that were already facing challenges before this crisis.

As the industry reshapes itself, the overreliance on inbound leads needs to change. Those hotels and management groups that implemented new sales tactics and a renewed commitment to hunting and data-driven selling are coming out ahead of the competition. In addition, this commitment has changed the dynamic between HMCs and owner groups—including the types of sales data they need and how they use it.

By becoming overly reliant on a strong economy and the resulting abundance of inbound leads, many sales teams had become very large and were not implementing a proactive sales approach. Now, as we look ahead to the return of group meetings and events, there is a shift to smaller sales teams at the property level, but not necessarily the same people are returning. Today’s teams look different and work differently. Sales teams are being staffed with utility players that can handle a range of responsibilities; they are not only stretching from research and sales to service and billing, but they are no longer able to specialize to just one vertical or segment.

Employment numbers reveal what we already know, many salespeople are choosing to leave the industry. In December, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce conducted a poll of unemployed Americans. The results were stunning, with large portions of the previously employed indicating that they are not actively looking for work and may not return to the workforce for another six months or more. Some are choosing to retire or change careers altogether.

This is a forced reality check for many. Within individual properties that may have been operating fairly autonomously, there is now greater HMC oversight. Some are being challenged to be creative and find efficiencies that allow them to take on more responsibilities.

Using data insights to get granular
To overcome these challenges, particularly as the Omicron variant takes hold across the world, teams need to have access to software solutions to help them get granular through key data insights. For example, finding organizations that are planning meetings and events is tantamount to having a working phone.

Indeed, the disruption has actually created an opportunity for some HMCs to shift revenue strategy and reconfigure their sales teams in a way that may not have been a priority during the previous levels of economic boom and oversupply of RFPs.

Moreover, just because inbound leads might be rolling in again doesn’t mean that that business is the right business for a particular hotel. Hoteliers and HMCs alike need to ensure that the data available to their sales teams, regardless of size, have been tailored to the audience and that the customer segment is a good fit for the hotel and their market. Gaining insight into group meeting data to maximize profitability from an above-property perspective will be key to HMCs.

Hospitality property owners, asset managers and HMCs are all finding it necessary to choose between investing in their sales teams for long-term recovery and cutting expenses for short-term savings. Hotels waiting for inbound lead volume to return before bringing back their sales teams risk giving up market share into 2022 and beyond.

Business is still being booked based on relationships and trust which means there’s an opportunity to prospect and compete for it. Failure to tap into data that provides insight into the best accounts and relationships to develop can result in the loss of revenue to competitive hotels for all types of business from small groups to catering and even transient bookings.

By hitting the reset button, HMCs and owners have a unique opportunity to make some of these changes permanent, and setting now-smaller sales teams up for overall success requires more than an everyone-do-more-with-less ethos. Sales teams need to be equipped with strategies and data tools to pivot from a reactive to a proactive approach as demand returns.

Sales strategies and the road to success
Some HMC’s are employing tried-and-true sales strategies, such as setting weekly sales goals. By setting reasonable, achievable sales goals, and the time for staff to follow through, sales personnel can be 10 times more successful than those who operate without defined goals. For example, setting a goal of spending at least 60 minutes each week looking for new business and calling five new prospects will make it easier for sales teams to succeed. These goals can be modified each week accordingly. As those goals are achieved, higher goals are set. If done consistently, teams will be beating their quotas in no time.

Encouraging team members to create accountability partners allows them to share in the excitement. Sharing their sales goals with someone other than the boss, and keeping them apprised of their progress, will help keep teams motivated. End the week by celebrating even the little wins.

Another key strategy is to write the goal down. It’s one thing to speak the goal, it’s another thing to put it in writing. Only 3% of people actually write down their goals. Those that do are 30 times more successful at achieving them than those that don’t. By creating a call list, teams know who to target. Some savvy sales leaders are creating a friendly competition within their group to see who achieves their written goals first. Small weekly contests help motivate the team and ensure camaraderie.

Finally, it is important to stay engaged and be consistent. Again, a tried-and-true sales tactic is how a sales team does its follow-up. Prospective customers want to stay informed on what is happening at a property. Providing them with the latest information will ensure they feel safe and well-served. Have a clear, concise handout to share that explains all current COVID protocols, facility restrictions or amenity limitations so there are no questions unanswered. Show examples of like events and share photos of how meetings are happening safely at your hotel. Don’t think any detail is too small. Explain how every aspect of the meeting will be facilitated.

Ensuring success from the top down
There is a lot of competition, not only for the group business that is returning in 2022 but also for finding the right salesperson for the job. Now is the time for HMCs to re-evaluate how they conduct group sales. Cultivating account relationships for the long term today will set your hotels up for success in the future.

But, more importantly, providing returning (or more likely, brand new) sales personnel with the proper training and ensuring each person is confident in using the technology they have available to them will determine the success of both the HMC and the properties it oversees.

Patricia Shea is VP, sales and customer success, Knowland. She leads all customer engagement and sales endeavors at the company, including strengthening and supporting partnerships with current and prospective customers. She is also responsible for introducing Knowland’s newest product and service offerings to market.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.