The New Evolution of Revenue Managers – Data Scientists

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May 03, 2019
Revenue Strategy and Metamediaries
Kristi White

More than 30 years ago, Robert Cross published the revenue management bible: Revenue Management: Hard-Core Tactics for Market Domination. It laid the foundation for revenue management as a discipline. While the bigger brands had already started their own processes, this book gave smaller brands and independents a roadmap to develop their own processes.

Revenue management has evolved in the last three decades. We’ve moved from gut feel, to spreadsheets, to macro driven spreadsheets, to data driven, algorithmic, automated systems. However, all too often, our talent hasn’t evolved to match the processes. 
 
In the early days of revenue management, the position was often filled by a reservations manager. The assumption being these individuals understood the ebb and flow of reservations and, as a result, would understand the ebb and flow of revenue. Some companies got lucky. The individual in the position was skilled with numbers and grew into the position to become a skilled revenue manager. 
 
However, too often the skill didn’t translate. The individual may have adapted a few spreadsheets to mask their lack of skills, but the processes remained relatively immature. They developed rules and strategies to mimic revenue management, but the hotel never truly realized the benefit from robust revenue management. 
 
Then as the discipline evolved, automated revenue management systems (RMS) joined the fray. Those individuals with highly developed skillsets once again flourished and the RMS augmented their native talent, amplifying their revenue management processes.
 
Less skilled revenue managers, however, struggled with the new technology. Because there wasn’t an innate understanding of the underlying data, these individuals wrestled with the science arguing their gut knew more. As a result, they ignored advice, resulting in subpar performance – thus proving to themselves and upper management that the technology was the issue.
 
All of this means we have a gaping chasm of talent within the revenue management discipline. The initial creation of the gap was an honest mistake: an assumption that too often proved false. However, over the past 30 years, we haven’t done a lot to correct the mistake.
 
All of this leads us to where we need to go as an industry. There’s no doubt that revenue management is here to stay. So, perhaps it’s time as an industry to redefine what skills the person or persons filling the role should possess.
 
Oddly, where we started needs to be in the mix of skills. However, a simple understanding of reservations is just the tip of the iceberg. Revenue managers today need to possess much more to do the job effectively. Data scientist might be overreaching for most hotels because a person at the right salary point who truly fits the official definition of a data scientist would be the proverbial unicorn. However, since most organizations don’t have Chief Data Wrangler in their organizational chart, we’ll stick with data scientist.
 
So, what are the skills this new breed of specialist needs?
 
The Big Picture A deep understanding of all revenue generating departments and how they contribute (both negatively and positively). Revenue management isn’t just limited to mix of business, but also includes managing all aspects of the business. A good revenue manager should be dipping his or her toes into managing revenue across outlets, function space, even how upgrades and upsells are managed. Without a clear understanding of how each department works, it’ll be impossible to help streamline and improve processes to manage to a stronger bottom line.
 
Ability to tell a story Data may come naturally to a revenue manager (though not always). However, that native skill may also be what prevents the individual from truly communicating with his or her peers. What appears perfectly clear to a natural with data will be gibberish to others. Being able to take the raw data and create a compelling story, for all the revenue generating outlets, is what will allow the next generation to become even more integral to organizations.
 
Lead the Charge Telling a story lets the good revenue manager become great. It puts them at the forefront of change; maybe even leading the charge. This takes an adeptness many may not possess or even be comfortable with. However, it is a crucial skill because with change often comes chaos. And the person who started the story should be able to continue it to show the progress.
 
Keep Calm Cooler heads will often need to prevail. As we all know, at the first sign of trouble, it’s all too easy to fall into our old patterns – how we’ve always done it. A calm head can help you stay the course through the initial chaos to realize the success waiting at the end.
 
All of this leads to the last trait imperative for the next generation. If you’re an eagle-eyed observer, you might have already seen it: the ability to effectively communicate. Revenue managers are often awkward. Comfort with data, trends and math, often means their communication skills aren’t as strong. A well-rounded revenue manager transcends this and can build solid internal relationships to bridge those gaps and get everyone on the same page. 
 
Reading through this it might seem like it describes that mythical unicorn. But remember, millennials have been bombarded with data practically since birth. However, don’t overlook their predecessors who are still in the industry. Generation X is still out there and generally possess many, if not all, the skills above. Plus, those individuals have likely worked their way through organizations, so they have a firm grasp of all aspects of your business. 
 
When you look at that broad of a talent pool, it becomes somewhat easier to find the person to step into the next evolution of revenue manager. And, it’s possible your current person can fit the bill. So, the question might be, are they empowered to do the job?
 
If you already have a person who ticks all the boxes, have you given them the reach to do what needs to be done? Perhaps it’s time to go to your revenue manager and ask a few questions. The right person will have a list of suggestions scribbled down (most likely a 30-page slide deck with action plans and revenue lift) somewhere and has just been waiting for the right opportunity. Perhaps it’s time you give them the chance.


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