Marketing Strategies For Tight Times

As I write this, I hope our business remains strong. However, the weakening of the real estate market, the rising price of oil, falling retail sales and other economic indicators tell us we should take steps to be ready for whatever comes up in 2008 and beyond.

As someone who has gone through good times and bad, I know the order-takers of this world don't make it through tough times unless steps are taken to prepare them. For example, I've noticed during recent months that many managers and owners don't believe they need to improve the skills of their sales people when there is plenty of business to go around.

However, it has been proven time after time that order-takers don't successfully compete against skilled, well-trained sales people during tough times. That's why I'm a firm proponent of what I call suggestive selling.

Whether business drops off or not in the coming months, suggestive selling should be encouraged to maximize revenue per room. You can dramatically increase business through a formalized program of suggestive selling while enhancing your guests' experiences at the same time.

The guest who has a glass of wine with the meal spends more but also enjoys the overall experience more. The selection of a higher-priced lobster and crabmeat appetizer helps to ensure more pleasant memories of an occasion than a cup of tomato soup from a can.

As hospitality specialists, we should always put ourselves in the customer's shoes and ask, “If this were my sales meeting, family reunion or motorcoach tour, what would I do to make it better?”

With that in mind, here are some suggestions:

Sleeping room upgrades

How about deluxe rooms for everyone, or suites for recent contest winners or guest speakers? For individual reservations, ask front desk personnel to suggestive-sell guestrooms with views on higher floors at a slightly higher rate.

Additional functions

During all the time I've booked seminars around the country not one sales person has ever suggested an additional function to me. Questions I've never been asked: “Have you considered having an ice-breaker reception on the first evening?” or “How about having a dinner on the second night to present awards?”

Days of the week

If you consistently sell out on Wednesdays but not Thursdays, how about suggestive-selling Thursday to every meeting planner who requests Wednesday — even when Wednesday is still available? “Yes, we do have 20 rooms on that Wednesday for one night. However, I should mention that, if you come in just one night later, we can give you a nice discount. Would you like to consider that?”

The possibilities are endless: unusual arrival gifts, door prizes drawn throughout the meeting for future weekends or restaurant gift certificates. Specialty drinks for every guest at the banquet, special coffee breaks at the meeting — the list goes on and on.

Develop a plan that involves employees and don't forget internal merchandising through tent cards, posters, phone messages and employee buttons/banners to suggestive-sell services that enhance the guest experience.

A written plan and measurable monthly goals, with prizes for outstanding employees, also are very important. You'll be amazed at how much additional revenue can be generated when we suggestive-sell instead of just taking the order.

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 a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-931-0757.

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