As we kicked off our first webcast in our new webcast series, we spoke with Clifford Ferrera, SVP of sales, marketing and revenue, Chesapeake Hospitality on August 19. In June, Clifford wrote an article titled How Savvy Hoteliers Are Preparing for the Road Ahead. This engaging article became the impetus for our new webcast series.
His inspiration for the article came from the fact that as a company, Chesapeake Hospitality has always subscribed to its sales staff being focused on prospecting. Its directors of sales have always had goals. But in March as cancellations flooded in, they witnessed business plummet, forcing a level of triage that was previously unimaginable. A month later, it became apparent they would need to be in it for the long haul.
What followed at the property level was a litany of activities including the trimming of staff and a hardline approach to cutting unnecessary expenses. Once this began to happen, Clifford and the sales team knew that they would need to “find the center” in how they would proceed. It became apparent then that he should look to develop an article to help outline the basics of how Chesapeake would need to proceed and share that out to the industry.
Do What Matters Most
As they began to prepare to lean into recovery, Clifford felt the need to pull together thoughts on how they could center ourselves. Our motto has always been “do what matters most,” and within that framework, the article sort of wrote itself.
One of my favorite parts of the article was Clifford’s take on sales staffing and how it will be impacted in the near future. Specifically, he talked about the need for less segment specialization. He told us that obviously all segments will still be important, however, sales teams would be leaner and need to do more with less. Initially, they had to take a hard look at the team and determine who could do more with less. This meant retaining their best salespeople but also make key changes to segmentation.
Clifford said, “Obviously, we weren’t going to be able to have a person who only handles association, SMERF or corporate accounts exclusively anymore. We were going to need utility players who could sell everything to anyone and book every segment that would book.”
As we look to the future, obviously our sales teams are going to be leaner. I asked him “What should leaders be looking for as they prepare to bring staff back?”
He told us utility players were important. The company’s directors of sales (DOS) have always been sellers with goals. As we looked to bring people back it might be the DOS and another salesperson. Those individuals are going to split up all of the segments. Clifford noted that, “It goes beyond that. Those individuals are going to need to know how to do it all. This won’t be a book it, then move on to the next piece of business. The salespeople will need to book it, service it, and then rebook it. You are going to need good multi-taskers who can sell and handle the details.”
Your Conversation with Customers Needs to Be Aligned with Operations
First and foremost, Clifford noted they should be talking about the Duty of Care pieces and calling attention to what you are doing to protect their guests when they return.
For some hotels they will be able to rely on what the brands have created. However, for others, your local municipality might have different rules and you will need to be well-versed in those so you can help the guests navigate those waters. Then have tangible things you can tell your contacts on HOW you are fulfilling those guidelines. This is where you need to be lock step with operations. They are the ones who are delivering on the guidelines, so it is imperative to have them tell you how they are doing it so you can pass that on to your contacts.
The Future of Forecasting
Clifford stated that forecasting will need to change, and it could possibly impact pricing. He told us forecasting will have to move to a daily mechanism and this needs to be clearly stated to ownership. This also relates to term guidelines and how they may impact your forecast. For example, the brands have put together their meeting guidelines around attrition, cancellations, etc. It’s important that the sales teams understand how to clearly communicate these new guidelines to your customers as well.
“They will need to have a bit more understanding of why things move. We are seeing with some of our hotels that we pick up 100 rooms for the weekend on Thursday. That is abnormal for us and ownership needs to understand what is driving that and how they are planning for it. You won’t be able to provide that clarity if you aren’t monitoring it on a daily basis.”
With regards to how he thinks the process of sales will change going forward, Clifford noted we might not be able to physically visit customers. So, in order for salespeople to nurture relationships they will need be more flexible in their processes.
Clifford said, “As to the nurturing relationships, much is the same as always. You have to be genuine with customers. You can be genuine over the phone or on a video call as easily as you can be in person. It starts with knowing who you are talking to.”
Obviously, our economic models around groups and meetings will need to change. I asked him if the world were perfect, what would he hope would happen?
“I would hope that we would all be more collaborative. How we price is going to have to change to accommodate and there will need to be understanding on both sides. But by the same token, this is not the time to be dropping rates. Doing that will make a bad situation worse,” he said.
With regards to meeting planners, Clifford noted that it is important to be collaborative. “This is not the time to try to gouge hotels,” he said.
Clifford’s Best Advice for Hoteliers
Clifford’s advice on how we navigate the recovery waters encompasses three things:
- Now is the time for heightened communication. It may not be straight up selling but you have to be relentless. Soft but relentless.
- Reinvent yourself. Expectations have changed so you will need to adapt.
- Be a team player. Do what needs to be done, but still maintain some balance in your work/life equation.
With regards to the prognosticators that believe 2023 is the magical date we will return to pre-COVID levels, I asked him if he thinks that is pessimistic or optimistic? He said, “I’m a bit more bullish than they are. Perhaps it’s looking at our own group pace. We are already at 86% of our pace for 2021 which makes me more optimistic.
With that said, urban properties and bigger properties are going to be in a for a longer haul. But our hotels in secondary and tertiary markets are seeing nice short-term pick-up. So, I think 2021 will be soft but the latter half will pick up and 2022 is going to be strong.”
To listen to the webcast in its entirety, visit: https://go.knowland.com/WC-WBR2020-081-GearingUpHotels_LP-Registration.html
Thank you for a great session and truly creative insight, Clifford!