As Times Change, So Must Our Strategies

When people find out how long I have been selling, they ask how selling differs from when I entered the field. One frequent question is how often you should call a prospect that doesn't respond to your messages.

There are a number of reasons why it is more difficult now:

  • Business operates at a faster pace than in years past. Everyone is always behind schedule.

  • You have a tougher time getting through by phone because of screening of calls by caller ID and voicemail.

  • Many prospects don't return calls unless they see an obvious advantage to that. In the old days they returned the calls as part of proper etiquette.

  • The reputation of salespeople generally doesn't rank very high in prospects' minds because of past experience with all types of them. Face it: Some people hate salespeople and we have no chance unless we can change that opinion.

  • Twenty years ago, 20 hotel salespeople would call on a prospect. Today, 200 do. Competition for the business comes from every corner of the world, as hotel consumers look for ever-new experiences. It's possibile to annoy the prospect if we call too often.

  • Some clients believe technology will replace salespeople. Don't believe it.

Here are a few recommendations to build positive relationships with prospects and clients:

  • Make sure you talk with prospects when they want to talk. To talk with a prospect about a summer meeting two months before it is on the prospect's “to do” list is a waste of time. To gauge interest, try this: “Mr. Jones, when would you like to talk about some ideas for that summer meeting in which I think you will be interested?”

  • Ask prospects how they want to communicate: by e-mail, through the assistant, via voicemail, conversations between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

  • Act as a problem-solving consultant, not a typical salesperson. Help with projects having nothing to do with profit for you but where you can contribute.

  • Ask when they want you to call again. When you call back, remind the prospect, “You suggested I call back today.”

  • Follow up with an e-mail message if the prospect doesn't return your phone call.

  • Bring the assistant into the situation. Ask for her or his help. It works well.

  • See what works best with prospects and make some valuable notes for the file.

One of the most difficult questions salespeople face is how often we should call a prospect who doesn't answer telephone messages. I would appreciate your e-mails regarding what works for you in this situation. Please include your phone number.


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 ttmccarthy@cox.net or 703-931-0757.

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