Interview #1: What Aurelie at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto can teach you about Sales

Thinking about the great people that I have worked with in the past has been part of my journey of starting The Skill Shop. After all, the knowledge I try to share has been inspired by the great people I got to work with. So, through this new interview series, I would like to introduce these exceptional sales professionals to you and let them share their tips and best practices with our wonderful community.

This one is personal. After having my first child, I transitioned from handling international markets at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto to handling a local territory, all in an effort to avoid a busy travel schedule.

We welcomed Aurelie Senizergues to our sales team, a sophisticated, kind-hearted and sharp (and gorgeous looking!) sales professional. Her demeanour and the fact that we got along great right from the start made it so easy for me to hand my clients over to this fabulous person. After a short stint at Hyatt, Aurelie started her sales career with drop-dead gorgeous French countryside Relais & Chateau before moving to the Marriott organization in Canada. I know she doesn’t look back, loves the corporate culture at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and continues to delight clients every single day.

This is what she had to say:

Q: Aurelie, you are a super busy sales professional, managing many international territories across different time zones. What is your top time management tip?

I believe the key is to always keep the client top of mind. When will it be most convenient for your client to hear from you? And thus when will you have the better chance of getting answers or insights?

Europe is typically my focus first thing in the morning, pending emergencies or site visits. I tend to prioritize follow-ups, prospecting and emails by order of importance depending on what I am working on at the time: trying to close a large program, planning a trip etc…

Try to keep the time zones lunch breaks, office hours and holidays in mind too.

South American countries might be on a similar time zone but lunch breaks are very different. I find that respecting schedules helps in establishing rapport and obviously getting answers.

When it comes to Australia/Asia, I tend to favor email correspondence and will occasionally stay late or make some calls after an evening event at the hotel.

And don’t forget to keep an eye on daylight saving time changes.

Q: Researching new business is essential in your work, but it is often also the most challenging task. What tool (tools) do you find most useful in researching new business?

Thankfully for sales professionals cold calling is dead, especially in luxury. However, there are a myriad of ways to prospect nowadays.

Everyone uses companies who check reader boards at competitor properties. I find that they are most useful in confirming where lost business actually got booked but it is a great way to reconnect with your client and ask how their experience was at Hotel XYZ and what they are planning for next year. For those programs that you see advertised but did not get the lead for, I find that Linkedin is a great way of trying to find a relevant contact who could have booked that meeting and ask how their program went last week at XYZ as a starting point.

Never stop digging within an account, even the most loyal ones. You may host their Annual Sales Meeting every year but what about their quarterly board meetings, annual holiday party, staff appreciation events etc… It never hurts to ask if there are any other contacts who book events your client could introduce you to. Even better, you will come recommended!

Check periodically with your transient team if they hear of events with their corporate accounts and ask them to introduce you to the bookers.

Trade shows are obviously still a must, I tend to alternate them and maybe go to the same shows only every two years to get exposure to various clients/prospects and maximize ROI.

Another good option is to plan trips with a few hotels of your brand, each hotel making appointments with their own clients/prospects. Aside from splitting efforts and gaining time, this is also a great way to get in the door of certain accounts already with a seal of approval/trust.

In this era of intense mergers, and as much as we all hate switching systems, they also bring a wealth of new prospects information. Who used to book your competitor, is now your cousin…

Lastly, networking has never been more important than today. Make friends with as many colleagues as possible on trade shows, trips… you may hear of an Annual that moves destinations every year, trends or insights on meeting planners. Stay close to your partners at the CVB, GSOs, DMCs. And in these days of very blurry lines between pro/personal lives, don’t underestimate the power of your network of friends, families, acquaintances and use your social life as a resource.

Q: As a sales manager, you need to stay on top of numerous tasks, from following up on leads, to researching information, planning trips and sales activities and so on. What system do you use to make sure nothing is forgotten?

I am afraid this comes with personality. A great sales manager has to be some kind of a control freak!!

Seriously, I mainly use the outlook calendar and a CRM.

As mentioned earlier, I tend to allocate time to European and South American clients in mornings, followed by local/US clients.

Ideally I try to plan site visits for late mornings/lunch time to stay energized and keep internal meetings in the afternoons.

In our CRM, I make sure I have a future activity for each booking whether booked or lost to resolicit and go through these every day.

In outlook, I plan all trips from time of registration, to when to book flights, accommodation, have latest reports ready, target clients, book calls, post trip follow-ups, thank yous, expenses…

Outlook is also very useful for reminders such as birthdays of clients, partners, team members and their favorite treats. I also include monthly reminders to recognize fellow employees. These tend to be forgotten when you are so busy but much of The Ritz-Carlton service excellence is driven from our Ladies and Gentlemen and recognizing them when they go above and beyond is extremely important to us.

Mondays I also make sure I set two very important goals to accomplish that week and make these my priorities.

Fridays are usually more quiet on the client front so I tend to do more strategic thinking, reports, research, planning and go through all of my groups hosted that week, the ones for the upcoming week and turnover new files to Events.

Q: If your best friend started out in sales tomorrow, what would be the most important sales tip you would pass on to her/him?

Be interested, not interesting. In other words, ask questions and truly listen. Both with clients and peers.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about creating different solutions for clients. With operations having to run smoothly and the layout of meeting space and restaurants being what it is, offering creative solutions to clients is not easy. Where do you go for inspiration and how do you get operational buy-in when needed? 

Never be afraid to ask. We constantly bounce ideas off each other in sales, catering, events, leaders, other hotels of the brand. What have we done in the past in the same situation? Maybe we used a space we swore we would never use again. But what if it is for the right piece of business over need dates?

As far as new ideas, make sure you subscribe to some newsletters from the industry and your competitors’, follow relevant accounts on Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram. Attending educational sessions at some trade shows also helps.

And when it comes to operational buy-in, always present your case from their angle, what’s in it for them? Maybe they would get revenue if you switched a group from banquet floors to an F&B outlet, maybe revenue such as rental can be allocated differently internally between departments or sales can cover a portion of the labor cost for the right piece.

Q: You have worked with several teams throughout your career. What behavior in leadership (or what in a corporate culture) do you observe allows sales people to be most successful? 

From my experience, this is what The Ritz-Carlton Company has mastered and this is why so many of us have been loyal to this brand for so long. Putting Ladies & Gentlemen at the center of every decision and giving them the right level of trust, empowerment and recognition ensures that they in turn have the right tools to focus their attention on our valued clients. This is what makes our brand so successful and our mission so easy. As sales person, you know the dream you sell will be delivered and even over-delivered.

Giving everyone an idea of the big picture also really helps in fostering teamwork and, what we call, lateral service.

I am also fortunate to have the best leaders I have ever been given the chance to work with at The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. Finding this balance of trust and accountability is very difficult. It comes from both, a company philosophy and simply human connections, as well as personality affinities.