I recently asked a young sales person how she was doing on the solicitation of a corporate meeting she'd been working on for a long time. She told me that, in reviewing all the proposals, the prospect believed the competitor had everything the planner was looking for.

I asked her about her next step, and she said there was no need for a next step because the prospect had made up her mind.

Why did the prospect like the other hotel better? I asked. She didn't know what features made the difference but didn't think it was important since the prospect had weighed the pros and cons and determined that the other product was better for her. The following rules, applied in slightly different ways depending on the circumstances, are essential to successful selling in these kinds of situations:

  1. The successful sales person is just getting started when the customer says no. Over my long career, I've had many situations in which the client said no, but I was able to point out why they should use or continue to use my services. One that stands out is a hotel that called me in and thanked me for completing a six-month study and handed me my final check. After I talked to him for 30 minutes, he agreed to continue the relationship, which ended more than five years later when the hotel was sold to the parent company.

  2. You must put yourself in the customer's shoes and determine from his or her perspective which property is best on a feature-by-feature basis. This process starts with uncovering the reasons the prospect thinks the competition is a better choice for the business.

    At the end of the comparison, you should be able to put yourself in the customer's shoes and honestly determine if your hotel or the competitor's would really be the best choice.

  3. The customer doesn't think of everything. Think of all the important considerations that made the difference in previous negotiations that haven't been discussed in this situation. I remember a case in which the meeting room itself turned out to be the most important feature after the sales person pointed out that the attendees would be in that room for 10 hours a day and that the comfort of this room was absolutely necessary.

  4. Convince yourself first. If you're truly convinced that you have the best value, you can find a way to convince the prospect. If you aren't convinced in your own mind, you won't be able to convince the prospect. It's easier when you believe in what you're selling.

  5. If you conclude that the competitor's proposal does represent the better dollar-for-dollar value, adjust your proposal to make your offering a better dollar-for-dollar value. It's not the total cost that's as important as the dollar-for-dollar value. Show the prospect why your product represents the better value.

  6. Use the experience of others. Don't ask the prospect to believe everything you say without the testimony of others.

There is nothing as satisfying as turning a no into a yes. It usually takes a little more time, but it is often worth the extra effort.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at ttmccarthy@hotelpros.org or 703-379-4488.

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