What astronaut Chris Hadfield taught me about site inspections

Every sales manager about to welcome a client for a site inspection knows the event date, rates offered, the space required and the name of the contact person coming in to see your venue. Most sales professionals take the time to inform the hotel team of the site visit, set up an amenity in the guest room to be shown and prepare a gift for clients to take away. But proper preparation that sets you up for winning the contract goes far beyond this.

Last year I read Chris Hadfield’s book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”. My number one takeaway is that preparing deeply for anything you want to achieve is never a waste of time. 

To me, it’s simple: if you’ve got the time, use it to get ready. What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do, but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start.
— Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

In the hospitality sales context: By spending time to prepare for your site inspection, you may learn things about your client’s company that may not be of immediate use to you. But using only 80% of the information you have prepared for a site visit is better than not having sufficient information on hand to make the right connection with your client and walking away with the feeling that you could have done a better job. 

(Tweet It!) Here are three key areas to focus on during preparation for your next hotel site inspection:

1. Create a relationship of shared virtue.

In his book “Winning body language for sales professionals”, Mark Bowden and Andrew Ford explain that only when in a relationship of shared virtue will you negotiate from the preferable position of a business partner rather than simply one of a supplier. In that relationship you create a win-win situation for both your client and the business you represent and show your interest in building a profitable long-term partnership rather than only considering this one piece of business. 

The best sales relationships (long-term, repeat sales in many cases), and the “trusted advisor” status many sales professionals seek, are built on a relationship of shared virtue.
— Andrew Ford, "Winning Body Language for Sales Professionals"

One way to create this relationship is to take time to truly understand the values, goals and challenges of your client’s organization. Where do your hotel’s values align with your client’s? As an example, does your hotel put an emphasis on operating sustainably? Many organizations, from listed companies to smaller businesses, are likely to care for how their meeting impacts the community in which the event is held. When all hotels shortlisted for a site inspection offer similar price points and great facilities, being able to point out your shared values and implementing these meaningfully in the program may be the deciding factor winning you the business.

When working at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, I handled the sales process for a large group booking by a construction company that is giving out an annual award for excellence in sustainability practices within their industry. The event was of great importance to the client and a wonderful piece of business for our hotel - we loved the arrival and departure pattern, group size and the food & beverage spend attached to it. To set us apart from our competition, I worked with our Head of Engineering, who provided me with charts and numbers showing how we saved waste, water and electricity as part of our commitment to the environment. The client was very impressed that we included this information with the proposal. During the site visit, we went further and showcased the water system the hotel was using, as well as our waste recycling practices. We won the contract and had successfully positioned ourselves as a strategic partner, rather than just any luxury accommodation provider. 

2. Don't talk about the service you offer, show it.

Every hotel will claim they are offering excellent customer service. The difference between the winning property and its competitors will lie in who is able to demonstrate this effectively throughout the sales process. 

To showcase your service levels to your client during the site inspection,  prepare true service stories about your team members that will be on duty during the site inspection. Rather than just introducing your colleagues that play a role in executing the group’s stay, share a service story about why these colleagues mean a lot to your hotel and how their actions have impacted the experience of your guests at your hotel. Here’s an example:

By highlighting the individual strengths of each team member, your client will see how caring and creative your staff is and trust that your team really will deliver. 

But threading service stories into the conversation and including your colleagues into the site inspection does more than only demonstrate that you walk the talk. Your familiarity with the operations team shows that at your hotel, operations and sales communicate well and understand their shared responsibility in sales. Most mistakes during the event execution phase occur due to miscommunication between sales and the executing operations team. Allowing the client to see how well you know your colleagues increases your chances of winning the contract. In addition to this, including your front line colleagues in the sales process does wonders for your corporate culture - it demonstrates respect for each others roles and instills purpose and pride into everyone’s daily work. 

3. Find your focus

I always love meeting the clients I work with face-to-face for the first time. Especially if you have spent time together on the phone and exchanging emails, putting a face to the name is a wonderful moment. Naturally, site inspections can become very chatty and friendly. While having a pleasant conversation during the site visit helps to build rapport, staying focused on the information you need is crucial. As part of your preparation, think about what your objectives are for this site visit. What information do you need from your client to fine-tune your offer and to win the business? Do you want to find out who the decision-maker really is? Do you want to find out what their budget is, should they not yet have shared it? Would you like to review the first contract draft and make your client aware of terms and conditions? Prioritize your objectives, start with the most important one and try to tick of as many as possible throughout your time with your client.

Try it: analyze your site inspection conversion rate year-to-date, apply the above, and let me know how it changes! I would love to hear from you.