How to Prepare For the Bad Times

In the current environment of prosperity, directors of sales have the ability — depending on the direction they take — to prepare their departments to be in either a strong or weak position when the bad times reappear for the industry.

We can make everyone an order taker

During these good times, a large percentage of sales people work on repeat group business or other business for high occupancy periods that simply requires order taking. The problem with this is that this doesn't help to hone one's experience to compete successfully against competitors and to learn how to win.

I've seen many situations in which order takers who appeared to be successful during good times fail miserably when times required selling against tough competition.

Business no one else can book

Another thing that can make a sales department weaker is to assign to new people the accounts that no one could hope to book. The director of sales figures a new person can't get in trouble with accounts that even the greatest sales person in the world couldn't book.

In my first few months in sales, I worked on many accounts that came up on trace once a year, were assigned to the newest sales person and then retraced for the following year. Some of those files had been called on once a year for 10 years or more and never had produced any business. What a waste of time for everyone concerned. Get rid of these files by killing them for all time before they bore the new sales people to death.

What's a director of sales to do?

After killing the files with no potential, the next step in building a stronger sales department is to recognize that new sales people should taste victory as soon as possible and as often as possible. The best way to do this is to give the new people hot leads for business that you believe will challenge them and require them to compete with other hotels, rather than just take the order for the business. Leads from your local convention bureau often fits into this category.

The secret is for the director of sales to coach and counsel the new sales person every step of the way to eliminate the disastrous mistakes new sales people can make when their experience doesn't match their enthusiasm.

Bob, my boss at the Waldorf=Astoria, made certain I always had three or four hot leads to work on at any time, and every few days he would ask, “What's happening with the Envelope Manufacturers?” This meant I would get the file and he would question me in detail. “What did you say to Mr. Bliss; what did he say?” Bob would follow the call reports and correspondence in the file and question me in depth. He would critique everything I did. “I notice that you took two days to get the proposal out. Next time get it out the same day. That would impress him, don't you agree?”

Another part of our training was to go out and find new business even in good times when we had plenty of leads. Bob said he didn't want his sales people taking orders when a clerical person could do it just as well. The main point here was that we became prepared to compete with our considerable competition in both good times and bad because we knew how to go beyond order taking and compete with others in our marketplace under all conditions.

I can remember many order takers who weren't around anymore when times got tough because they didn't know how to compete.

Another important step for the director of sales

Take a look at the bookings of your sales people. Analyze the origins of the bookings. How many were the result of going out and digging for the business, or simply picking up the phone? If you find that much of your business results from order taking with little additional effort, take over the assignment of leads so that you can challenge your people with leads that will help them in good times and bad.

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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