Sales “steps” and “funnels” are so 1990s; Here’s what it takes for hotel sales success in 2019

While the hotel sales environment has completely transformed, hotel sales training models seem to be stuck in the 1990s. When I meet hotel leaders at industry conferences it seems most recognise the profound changes such as the emergence of third-party planners and the migration to online RFP tools (CVENT, CVB Platforms and social sites such as The Knot.) Yet most leaders seem to be unclear on what it takes to outsell the competition these days.

As a conference speaker, I often sit-in on sessions delivered by others as I’m always eager to learn. From what I see, most sales-related training recycles one of three traditional themes:

The “steps” in the sales process 

Training based on “sales steps” typically covers building rapport, asking probing questions, listening, turning features into benefits, overcoming objections and closing the sale. Taken individually, these concepts are still valid and I include updated versions in my own sales training, but this linear “step-by-step” approach is outdated for several reasons. 

For one, it assumes the hotel salesperson is personally engaged with the originator of the business, when in fact we are often working through a third party. Secondly, it assumes that one can have a verbal conversation, whereas much of the interaction these days takes place via email or text. Finally, it assumes the buyer comes to use with little or no previous knowledge of the “benefits,” whereas most have visited the hotel’s website, seen initial room rates, read reviews and social media posts.

The sales “funnel”

There are a couple of versions of the sales funnel model circulating. One emphasises prospecting to add more new leads to the top of the funnel, so that some filter down and drip out as a booked business. However, the reality for most hotel salespeople is that they are overwhelmed with “lead spam,” as today’s meetings websites allow one prospect to send an RFP to a dozen or more hotels at the click of a button. 

Also, this model does not address cross-penetrating for additional business nor retracing for rebooking. The other version of a funnel model is really an inverted sales staircase, with the first sales step being at the top of the funnel and then progressing down through closing the sale.

The third theme for hotel sales development these days is straightforward training on how to work various sales tech systems. This is generally led by someone from the tech side and tends to focus too much on process and not people; it fails to address the “why’s” behind the “how’s” being presented.

If you are ready to move beyond steps, funnels and “how to use the new widget” training, here are some hotel sales training concepts from my Hotel Sales QUEST workshops and conference presentations.

  • Don’t be victimised and pushed into reactive mode each morning by whatever is at the top of your email inbox. Spend less time responding to internal emails and instead talk to your colleagues. Spend more time replying in detail to sales prospects.
  • Start your day by working your list of date-specific sales follow-up tasks. Touch base with those to whom you sent a proposal a few days back. Alternate between email and voicemail every few days until you have followed-up a minimum of three times. Reach out to the planners who booked last year (and who at that time you added to your sales task list) about rebooking again. Reach out to those who just completed a meeting to solicit feedback and ask for referrals.
  • Sort and prioritise new leads. RFP’s for low demand dates, high revenue business, and high-value accounts should take priority. However, respond later to all “right-sized” leads even if you are sold out. (Often, planners who say they are not flexible become flexible when they find limited availability). Respond to smaller groups and low-revenue business too as this demand can help fill in gaps in supply, and because these same planners might later have larger groups.
  • If you need more time to check with others before responding, send a personalised note to let the prospect know you will be back in touch later with a detailed response.
  • Pick up the phone to stand out. If you reach the prospect, go right into your reason for calling before attempting small talk: “Hello, this is Doug Kennedy from Brand X Hotel calling in response to your RFP. I just have a few quick questions so that I can provide a more detailed proposal that is specific to your needs.” If you get voicemail, say the same in a brief but polite voicemail. Note: If the sender of the RPF specifically says not to call them, of course, you should disregard this suggestion.
  • Reply “in-app” (such as in CVENT and CVB Platforms) and then also separately via direct email.
  • After responding to a new lead, add it to your sales task list mentioned in the first training tip!
  • When you engage in verbal conversations or email exchanges:
    • Focus on asking more and better questions to determine what the prospect knows from their online research and where they are at in their buying decision.
    • Especially when dealing with direct clients, use a storytelling approach to help them imagine their meeting or event taking place at your hotel.
    • Understand that prospects are overwhelmed with choices these days; use needs-based recommendations, suggestions and endorsements.
  • Personalise proposal documents by including the prospect’s company or association logo and by deleting any info in your standard proposal template about features, amenities and services that do not apply.
  • Send a personal video email using the best platform for doing so, which drops your video right into the email. (Email me for a sample:
  • When prospects have specific questions about a location or hotel venue, take and send a camera phone pic.
  • Make it easy to set a time to talk by phone by sending specific blocks of time when you are available.
  • Use a screen sharing tool to walk them through your website and/or the contract or proposal.

Doug Kennedy is the President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. – a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programmes and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotelier Maldives and its affiliated companies. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.