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Selling: It Isn’t About Relationships After All

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April 12, 2019
Peter Klebanoff - peter.klebanoff@consultancyatpr.com

You’ve heard it for years. Sales is all about relationships. Or is it? Sure, a great relationship with a buyer is key, but doesn’t get you the business.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a company hire a former hotel executive based on who they know. Sure, they may be able to get the CEO on the phone, but he doesn’t make the buying decision. That person got to be CEO by making intelligent, reasoned decisions based on facts and corporate needs. They look to build consensus within the organization. They don’t buy because a buddy called and asked them to. You might get a meeting, but it’s what you have to offer, both in terms of a solution, and becoming a valuable partner, that will decide if you win a deal.
The Corporate Executive Board studied 6,000 salespeople across 90 companies and grouped them by behavior and methodology. In their book The Challenger Sale, they explain the five types or profiles:
A. The Hard Worker (21%)
Doesn’t give up easily, self-motivated, interested in feedback and personal development
B. The Relationship Builder (21%)
Classic consultative rep, builds internal advocates, creates relationships with prospects
C. The Problem Solver (14%)
Highly detailed-oriented, reliable, responds to stakeholders, ensures all problems are solved
D. The Lone Wolf (18%)
Follows their instincts, self-assured, delivers results, but difficult to manage
E. The  Challenger (27%)
Different worldview, loves to debate, pushes the customer, strong understanding of the customer’s business
Most hiring managers and sales leaders look for categories A, B, and C when hiring for sales. But B –  someone who can create and build relationships – is the gold standard. They generally shy away from D and E because, among other things, these folks are harder to manage and don’t follow rules to the letter.
So how does each type do when it comes to performance?
Surprise – the Relationship Builder isn’t at the top of the list. In fact, the Challengers far outperform all others. The difference is the greatest in complex sales situations. In those types, Challengers beat Relationship Builders by more than 2 to 1.
The meeting planners or groups who come to you want to accomplish something. Your job isn’t to book them space, it’s to help them accomplish their objective. To do that, you want to understand both their goals, and their client’s goals. 
To get it done you need to engage in constructive conversation. Use constructive tension to challenge assumptions. Provide insights that will make their meeting better and help them achieve all those various objectives. One good way to do that: Bring information they may not have that can help them.
It’s hard to imagine the ASAE meeting planner needs a great deal of education, but if you do your homework, you might be surprised by the insights you can offer.
  • Trying to convey dull information? How about exercise breaks? (Below is a link to a Canadian website’s paper on exercise breaks ... in one quick Google search).  And what can you charge to bring in a trainer to run them?  

  • Trying to build team? How about Wii bowling teams in the evenings? Or Xbox darts? There are a host of console games to help with team-building efforts. Even better, the hotel can charge a healthy fee for them.

  • Big groups have issues meeting room block minimums. Rather than caving on guarantees, suggest ways to overcome that problem. What special services can you provide to draw guests to host hotels?

  • Salespeople aren’t used to sitting in a room for eight hours. They usually have pending deals to follow up on. Suggest more and longer breaks, and provide healthy, energizing foods and beverages.

You know how to take care of meeting planners. I’m suggesting you take it up a notch.  Study your craft, and your client’s craft and needs. Be a more valuable partner than the hotel down the street. That doesn’t mean cheaper – especially when you add some of the above extra services – it means more valuable.
So, what makes the Challengers so special?
Think of this type as consultative sellers on steroids. Their approach is based on science and logic. The general premise is that:
Buyers can learn about your product online
They won’t take you seriously until they see your solution set
They’ll ask you back if they get some value from the meeting – if they learn something they didn’t know, but need to
They’ll buy your solution if it solves their new understanding of their problems (based on what you taught them) 
In short, bring value, learning, and new insights to your clients. Build your relationship with them based on the value you can jointly create, and you’ll have a relationship that lasts and is based on mutual respect.
A few suggestions:
Don’t promise more than you can give. The guiding principal of Challenger selling is creating and using constructive tension. That means, among other things, saying no when you have to. While the appeal of the deal may seem to make it worth it to make promises that test or exceed your capabilities, make sure you don’t cross the line.

Listen – don’t talk. When chatting with customers, make sure you hear what they really mean, not just what they say. Let the conversation wander. You’ll be amazed what comes up. People tend to bring the conversation around to things that are important to them. 
Know their needs. The person you’re dealing with has an internal constituency to satisfy. If you help the conversation progress, you may find out what you can do to help your buyer meet their bosses’ needs and priorities.
Apply your learnings. Let your sales and business development efforts inform your product development efforts. You may be surprised how much the industry wants to help you bring your solution closer to what it thinks it needs. An example: I was part of what became the biggest deal in interactive TV history at the time. Hilton was looking to make a change. After weeks of meetings and discussions, it came to me that they were heavily focused on building their brands. We were an interactive TV service. What did we have to do with branding? After talking to our engineers, product managers and marketing, we agreed we could alter the turn-on screen on each brand’s TV to reflect that hotel’s brand rather our company’s brand. Then, bringing unique insight on how guests behave with hotel room TVs, we could help express that in a value proposition. That resonated and we won the business.
Be careful what you wish for. Your first ten 250- to 350-room installs may have gone smoothly, but you’ll find that winning a chain with hundreds of hotels from 80 to 2,000 rooms requires financial and corporate resources beyond what you have likely imagined. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Bill Hayes, former Earthlink EVP, said it best: “We make commitments with care and then live up to them.”
Give up on perfection. Chris Nassetta, Arne Sorenson and their peers didn’t get to the pinnacle of hospitality by expecting perfection every time. They got there by striving for it every time. If you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, fix it, prevent it from happening again, and move on.
Relationships between buyer and seller are important, but they need to be created by a meaningful interaction that best serves both parties. That comes from sellers adding value to the buyer’s day.

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