Does the Art of Selling Still Exist?

Google ‘What is selling?’ and you won’t be surprised that to ‘sell’ is to ‘persuade someone of the merits of’.

Matching customer’s needs to the benefits of your service or product means you’re halfway there, but before you even get to that stage it’s all about relationship building, after all, we’ve all heard the old adage ‘People buy from people they like’.

I recall almost 30 years ago when I first worked in London, sitting in an hotel office with a homemade rolodex (I’d put my calling cards in to alphabetical order), a phone and a London edition of yellow pages, that was how my career began to take shape.

I loved cold calling, trying to get past the gate keeper and most of all, getting the appointment to meet in the diary, because I knew this was when the real relationship building would begin, and I could start to look at securing business and generating revenue.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, this was in the days before hotel websites, let alone social media.

zoom meetings

Fast forward to 2020, and I wonder how often in our industry we actually pick up a phone to talk to potential clients.  Large chains will have regional sales representatives, key account managers, those specialising in MICE and Travel Trade, and yet the independent properties, and smaller chains with the budget to do so, are usually combining the sales role with that of a marketer, and often operator as well.

The title of Sales & Marketing Manager sounds rather grand, but what some don’t realise is the only thing they’re trying to manage is their workload – updating websites, trying to create new and exciting events, sending e-newsletters, connecting with people through social media, designing and executing campaigns, producing reports, all whilst clearing breakfast plates as someone has called in sick and helping with a busy check-out.

And so, the actual ‘sales’ part often gets pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list and rarely makes it to the top.

So, can hospitality businesses survive without a salesperson?

Well, many do.  Many independent businesses simply can’t afford them, so if your business is one of these you need to invest the time training and coaching your operational teams to ensure they understand they are all salespeople, and if you’re lucky enough to have a Sales Manager, hopefully they have already done this for you.

You see, sending an e-newsletter with a strong call to action for instance, is great at creating interest and if well written and designed, will certainly convert to sales (if that’s what your CTA is), there are however, people who receive the newsletter that will want to pick up the phone and speak to someone, and this is true of all marketing.  Your potential customer may need to clarify T&Cs, discuss up-sales that weren’t included, for example having a bottle of wine in the room on arrival, to ask whether they can bring their beloved pet to stay or they may simply want to double check that you are actually full on the night they want to stay.  It is at this point that your sales force swing into action because whichever member of your team answers the phone, they need to be able to answer all of their queries knowledgably, anticipate their needs, find the benefits that your hotel offers, and convert the conversation into a sale.

I speak from experience when I say this isn’t easy.  You may have a strong reservations and/or reception team, but if they work alone during any part of the day and need to grab a coffee or pop to the toilet, it’s always at this time, when a member of your waiting team are covering reception that the phone starts to ring, and believe me – it’s important that they can answer all of the questions, find the benefits and make the sale too.  ‘Easier said than done’ I hear you say as you roll your eyes, and yes, I agree, but here are a few tips to help.

  • Ensure at interview stage, that all frontline staff are made aware that their role is sales and customer service. This should be your mantra.  I’ve met many team members who are always keen to tell me that sales is not their job, and this has in the past included a reservations manager!
  • If you haven’t already, introduce a thorough induction process. I’m a strong believer that all team members should spend time in all departments. This gives each member of your team a better understanding of the role that everyone plays to ensure a smooth and profitable operation.  It also helps to alleviate inter-departmental disagreements, which often form on the grounds of one department believing they work much harder or contribute much more to the overall operation than another team.
  • All Duty Managers and/or team members who cover reception (for any length of time) should be proficient in the use of your PMS. They should also be familiar with your key corporate accounts as regular hotel bookers expect to be greeted as such.
  • Ensure clear communication throughout all departments, be it in HOD, operational or team meetings. Always include sales/marketing on all agendas.  If you’re running a promotion or special event each and every one of your team should know the details.
  • Regularly train and coach your sales force and if you’ve not got the time, set up a mentoring system.


The Thought of Sales Fills Many with Dread

It would be mindful to remember that the word ‘sales’ fills many with dread.  They instantly think of the unexpected and unwanted calls they receive encouraging them to check their PPI and telling them they were in an accident last year.  Being a reactive salesperson, picking up the phone to an incoming call, is simply part of their role.  The comprehensive training they require is on product knowledge, and establishing the benefits that it can offer for certain needs.  It’s about listening to the customer’s story, listening for key words and listening for buying signals. When done correctly, there should be no ‘hard sales’ involved.

You can overcome a lot of the fear and resistance that your team may have by reframing their mindset and explaining that they are helping people – not just mindlessly selling things for the sake of upselling.  If someone calls to book a stay for their 10th wedding anniversary, they could recommend a romantic table for two in your restaurant or a bottle of champagne and flowers on arrival, maybe even a weekend itinerary to experience the best places in your area.  Yes, this can increase your sales, but more importantly, it can help your guests to enhance their stay and make it special.

This also applies to business travellers who may need a meeting space, lunch reservations or transportation to and from the airport or train station.  Thinking of and suggesting these options helps your guests to feel not only welcomed but valued and understood.  It helps to put them at ease knowing you have things under control.

You’ll likely find that your team are far more motivated to be helpful than they are to sell.  Afterall, what motivates most people who work in hospitality is making people happy.  And when you know your product, listen to your guests’ needs and offer the right suggestions and assistance at the right moment, the result is a happy guest and a healthy sales culture.