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Relationship Sales: Where Has it Gone?

Published in November 2013 of Corporate & Incentive Travel, TheMeetingMagazines.com

No matter what the industry, the No. 1 most important part of sales is building the relationship. However, relationship building seems to be dwindling due to higher quotas, more clients, limited time and lower sales budgets.

What I miss the most is the sales touch: the actual building of the relationship.

• When a hotel salesperson took the time to get to know the meeting planner.

• When the national salespeople came to our meeting planning departments and spent time getting to know our needs and us.

• When we became friends with our sales reps.

I still get the sales calls. The problem is they are impersonal, and no effort is expended toward building the relationship. They usually go something like this: “Hello Brooke, I see that you were at my hotel in 2010. Do you have anything coming back this way?”

Really, did you do one iota of research on me? Salespeople can take advantage of the age of technology by checking out my LinkedIn page and/or other social media streams where I have a presence. Then they may be able to catch my attention by starting the conversation with, “Hello Brooke, I just read your article on your ‘Top 10 Meeting Planning Pet Peeves.’” (See C&IT March 2013). Now you have my attention.

The Trust Factor

I buy from people I know and trust, and I believe that is the case with most meeting planners. The best sales relationship I have had was with my national sales rep from Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Jane Jordan. My relationship with Jane was differ- ent. No matter where I was in my career, Hyatt did not change my sales rep. Jane and Hyatt knew the importance of the re- lationship and discovered along the way that the relationship, more than anything else, was what drove me to want to do business with them.

After many years and promotions, Jane has continued to check in on me. Bringing me up to speed on what’s new with Hyatt, helping to set appointments for her hotel counterparts, and generally making sure I am taken care of. Jane is no longer my national sales representative with Hyatt, but by staying in touch, she continues to demonstrate that taking the time to build a strong relationship outweighs all other sales activity.

I book business with hotels, chains and third-party rep firms that have taken the time to build a relationship with me.

However, I do not book hotels, chains, and third parties that instead choose to place roadblocks in front of me and insist that I conform to the way they want to do business. For ex- ample, there is one large hotel that has chosen not to give me a salesperson because I don’t have an IATA number. I do not have an IATA number as I do not accept commissions. Instead, this chain insists I go through their booking center, which for me is an absolute no.

I miss the days of the Gaylord Hotels national sales organi- zation. They got it! Gaylord really believed in relationships. The salespeople developed a relationship with the client together. It didn’t really matter which Gaylord they represented, it just mattered that the brand was being represented and that the client needs were being looked after. This Team Sell approach is what made Gaylord unique and easy to do business with.

Hotel booking centers are not relationship tools. They are widget producers. The few times I have called into these cen- ters, I find that I know more about the property they are sell- ing than they do. The only information they have that I do not have is the availability.

In the world of technology, it’s easy to forget about re- lationships.

Both Sides of the Fence

Having been on the hotel side of things and now as a plan- ner, I understand how territories change. Newer salespeople are typically assigned territories that impact the hotel the least. As they grow and enhance their value, they are assigned more lucrative territories. That appears to me to be the natural progression. The conundrum however is that as they become successful and move into other territories, the account where a strong relationship may have been developed is then passed into the hands of another “green” salesperson. I don’t under- stand how this makes sense. Shouldn’t the relationship tran- scend all territories? The planner at some point will just turn to another brand if they are continually being assigned new salesperson after new salesperson.

I think that hotel sales management needs to rethink how they are asking their reps to sell. They should stop the cold calling — a wasteful type of sales. They should educate their sales teams to do their due diligence, research the potential clients and then after a little more qualified study, reach out with more knowledge. That will get the foot in the door… mine anyway. The hotels tend to believe that equal opportunity quota distribution is more important than the relationship that crosses territories. This philosophy means that business will be lost.

Mentoring as a Building Block

Lastly, I believe that hotels should have a mentoring program. There are plenty of seasoned meeting planners who would love to step in and help. Not only would this give the new salesperson an opportunity to work with local planners but it would also develop an immediate rela- tionship. Isn’t that what it all comes down to?

Management teams would do well to not take their eyes off of what is right in front of them. Listen to your clients. When you are about to move sales folks around, take your time to contact the clients who have a long-term relationship with your salesperson. Get some skin in the game, it should not be up to me, the client, to call you and beg for my salesperson.

Business is coming back with a gusto, but don’t be short- sighted. Although our industry ebbs and flows, it is the rela- tionship that ends up keeping everyone grounded and doing business together regardless of the economic realities.

Build the relationship! It is the best advice this planner can offer. (Read more in “Dear Sales Manager: How to Win a Meeting Planner’s Business” on the following pages.) C&IT