9 | Adapt or Perish

It may seem a little extreme, but research has shown that it isn't hunters or farmers who are the most successful sellers, instead, it is those who are able to adapt to what is needed. That is what we explore in this podcast.

I went to a bit of a competitive college, Mount Holyoke,  and many years ago and our soccer team had a motto – excel or die.  Seriously, I might still have the t-shirt.  I always thought that was a little extreme perhaps but the sentiment was one I believed in. 

Today, I have modified this a bit, excelling is still the goal but the reality is, adaptability is key.  So adapt or perish is my new mantra. 

I’ve been getting a little grief lately because while the traditional hotel sales world is looking for hunters, I keep saying, no, hunters are the last thing we need.  I usually say something very sarcastic like, the 80’s is calling on their rotary phone and they want their sales term back. 

One of my favorite movies was Glengarry Glen Ross and hunters will always remind me of Alex Baldwin in his famous monologue that I have seen so many times I pretty much have it memorized.  Put That coffee down.  Coffee is for closers.  Fantastic movie – if you are in sales – but, from the 80’s also.  And what worked in the 80’s doesn’t necessarily work today.

There has been a lot of research done on what makes salespeople successful.  And I have read that research and will attempt to break it down for you in the next 15 or 20 minutes. 

Way back in 2013, the Harvard Business Review shared some research by Halvorson and Higgins  where they updated the hunter and farmer labels and presented the Promotion vs. Prevention focused seller.  Promotion focused meant they had a desire to achieve a result.  Prevention focused meant they wanted to avoid a loss.  As you can imagine, there are some pretty strong pros and cons to each.  I will share a few of their pros and cons now. 

If you have a seller who has a promotion focus: Here are some of their pros

  • They work quickly
  • They are creative – great at brainstorming
  • They are open to new opportunities and ideas
  • Usually they are optimistic
  • They are willing to take risks

 But, there are some downsides too.  Here are the cons

  • They lose steam without positive feedback
  • They make more mistakes
  • They are often unprepared when things go wrong

So those are some pretty hefty cons.  How about our Prevention focused seller.  Remember, they want to avoid loss.  Here are their pros.

  • They work deliberately and carefully
  • They tend to be more accurate
  • They are prepared for the worst
  • They have  excellent analytical and problem-solving skills

 But they too have a few cons. 

  • They are risk-averse
  • They work slowly
  • They get very stressed by tight deadlines
  • They stick to tried-and-true methods – try to maintain status quo

 But here is the really important of their research.  Salespeople who could switch between a promotion focus and a prevention focus based on the selling context generated the most revenue. 

That shouldn’t be a big surprise – adaptability has always been a key to success so of course, a seller who could become outcome focused when required but also loss preventive when circumstances call for it makes perfect sense. 

I am in the middle of a project with a group of global sellers.  These sellers have been selling for 20-25 years so clearly, they are doing something right.  What is really interesting is the vast majority of them have been with the same company for all of those 20-25 years.  How weird is that.  Especially because, this company has merged and evolved and taken over other companies, so these people haven’t always worked for one company,they survived all of these mergers.  There were adaptable.  During these transitions and mergers, I am sure many sellers lost their jobs but this group remained.  Something should be learned from that. 

Fast forward to 2020, and the landscape has changed even further.  Advancement in digital research and automation has even blurred the lines between marketers and sellers. 

For example, how helpful would it be to have contact information delivered to a South Florida salesperson  about a potential client who, right now, in real time, is searching on their website, for the fall of 2021?  The potential client is in the very early stages, and their search has just begun. 

This technology exists, and it really isn’t very expensive.  And there are other applications that have advanced sales and marketing capabilities out there just waiting to be implemented.

However, market research has shown, the LAST thing that this client wants at this point is to talk to a salesperson.  A hunter OR a farmer.  They would however be willing, and even keen, to talk to a trusted advisor. 

They don’t want to talk to a hunter because they are not ready yet to buy, and those hunters tend to be a bit pushy and not so trustworthy.  Trust is hyper critical right now.  And honestly, they don’t want to talk to a farmer either because they don’t have the time.  They can get pretty good information on their own, online so that is generally the option they choose.

They will however happily make time for someone to give them some insights or advice about any pitfalls of South Florida meeting planning in the fall.  Someone who is an expert and is willing to share their insights, quickly, without a sales pitch, is more than welcome.  In fact, not only will they talk to this person, they will invite this person in to present to their whole buying committee because that will save them time, and make them look good.  Everybody wins.

Bottom line, both organizations and individual sales and marketing professionals must evolve.  They need to think differently and honestly, they need to learn some new skills.

And back to my group of global sellers for a minute – not a huge surprise, they are loving my program where I am introducing them to new technology.  Often I have to persuade my students to embrace technology, this group, they have been all in from day one. 

Technology isn’t the answer to everything, but it surely can help.  Being a flexible seller who is willing to learn some martech (marketing technology), and be willing and capable of shifting gears from promotional to preventative sounds like a tall order, but if anyone is up for it, I believe it is hoteliers. 

We rarely have the same day twice, we have had to learn to be flexible.  So look forward, embrace some new technology, and start positioning you and your organization for the 21st century before it’s over!

So you may be asking, what kind of technology?

I recommend you start with free stuff, like LinkedIn. 

So I need to spend the last few minutes of this podcast paying tribute to someone near and dear to me, John Vernon.  The world lost this remarkable man a few weeks ago and I cannot talk about successful sellers or adaptable sellers without thinking of John.  He was my mentor and my boss for many years in the hotel business and I will be forever grateful for the way he raised me.  I went to work for him when I was just 19, part time while I was in college and never left him until I was 35. I stuck with him for so long because he never failed to inspire me or push me to be better.  He was the EVP of Hospitality Partners, a hotel management company in DC. 

In 1990, I was about to open a hotel– the Embassy Suites Chevy Chase Pavilion which I have mentioned in a previous podcast.  About a month before opening, John woke up in the middle of the night with a seizure.  He was rushed to the hospital and it was discovered he had a brain tumor.  It was inoperable and the doctors gave him 6 months to 5 years to live.

John started his sales career by selling pallets.  You know those wooden things that move stuff around.  And he was really successful.  So not surprising that guy who could figure out how to sell a product with no obvious differentiators refused to accept a death sentence from a bunch of doctors.

Because of the seizures, John couldn’t drive for six months to I lived near him and volunteered to drive him into the office.    In the beginning I actually drove him to radiation treatment every day.  He missed exactly one week of work.  And every morning when I picked him up I would ask, how are you feeling?  And his answer was always the same, OUTSTANDING.  Very loudly. 

And just a side note here – after driving him to work for six months, his lovely wife gave me a beautiful baccarat vase as a thank you gift.  John gave me  car vacuum. 

I could go on and on with his remarkable story, but let me cut to the chase.  He lived for another 30 years.  That was just kind of John. 

But he fits into our podcast so beautifully today because of how he forced ME to learn to be adaptable.  At the ripe old age of 19, computers were just being introduced to hotels (this was back in the 80’s) .  And I wanted nothing to do with them.  Believe it or not.  And in my very first ever performance review that I received, I was told, Holly, you have to overcome your fear of computers.  So I did. 

But, that’s not all that John did.  He taught me how to sell.  He taught me to LOVE to make cold calls.  He taught me to be very analytical.  And he taught me to always color outside of the lines.

Sometime in the 90’s, one of our hotels had a very large account – the national academy of science.  We had several hotels in the DC area and that account brought us a lot of business. In the millions.  The problem was, they also had a lot of no shows.  It was a big problem.  And I wanted to solve it.  So my plan was to talk to the travel office and find out what we could do.  John had a different approach.  He said, what if we put one of our employees in their travel office.  I knew John well enough at this point to not immediately dismiss the idea so I asked, why?  He said, we will get closer to the customer.  Our customer is the traveler, and the travel office is the middle man.  Let’s get closer to our customer.

I saw his logic so I went to my contact at the travel office and proposed the idea.  She said no.  She worked for a travel company and although she actually liked the idea, her boss felt very threatened by us potentially coming in. 

So truthfully, left to my own devices, I might have said, oh, drag.  Okay.  But I knew Vernon would never accept that.  So, I called the person at NAS who handled the travel contract.  I asked for a meeting and much to my surprise., he agreed.  He was the EVP of administration for the National Academy of Sciences.  I went to his beautiful office and made my pitch.  And he LOVED it.  I asked him to help me make it happen and he did. 

So we got our employee into that office.  Was it successful?  Yes,  we reduced our no shows but we also ended up figuring out how to drive a lot more business to our hotels.  Also, just as a fun side note, we also learned everything about our competitors.  They would show up to make a sales call on that office and they had no idea our employee wasn’t a regular travel employee so they would make their special offers to him.  It was honestly genius. 

So genius in fact that we did it a second time, this time with the world bank. 

So I share this story with you for two reasons.  One, because how lucky was I to have worked for John Vernon?  I very much needed to recognize his contribution to the way that I think.  But second, because he showed me how to be adaptable.  Embrace computers. Color outside of the lines, push yourself to do better.  Do not take no, or a doctor’s death sentence as the final answer, you can do better.

So on that note I will close this podcast.  Thank you John Vernon for all that you taught me.  Even when my inclination is to take the easy way out, I always look to what is best for my customer and that always takes me to a better place.  I will always push myself to do better, to be better and to always adapt.  I will miss your council always.  Rest in peace my friend. 



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About Hospitality Sales Podcast

Loren Gray with Hospitality Digital Marketing convinced me to create a biweekly podcast – “It’ll be easy” he said.  Not so much.  But really rewarding.  I ended up interviewing some fantastic people in between my own sales podcast rants.  I hope you enjoy!

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