When I was a hotel sales manager we used to receive “shop calls” every few months. A shop call is when a sales training company calls the hotelier under a fake name and makes sure the sales manager is effectively and appropriately representing the property.
I dreaded these calls because I felt like I had to always be on high alert. Each incoming call from a potential customer I handled with kid gloves and made sure to run every customer “down the gauntlet” of hotel knowledge to guarantee I passed every test from a perspective mystery shopper.
I always imagined a real customer might find my approach of endless probing questions off-putting. If they are calling for rates and dates – who has time to learn about the property’s saline pool and locally sourced cuisine. But in true hindsight the exercise was valuable to my development as a sales manager did its best job of creating an evaluation tool for management.
Now that I have seen both sides of the business, I realize the key to closing more deals is not a salesperson’s ability to regurgitate ballroom capacities and group activities, it is in the hidden opportunities missed by even the most tenured professionals.
When I first started HB Hospitality and was unclear about my business model I would help customers source their meetings and events. I remember assisting one client with find a hotel for their annual meeting. We found a property that met the customer’s needs so I was reaching out to all of the other hotels to deliver the news another hotel had been selected. (Planners hate making these calls but it is really important! The hotels have spent a lot of time and energy..aka money…in creating proposals. If they don’t win the business a courtesy personal phone call to deliver the bad news goes miles in strengthening relationships with the vendor. They just want to know why so they can improve their offering for the next opportunity. Trust me, they won’t take it personally). I called the last hotel on the list and said that the client was pursuing another hotel but they were the client’s second choice. I explained there was a rate gap of 20% between the proposals and we were going with the property with the lower rate. I then informed the sales manager (let’s call him Harry) that I would be setting up a site visit at the first choice property. If for some reason I realized the property would not be a good fit for the customer I would call Harry back to site his property. Harry thanked me for my time and said to let him know if he could provide future assistance.
To this day his response BLOWS me away. As the planner, I wasn’t looking for further interaction, but the former hotelier in me was dying inside because the Harry missed recognizing the hidden opportunity. I am reminded of the scene from Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd is trying to size up his chances of connecting with his long lost love Mary.
Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me…ending up together?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!
When I said Harry’s hotel was second choice, he should have fought and kicked for a chance to put his property in first place. I hadn’t gone on my site, it wasn’t a done deal – but because I didn’t hand Harry to keys to the castle he assumed the door was closed. If I was Harry, I would have responded, “Thank you so much for letting me know. I realize you haven’t had your sites yet. I know you are very busy but what if I set up & paid for a flight for you to come visit my property. You are technically going to be in the area. I will make all of the arrangements and you won’t have to lift a finger. I would also like a chance to re-submit our proposal to see if we can get a little more rate flexibility or create some more value adds that align with your program’s goals and objectives.” If I had heard that, I would have said yes – better to present the decision maker with two real options than just one.
Look, I am not saying hoteliers should be idiots like Lloyd and not hear when clients are telling them, but salespeople should realize planners are busy and they are trying to do the best job in with the least output necessary. Hoteliers need to be conscious of hidden opportunities within the sales process and actively look for ways to uncover them. Finally, hoteliers should always be mindful of making the buying process EASY for the customer. There is a wonderful book called Nudge: Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health, and Happiness that explores the idea of making things EASY for people and how that can significantly alter outcomes.
Hidden opportunities can come in many forms. I would love to hear back from you any hidden opportunities you have uncovered and the steps you took to close the deal.