By: Larry Mogelonsky
Member of Laguna Strategic Advisors
As Warren Buffet once said, “How will you ever see eye to eye if you’re never face to face?”
Many would lead you to believe face-to-face communications are a thing of past. After all, we have email, cellphones, social networks, Skype and webcams; why bother with this archaic and time-consuming medium? Working closely with the hospitality sales master David M. Brudney, of David Brudney & Associates and the International Society of Hospitality Consultants, I can tell you that this belief is wrong.
We live by relationships with support from technology, not relationships born from technology. Selling is not—and never will be—a faceless or silent pursuit. It seems all too easy to use technology as a crutch these days. And indeed, many digital channels offer the verisimilitude of genuine, in-person communications. But it is a semblance and never quite the real thing.
At risk is a generation of near-robotic hospitality sales professionals, working alone and using technology for 100% of their selling communications. While these individuals have enjoyed the speed and ease of social media platforms for prospecting and conversing, the practice can become habit-forming with the risk of becoming lazy. Moreover, hospitality sales professionals are often denied all of the relationship-building advantages of personal face-to-face interactions.
Meeting face to face is still the best way to form lasting relationships and to motivate prospects to sign on the dotted line. Not convinced? Brudney has supplied some proof to help persuade you, based upon empirical data compiled from his half-century’s worth of professional selling experience, industry speeches and sales workshops. For one thing, only in-person meetings can exhibit the full range of body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone and sense of humor necessary to properly establish a connection with another individual. More distant or remote forms of meetings are often stymied by miscommunication and a lack of emotional context.
Additionally, surveys have shown executives and business travelers not only prefer face-to-face meetings, but members of this group also estimate that over a quarter of current business would be lost without in-person assemblies and roughly 40% of all prospects are converted during these times. Even though face-to-face communication is the most costly and time-consuming medium, it nonetheless provides the highest return on investment.
Armed with this information, it should be clear that doing away with face-to-face communications—or not allocating the necessary resources—would be a big mistake. It’s OK for hospitality sales professionals to use technology-based selling tools if and when appropriate, but we cannot abandon the more classical relationship-based selling tools. The question then becomes: How does a hotelier, or any salesperson for that matter, funnel more business through this costly channel in this technology-centric world we live in? Moreover, what can managers do to encourage time for personal parlays?
The answer is a compromise: working toward a hybrid model where face-to-face communications complement their electronic counterparts and vice versa. To this end, Brudney offers five key suggestions:
1. Build the budget
Face-to-face meetings require far more upfront costs overtop of keeping your sales force armed with laptops, telephones and a high bandwidth Internet connection. Physical travel and entertainment are more expense than moving electrons around. But it is a requirement for establishing proper business relationships and increasing the successful closing rate. Moreover, there must be reasonable allowances for trade shows and hosting familiarization trips.
2. Hierarchy of communications
That is to say, a phone call is better than an email, a text message is better than a tweet and an in-person meeting is better than a video conference. When in doubt, always move up the hierarchy of communications toward the more personable and expressive communication mediums to help expedite business requests and to demonstrate your full commitment to your clients.
For example, instead of matching an email request for proposal with another email, follow up with a call within a day’s time. The telephone should be a salesperson’s best friend as a voice is far better at developing engagement with a prospect over plain text. Skype and FaceTime also work in this capacity, providing enough emotional framing to the message when face-to-face communications are impossible.
This isn’t just an article for you; it’s for your entire team as well. They must be made aware of the importance and effectiveness of face-to-face meetings as well as some tools to navigate this hierarchy of communications. As Brudney states, “If it isn’t mandatory, it won’t get done.” In a nutshell, unless you instill a strong expectation of your team to arrange for in-person gatherings, they just won’t happen.
It’s low on the hierarchy of communications, but this social network is nonetheless an excellent prospecting tool. Find the name of a potential prospect (or someone who might be influential toward a booking decision), invite him or her to connect, begin the dialogue, and then get his or her contact information so offline communications can blossom. In essence, LinkedIn is the start of the sales funnel.
5. Selective volunteering
The hotel business shouldn’t be closed off or myopic, with salespersons only seeking business through proper tourism-centric channels. To find prospects, you have to think outside the box, in this case via your brand’s social responsibility platform. Seek out local organizations to volunteer with or serve on the board for a neighborhood program. By doing this, it’ll give you heightened credibility while others will help disseminate your message through unconventional channels.