Hotel Sales Is No Laughing Matter

A column I wrote in 1991 about hotel salespeople received many comments. In reading over the article today, I think some things have changed and some haven't over the years. What do you think?

“You people in sales have it made.”

“What a great job. Some day you may have to go to work to make a living.”

“Sales? Don't you mean the ‘cocktail division’?”

For more than 35 years, I've heard comments like these hundreds of times. They are delivered with a smile (or a smirk), and the salesperson is expected to take the so-called kidding with good humor, as most do.

But let me make one thing very clear: Hotel salespeople, who are some of the hardest working people I know, are fed up with the comments.

The real problem is not the kidding itself, but the fact that it's an indication of the misconceptions many have about hotel salespeople.

The importance of image

You might ask why a “little kidding” matters. People in sales should be able to take it. First of all, when you hear derogatory remarks about your livelihood ad nauseam it becomes a pretty old joke.

Why else does it matter? It matters because the remarks indicate an underlying lack of trust by many managers.

Managers ask me time after time how they can be sure their salespeople are really out selling and not just wasting time. They want to know how they can exercise control.

I emphasize to them the need for a mutual feeling of trust so there will be no question in either the manager's or salesperson's mind that each is acting in the best interest of the other.

Also, from a motivational point of view, it's important for the salesperson to know that management respects his or her position. If, because of the comments they make, management seems to have no idea or appreciation of the job, it can really drag a salesperson down.

Misunderstanding sales

One important factor that contributes to sales department turnover is misunderstanding by management of the day-to-day life of a hotel salesperson. Many salespeople tell me that they like sales but are fed up with the lack of understanding their general managers have for what is happening in sales.

My guess is that about 20 percent of salespeople feel that general managers respect and understand what they do. The question is: “How do we get understanding from the other 80 percent?”

Fun and games

The most annoying comment is that sales consists mainly of the fun job of entertaining clients. It's understandable that others pick this duty as typical of what salespeople do because it's the most visible facet of the job. But there's much more to it.

If you think it's all fun and games …

  • Check the office of a salesperson at 5:45 p.m. when she's writing a complicated proposal for a piece of business that could generate 200 room nights a month for the hotel.

  • Spend the week with a salesperson as he makes 60 to 65 calls on the phone and in person. See what it takes to set up 15 appointments and four or five tours of the hotel. See what it's like to make 20 calls to people you don't know.

  • Go to a trade show and spend eight hours in a booth (with your smile firmly in place) as you talk to 100-plus prospects, then attend the reception, entertain prospects, go to bed at midnight or later, and rise at 7 a.m. to do the same thing all over again for three or four days straight.

    Then come back to the hotel on Saturday morning and have the general manager say, “Now that you've had a paid vacation in Los Angeles, let's get back to work.” You smile but know he's serious. See how much fun that is.

  • Join a salesperson as she calls a prospect 10 times and doesn't succeed in getting through.

  • Be on the receiving end of major complaints about the service received at the hotel from a first-time client, the one it took six months to convince to try your hotel.

  • Meet an important meeting planner at the airport at 11 p.m. to personally escort him to your hotel.

  • Join the salesperson on a 7 a.m. breakfast appointment with a prospect who can't come at any other time.

  • Work three out of the next four weekends because you have some important groups in the hotel. Sure, you won't have to work for the entire weekend, just enough to keep you from making any plans.

  • At 6 p.m., help the salesperson finish up daily call reports and weekly sales reports.

What does it take?

Being a successful salesperson involves loneliness, juggling 20 balls in the air at one time, rejection, stress and, through it all, a belief that it will get better.

When you see a salesperson enjoying times with a prospect, realize that the salesperson is probably competing with five to 10 other hotels for the prospect's business, is concentrating on every word the client is uttering and trying to make the proper impression. It isn't like meeting your best friends for a drink. Not at all.

Which brings us to rejection. Anyone who thinks sales is all fun and games should experience the depths of depression we go into when we receive word that we've failed after months of work to get an important piece of business. Or the little rejections we get every day.

Continuing education

Salespeople who are successful realize that, in addition to working long hours to win in the most competitive atmosphere in history, they must also continue their education.

If you think that the science of selling is just a pat on the back and glib conversation, join your salespeople at a formal selling-techniques seminar.

When general managers who aren't involved in sales attend our seminars (Hotel Professional Education Series), almost everyone comments at the end of the three days that they had no idea that sales was such a technical subject.

There is no question that they walk away with a new respect for salespeople and what they do.

Admittedly, non-professional salespeople have given the occupation the poor image it has in the minds of many.

Those of us in sales know that if we look at colleagues who have been increasingly successful over a period of five years or more, we are looking at people who work very hard every day. They are people who have paid their dues.

What do salespeople want?

Do salespeople want general managers, peers, and others who influence their success to feel sorry for them because their jobs are so tough? Of course they don't. The taste of victory and pleasure they get from satisfying peoples' needs goes a long way to make it all worthwhile.

However, they do want one thing more that would really make sales a great job — management's respect and understanding of what they do every day, not snide remarks that indicate a lack of appreciation.

One way to do this is to spend some time with your salespeople on calls, at trade shows, and back at the office. Show them that operations and sales don't mean “us” and “them,” but are different segments of the same team.

Join the growing number of hotel executives who know that respect and understanding can motivate salespeople to exceed goals that you would never have believed possible.

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 or 703-379-4488.

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