The world of sales has changed dramatically down the years, as much in the hotel sector as others. Where once there were post-it notes, faxes and telephones to keep up with correspondence and hold conversations, now the world of text and email has changed the whole game. It means two key areas have changed. One is that electronic communication is now predominant, and alongside that comes the reality that contacts can be made at any time of the day or night – although the recipient may not be around to handle them at the time. Of course, some may try to cope with this to an extent, working well outside their contracted hours to deliver a service.
However, that is not the sort of thing employers should expect, not least because staff retention will suffer if the work-life balance is poor. These changes mean that the way sales staff are trained is also going to need to change. The old methods that were appropriate for previous circumstances may be of little use now. For instance, an emphasis on developing good telephone skills may be admirable, but of much less use in an age when type-talking is the primary means of communication. Reflecting on this transformed landscape in an article for Hospitality Net, president of the Kennedy Training Network Doug Kennedy listed a number of ways in which training must change. In particular, he notes, this will be significant in the hotel sector where the economic downturn saw some chains shed staff and not replace them. Now the economic situation is better, there may be room to recruit, but also a need to ensure the skills of the staff taken on are up to scratch. If they have not already got the modern experience and aptitude, the training must be right to fill the gaps.
One particular modern requirement Mr Kennedy noted is for sales staff to develop skills that use both sides of the brain. He said: “Whereas in the past hotel sales training focused mostly on people skills needed for interpersonal sales communications, today’s training needs to address a much broader range of skill sets. Salespeople of today need to develop a rare combination of both creative and analytical thinking skills.” He explained that ‘left brain’ types tend to focus on the efficient processing of a transaction, but miss out the need to offer some interpersonal contact. On the other hand, ‘right-brain’ thinkers can be very good at the personal side of things, managing to tailor packages to suit individual customers, but displaying inefficiency in the execution of leads and follow-ups. As a result, he noted, the need to deal with a high volume of leads and also the increasing expectations of customers that they will receive more personalised services means both sides need to be emphasised when training is taking place. Mr Kennedy listed a number of questions companies need to ask when setting up training programmes. These included whether staff are given the support they need to manage the sheer volume of electronic communication.
Indeed, this issue can include simple elements such as using an out-of office setting to ensure they are not receiving emails when they should not, directing those trying to make contact to a different address. But it can also be an issue of knowing how to store and organise data, so that mistakes are not made and contacts are not missed as a result of slack organisation (one can imagine right-brained thinkers will be prone to this second failing). Another issue is knowing how to work out what the best leads are, so these can be given priority. Other issues include whether too much time and emphasis is indeed given to the old ways of doing things. Do handwritten notes and telephone calls still have a major part to play in handling leads?
Moreover, when new technology is in place, the question is whether the training has enabled them to use the available equipment to its max. And are staff making the most of the latest advances in electronic communication that can help with follow-ups, such as Skype or video emails, or tools that can help them communicate on occasions when face-to-face contact is not possible? As ever, the most important issue is making your hotel stand out from the rest. Asking whether this is so is not only pertinent, but a critical barometer of relevance. When the answer is yes, you can be sure you are on the route to success. Emphasising this, Mr Kennedy said: “When it comes to hotel sales, it’s easy to stand out from the competition these days. Make sure your hotel sales training gives your team the tools to be not only the most efficient in responding, but also the most creative and most personalised people to deal with at each step in the sales process.”