Our conversation with hospitality industry leader Bashar Wali continues in a discussion of sales and marketing strategies during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Moderated by Chris Nelson, President of T-Y Group & Harbor Linen, this discussion covered issues relating to both industry business buyers and retail consumers.
If you missed it, check out Part 1 of our recap, in which Bashar shares his 2021 forecast for the hospitality industry recovery and emerging trends to watch.
Q: WHAT'S THE KEY TO HOSPITALITY MARKETING NOW?
The first thing to remember is that hospitality is not a service industry. Service can be done by robots. Hospitality needs the human connection — how I make you feel. That will be central to the success of hotels and restaurants reopening, after the anonymity of COVID social distancing.
The same goes for marketing to businesses by their suppliers. We need to nurture client relationships, not just transactions. If I offer essentially the same product — the same quality, the same price — as my competitor, the customer is going to buy from whichever one of us he likes best.
Think of the advertising adage, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." When everyone is selling the same steak, maybe it even came from the same cow, how do you beat out your competitor? By focusing on the sizzle, how eating your steak will make the customer feel.
Q: HOW CAN I BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH MY CLIENT'S PURCHASING MANAGER, AND HOW CAN I REACH THE NEXT LEVEL OF THEIR MANAGEMENT?
You don't make it about the transaction or your products every time. During COVID, we have a great excuse to stay in touch, shoot an email to ask how they're doing, no sales pitches. You can have a good relationship without being personal friends with someone.
As for leveling up within the company, don't go behind your contact's back, but let them open the door for you. You say, "Let me buy you and your executive team lunch," no sales pitches. Maybe you throw in an occasional freebie.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME MORE WAYS TO MAINTAIN CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS DURING COVID?
Be where your customer is. Maybe you direct message them on LinkedIn, or meet them on the new app Clubhouse.
You can't just keep saying, "Hi, how're you doing." So you follow their podcast, panel discussions or comments on other pages. Say, "hey, I saw you here or there," and start a conversation about that. Or share industry news stories they'd be interested in.
Courtship is an old-fashioned idea to many people, but it works. Court the prospect. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Q: HOW CAN I MARKET MY COMPANY ON LINKEDIN WITHOUT SEEMING TOO AGGRESSIVE OR ATTACKING THE CUSTOMER?
Don't make the company page all about us. Be informative about the industry, even competitors. This makes you a trusted source. There's lots to see and share on LinkedIn, so spend time there finding content, commenting on others' pages, and having conversations.
Tell stories about your products, not just the nuts and bolts of product features. Tell the story of Suzy the weaver who makes your sheets. The history of the company.
Make your company more than just a commodity. This is the difference between corporate identity and branding. Corporate identity is the logo design, what the public sees. Brand is how you make them feel.
Q: HOW SHOULD HOSPITALITY BUSINESSES INVEST IN PR IN 2021?
The first focus for hotels is to let everyone know that it's clean and safe. Later, when the pandemic is under control, we'll promote the fun, positive experiences to be gained from traveling.
It will always be about care for the guest. I mentioned before that pre-COVID hotel experiences were about shock and awe. Now they will be about kindness, providing meaningful experiences and comforts.
For vendors, as I said, it will be about fostering relationships. "How can I help you?" Not just with supplying products but any kind of help with their business concerns.
Q: SHOULD HOTELS USE THIRD-PARTY BOOKING SITES TO INCREASE OCCUPANCY?
Booking sites like Expedia and hotels.com are the bane of the hotelier's existence. It's obviously better for our profit margins if people book directly, but it's a challenge to wean them off those sites. Especially when their technology is often more convenient for customers to use than the hotel's sub-site.
So how do we compete? We can't outspend them in marketing budgets, or advertise cheaper rates. What you can do is offer a coupon for the guests' next stay, or a promotional gift such as a set of pillowcases or personal care amenities.
Q: IS THERE A PLAN TO COMPETE WITH AIRBNB? WE'RE SEEING MOVES TO MAKE IT MORE COVID-SAFE, SUCH AS GUEST BUBBLES.
AirBnB is here to stay. The really cheap guy who wants to couch surf for a few dollars a night is not our customer anyway. What all the other tourists want is a hotel experience, and hotels still do that better than AirBnB hosts. Guests don't have to worry about those scary bait-and-switch or hidden camera stories.
They know the hotel will give them consistent cleanliness, security, convenience, cocooning services and other amenities.
On the other hand, AirBnB properties offer a more unique local experience, which many travelers want. This pushes hotels to be better in this area. We're also seeing crossovers in both directions — AirBnB offering hotel stays and vice versa. There's room for all of us.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE AVENDRA MODEL FOR GETTING PRODUCT TO HOTELS? SEEMS KIND OF CONVOLUTED TO ME.
It has its place. The supplier coops give smaller, cost-conscious hotels the same buying power as bigger companies. Rather than getting a cheaper product, they can go to Avendra or Curator and get the same product for a cheaper price. I know hotel brands are conflicted about it, but I think it's here to stay.
Don't miss Part 1 of this conversation with Bashar Wali, all about hospitality industry trends and forecasts for 2021.
LOOKING FOR A PARTNER TO HELP YOU PREPARE FOR THE RETURN OF TRAVEL AND GUEST STAY?
At Riegel | T-Y Group and Harbor Linen we are ready to assist. Reach out today.