The Personal Assistant Can Be the Key to Success

After analyzing sales solicitation efforts on thousands of accounts over the last four decades, I know that one of the biggest problems hotel sales people face is failure to recognize the importance of the decisionmaker's executive assistant.

It's common to see 10 unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the decisionmaker without a single attempt to enlist the help of the assistant. A typical entry in the account file reads something like, “Called Mr. Jones. Left message on his voice mail.” In a situation like this, it's important to involve the person's assistant to help you move ahead.

Respect the intermediary

Many sales people talk down to assistants and don't show them the respect they deserve. Make no mistake: If the assistant wants you to get through to the boss, you will. If the assistant doesn't want you to succeed, you will fail.

You must find ways to build your relationship with the assistant. I have found that, as that strengthens, so does my relationship with the boss. Much of this growth stems from the fact that the assistant gives positive support to you in your absence.

What the assistant can do for you

Just this week I called a top executive to discuss my online basics course. I left two messages for him over a seven-day period and, when I didn't hear from him, I called his assistant and explained why I wanted to talk with him. She said she would mention my need when she spoke with him that afternoon. Three hours later, I got a call from the executive, who was on the road. Obviously, she did a great job in communicating my need.

I've found that the assistant can give good advice when needed. I remember how nervous I was when I didn't hear from the chief marketing officer of a large hotel company who had promised to get back to me with an answer regarding the training proposal I had sent him. I remember telling his secretary I thought there must be a problem because it was about four weeks beyond his original deadline for making a decision. When I asked if she was aware of any problems, she suggested that getting the boss to approve the money for my proposal was one. What a relief. Two weeks later, he sent me confirmation for one of the best training contracts I ever enjoyed.

On another occasion, after completing one year of training, my customer told me he was going to survey all of his company's hotels to help him decide on future direction. He never let on how the survey was going, but, after about two months, his assistant told me that comments about my course couldn't have been better. If we hadn't had an excel lent relationship, I wouldn't have had access to survey results.

The assistant's personal goals

As your business relationship grows, you can be very helpful to assistants by supporting their career goals. I remember one time that the president of a growing company asked me to help him find a director of marketing.

I suggested he consider his present assistant, who could be trained within a year to handle the position. He took my advice and she turned out to be an outstanding marketing director.

Bring the assistant into the picture

One of the most important steps in building a relationship with executive assistants is to show them you think it's important to familiarize them with the complete account picture rather than just sketchy details. This shows respect and how important you believe the assistant to be.

When you make it obvious that the assistant is important to everything you do, you will experience ever-growing success.

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 703-931-0757.

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