Ask a group of hotel management and sales people what is the most expensive form of marketing and after a little thought, they usually say advertising, color brochures or personal selling.

Yet when they discuss it further, they often reach the conclusion that personal selling is indeed the most expensive when you consider salaries, incentives, medical benefits, travel expenses, trade shows, entertainment expenses, office expenses and all other costs associated with the sales effort.

In today's business environment, it's important to determine whether an account is worth the time you must invest to develop its potential, particularly in light of the huge costs associated with the process.

What's the potential?

It's fair to say that most hotel sales people don't think very much about the potential of a new account compared to other ongoing customers for which they're responsible.

Common sense tells us if we solicit the accounts with the most potential for individual/transient and group business, we'll have better results than if we follow every account that comes along without regard to potential.

The first step

Make the decision to take every step possible to solicit accounts that offer the most potential for the time spent.

I remember an account I had when I worked at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC that I traced twice a year until I realized that the full annual potential was only about 10 individual roomnights a year. Every time I called, the assistant to the president invited me to lunch. I enjoyed the lunches but finally arrived at the conclusion that I wasn't spending my time in proper proportion to the potential. It was the first time I gave the subject any real thought; it was a great time-management milestone for me.

An important step

Calculate the potential for every account you're following and develop a database that lists the dollar potential of each one from top to bottom. This will give you a good idea of what the dollar potential of your accounts are on an annual basis and give you a good guideline to determine how much potential a file should have to set it up for continuing solicitation.

Also, sales people should compare the total potential of their accounts from year to year and replace lower potential accounts with those with higher potential.

Most hotels leave it up to the sales person to decide whether a file should be created for a potential new account. I recommend that the hotel team develop a standard operation procedure (S.O.P.) to clearly determine when a file should be created so everyone is using the same guidelines.

As the accounts solicited increase in potential, the business booked from the accounts will increase as well. We can't afford to waste a penny on accounts that aren't worth the 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 or 703-379-4488.

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