Dr. Lalia Rach, executive managing director at Associated Luxury Hotels International (AHLI) has worked for three decades to guide leadership development, advance strategy, and help leaders understand the forces impacting the hospitality industry.
At HSMAI’s Sales Leader Forum in Charlotte on Oct. 26, Rach gave a keynote address “The World Around Us: The Outlook for Sales” where she helped attendees sort through the aftermath of a business landscape altered by COVID and identify strategies for success when the new normal is continuous disruption.
In advance of her presentation, Rach shared with HSMAI a few nuggets of wisdom, and what she hopes attendees take away from her address.
Can you give an overview of your presentation?
This is another turning point for sales. Sales has evolved over the decades, but when talking about the modern era, there is something different this time. I think sales professionals and the disciple of sales within the hospitality industry must take control of its destiny. I see the discipline as being in the midst of great challenge, but with it, there is great opportunity. I might be putting forth a bit of a bellwether or warning message, but I do it so that people in the discipline realize that they have to take control of their future.
I don’t see this as the sky falling rather it’s actually a tremendous opportunity. But, it is time to address this and there are examples that the sales discipline can emulate. One such example is from just a few years ago, marketing was challenged by owners to ‘prove’ the value of digital marketing. This went on as marketing struggled to clearly define ROI for digital, but fast forward a few years and now the value is quite clear to everyone. And I would consider how the professionals in revenue management were given a warning after the financial crisis in 2008. They were told they had to take hold of pricing and deliver value. Revenue managers have stepped up to the plate and clearly demonstrated their value. Now is the time for salespeople to take control and redefine what it is that they do and prove that they are a good investment. But there are changes that must occur in order for salespeople to give a clear message of their value.
What precisely needs to change for the sales discipline?
One aspect of sales that needs to advance is the inclusion of hard skills as an equally important aspect of the sales professional’s repertoire. A senior salesperson recently told me that financial and business analytical skills of his sales team were limited, and he just accepted that they would be focused on relationship-building and being creative. In this day, this thinking should be unforgiveable. If you want to think about who is responsible for this, we all are. That sales leader should have been telling his team to expand their abilities by taking courses or finding a mentor on- property who would help them develop financial and analytical skills. We are a people-based industry but that doesn’t mean that hard skills aren’t as important as soft skills in sales disciple.
I put a great deal of responsibility on higher education as well. If we look at the courses that are in the sales concentration, they should focus more on the business analytics and revenue management analytics that are vital to success as a sales professional. You need both hard skills and soft skills to succeed. Understanding, in great detail what customers want and need requires insight based on a deep and broad knowledge of markets and industries. Going forward the key to selling is the ability to position yourself as an individual who wants to be of full-service to clients.
If relationships are positioned as the most important aspect of being a good salesperson, it must be a robust definition describing the increased complexity of client engagement. Being charismatic may get your foot in the door, but it’s what comes after that determines success.
Another aspect of the modern sales era is the vitality of the partnership that the sales professional has with marketing and revenue management. The strength of the partnership is often determined by the sales professional ability to have a reasoned dialogue, based on understanding their counterpart’s language and the ability to fully participate in analytical and financial discussions. The sales professional doesn’t have to be a marketer or a revenue manager, but they do need a strong knowledge and understanding of what their colleagues do.
What’s the main takeaway you want your audience to leave with?
I want them to think more deeply about their discipline and their career, their role in moving sales forward. I don’t think we think enough, or plan enough, or reflect enough. Most people just want others to tell them what to do, which doesn’t work anymore.
There has to be a willingness to reach beyond what we already know. When I say something that people don’t like, often they stop listening. You don’t have to agree with what I say, but you need to at least think about it. You can’t just say you don’t agree and tune it out because of something that was relevant two years ago, because what was relevant is likely not the key issue today. If we don’t begin to grasp our role in defining and changing sales, it’s clear that owners and brands will begin to make moves to diminish the sales function in a way that we never thought possible.
There is no sales cookbook, there is not just one recipe to be followed. I hope this starts a dialogue on what the sales function should look like and what should no longer be highlighted as important.