I was recently reviewing our current Sales4Hire™ projects looking at the timing of when our account managers were able to close group business for our hotel partners and noticed a pattern.
Hotels that had a healthy volume of inbound sales leads saw contracted group revenue from our team by Week #2.
Hotels that had a very stagnant, inconsistent and low level of inbound leads saw contracted group revenue from our team by Week #8.
I compared a bit further, because as we all know, there are multiple factors that come into play with direct sales for hotels. These hotels are all similar in size and brand. They are all select service properties of about the same size. The markets/locations varied, but basically they are all located just outside of urban markets with strong travel volume and a mix of leisure and business travel in their markets.
In addition, over the coarse of the projects, our operations team conducted the exact same amount of time on proactive lead generation for each of the properties. The target customer lists were designed with our same proven process, and the Sales4Hire™ Account Manager used our results-bases system for follow-up and lead nurturing for each property.
Each of these properties has a unique set of challenges as to why their sales revenues were not meeting expectations prior to our engagement. And, one glaring difference as it relates to direct sales is the pipeline of new business opportunities.
Building a new business pipeline and nurturing those leads to close can be a lengthy process. To put it into perspective, here are the simple steps and a little background on average timelines:
- Building a target list – best practice is to reach multiple parties within each customer
- Finding the right contact(s) within the organization – this can take an average of 5 attempts to find and then additional attempts to make contact and truly qualify
- Educating the contact(s) – build a strategy over time that matches client needs
- Building a trusted relationship – multi faceted approaches are best
- Proving alignment & sharing service and product capabilities – multiple contacts and should be geared to client feedback
- Proposing options
- Negotiating terms
- Closing the sale
- Maintaining relationship & trust
The steps 3-9 above vary and can take weeks or months depending on the clients’ timeline of when they need a hotel, and how long they need internally with their organization to make decisions. Although at the core, I understand the impatience of hotel owners and sales leaders to close business. I also know building a sales pipeline is a long game, not a magic pill.
Because of this, It’s vital that a hotel take advantage of all inbound lead source opportunities so that you never have to rely on just one means to drive opportunity. Setting the hotel up to receive a consistent stream of business opportunities, and ensuring the sales team works leads at all levels of the buying process drives success.
For example, the hotel that saw booked group business in just two weeks had a healthy sales pipeline that could sustain the hotel through a transition. The pipeline included multiple lead sources all functioning at a high level.
So, how does a hotel ensure that they are set-up to build and then maintain a healthy inbound lead pipeline?
- Create a check-list of all inbound lead sources for your market doing research at least annually into new sources & opportunities
- Ensure at minimum the profiles on those electronic lead sources are updated annually
- Write a process for checking the sources & responding to them daily with back-up plan for when the person responsible is out of the office
- Review conversion rates of each of the inbound lead sources and update systems and action items accordingly
- Use insights from the inbound lead sources to target more of the business that is converting from those systems for proactive sales lead generation efforts. For example, if you’re seeing a large amount of wedding block leads and that is good business filling need periods, then target wedding planners in your market and wedding venues for partnerships.
- Have more conversations with partners that drive inbound leads to the hotel. Don’t expect these sources like the local CVB to know what kind of business fits the property. Educate the inbound lead sources.
- Think outside of the box. Although the standard tools are important, going beyond HotelPlanner and Cvent is important. Find sources that the competition isn’t using. Find ways to build your direct sales pipeline by also reaching out with proactive sales & marketing efforts. The best way to drive inbound traffic is to focus on reaching out. It’s the same practice that I teach my children…the more we give, the more we receive. Focus on outreach will create more inbound
Is your sales team taking inbound lead sources for granted, or are they managing those systems as well as taking proactive action to build the healthiest sales pipeline for your hotel? How is ownership and leadership supporting the sales team in these areas?
Amy Infante has been a hotel sales & marketing consultant for the past 10 years working with her clients to navigate the B2B buying process as it specifically relates to hotel sales team success. Amy has developed Plan B Consultants, Inc. and Sales4Hire™ from her passion to provide solutions for business leaders and hotel owners that are tailor made to find top line revenue.
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