With over five million U.S. hotel rooms, it’s not surprising that the hospitality industry is a lucrative target for many B2B salespeople. After all, the demand for travel is nearly insatiable, and the industry keeps growing in order to keep up, creating new opportunities for enterprising sales professionals all the time.
B2B reps at retail brands and service providers, for instance, can target hotels to offer wholesale bedding, bathroom supplies, cleaning and maintenance, security, IT support, booking software and even marketing services (print materials, digital advertising and social media management).
Though selling to hospitality clients can be difficult, it can also be rewarding. Below are several steps to take to position your messaging so that it resonates well with industry buyers.
Understand the unique challenges of the industry.
It’s no secret that B2B salespeople have to intimately know the industry they’re targeting. The hospitality sector, however, is teeming with many idiosyncrasies not found in most other modern industries. They include:
- Hotel chains not only operate 24 hours a day, but because their locations are global, their "busy hours" never end.
- Depending on the function of your client at the organization you're selling to, you may have to pay special attention to the scheduling and timing of sales calls. There is usually a manager on site at all times, though the one regional director for a dozen chain hotels might be available only from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time.
- There is a chance that the hotels you hope to sell to are union properties, which may mean special agreements must be considered for the purchase of new equipment or the implementation of new procedures. This adds an extra layer of bureaucracy, which can further complicate the sales process.
- With the rise and dominance of Airbnb, hotels are actively searching for ways to offer guests a more authentic and luxurious travel experience to compete with all the new local hosts and their accommodations' bargain rates. How can you fill this need?
- Due to the seasonal nature of travel, many hotels have periods when their rooms are overbooked and months when they struggle to reach a 65 percent occupancy rate. Take advantage of this issue. HotelTonight did: It pitches major hotel brands to help them fill vacant rooms using last-minute discounts. Over the years, the company's business development and sales teams have successfully secured partnerships with InterContinental Hotels Group, Barcelo, Hyatt Hotels and Best Western.
Recognize That size definitely matters.
All hotel companies offer guests a place to sleep for a night, but beyond that, vast differences exist among the various types of companies that operate in this sector. A three-room bed and breakfast and a corporate city hotel couldn’t be more different in terms of their operations, costs and needs. These are factors that your company, when it looks to see to the industry, needs to carefully consider.
Is it financially viable for you to sell to a small organization which needs only a few of your products? Or, does it make more sense for you to act like Simmons (the manufacturer of the famed Westin Heavenly Bed) and pursue an OEM mattress deal with Starwood Hotels and Resorts that will place your product in tens of thousands of rooms instantly?
Simmons' deal with Starwood is the perfect example of building on an opportunity by thinking outside the box. Not only did the agreement place Simmons mattresses in Starwood properties across the world, but Westin (and later other Starwood brands) agreed to market and sell these beds itself for home use.
Through this partnership, the two companies were able to sell more than $135 million worth of Westin Heavenly Beds. Though it's unconventional for a hotel chain to sell mattresses for home use, the collaboration makes sense. Customers at Starwood hotels who enjoy their stay may want to replicate the experience at home with a Westin Heavenly Bed. For Simmons, of course, this huge distribution deal brought in strong sales and profit.
Another factor that often heavily influences the buying decisions of large hotel chains is adherence to brand standards. Many properties are restricted to using a pre-selected vendor for certain products or services because of a mandate from corporate management. In such cases, you may have to try to sell directly to the corporate office, or potentially target smaller, more independent properties that have more purchasing flexibility and freedom.
Think about whom you should sell to.
You may think the property’s general manager or hotel manager has the final say in any significant buying decisions, but that isn’t always the case. Many properties (especially large ones) are composed of so many distinct departments that each function is run as an independent nation.
The director of housekeeping may have sole authority over the budget for purchasing cleaning products for his or her employees, or the front office and IT departments may collaborate when it comes to implementing new guest services software. Consider who would be best served by hearing your sales pitch, and tailor your messaging and approach to speak to that person or persons directly.
Develop your social selling strategy.
Hospitality leaders, like those in many other industries, have discovered how powerful social media can be in a sector that is fraught with competition and changing rapidly.
Many of them frequent sites such as LinkedIn, voraciously consume industry publications and participate in niche forums to keep up with trends. Find ways to engage with these prospects on their social sites of choice, and utilize effective content strategies to provide valuable insights for their business.
Rely on referrals.
For an industry that employs nearly 16 million people in the U.S. alone, hospitality often seems like a small world. Employees are constantly transferring to new properties and making new connections, so you never know where a relationship you’ve made with a client might take you.
Take care to facilitate your customer’s success in the onboarding period, and continue to cultivate the relationship long after the sale is over. This could be the key to unlocking a world of referrals that expands ad infinitum.
Don’t assume anything about their pain points.
Every hotel location is unique, and even though you’ve studied the industry, you may be woefully unaware of some of your client’s specific issues. They could be related to rate concerns, labor costs, union issues or a myriad of other things. They might be dealing with a specific problem that no other hotel in their area is facing.
Related: 5 Tips for Developing Your B2B Sales
Hospitality industry employees live and breathe their respective properties, so let them walk you through how you can make their lives easier and engage accordingly. Then hone your pitch to answer those pain points.