by Sarah J.F. Braley | May 01, 2010
Kristin PryorKristin PryorDirector of sales and marketing,
The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa,
Beaver Creek, Colo.


When I started in hotel sales 15 years ago, I had a mentor who told me to present my proposal to the client and then ask, "Are we still talking?" If the client said yes, we proceeded with a conversation that included identifying needs and working on a mutually agreed-upon contract -- consultative selling. However, if the client said no, I was advised to hang up and move on. Something better would come along. This was a seller's market -- hoteliers set their dates, rates and space, and planners tried to fit within our parameters.

As we all know, a swing occurred. After 9/11, sales managers and hoteliers showed more empathy. The national tragedy helped humanize the client and the attendees for us -- we understood that planners needed to cancel and people did not want to travel. It was a difficult time, but we kept talking.

With the collapse of the economy in 2008, a new level of anxiety set in for hotels. It was now a buyer's market and we needed to show value. Rates dropped, attrition clauses were waived and concessions became standard expectations. We were not really talking, we were taking orders.

This recession has caused all of us to take another hit, but also I think it has humbled us all once again. As a director of sales, I have stakeholders to answer to and budgets to meet in order to keep my doors open. I also understand that meeting planners have budgets to follow, clients to please and that they need to show value. That's why it's so important to have that conversation.

As technology advances and the industry starts to recover, we are all very busy -- sending RFPs, responding to RFPs, e-mailing, tweeting, becoming fans. That sense of urgency seems all-important; the sundown rule, where we would respond to an RFP by the end of the day, has become a one-hour rule. But are we still talking? Not always -- sometimes we are just reacting. Without having a conversation to determine the client's true needs, it is hard for us to customize an offer and come up with a plan that works for everyone.

I recently spoke with a client about why we charge a resort fee and where that money goes. In return, he explained the special needs and expectations of his attendees. Once we had a better understanding of each other's positions, we were both willing to make certain concessions. We were talking! It was so refreshing to have a collaborative conversation and come to a solid agreement. I have encouraged these types of conversations with my sales managers and am pleased to say that I see them happening -- it is a positive for all of us to see the partnership evolving.

Having a mutually beneficial relationship is critical to the success of our industry. If we keep working hard to have these conversations, hopefully we can get closer to pleasing all stakeholders on both sides of the table.