The technique is one that has been adopted by Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants, who spent over £2m in training around 2,000 operational managers to become sales people.
As a result, the company gained over 1,000 new business accounts within a year. Sales from brand restaurants were up 6 per cent, while revenue per room was up 8 per cent at a time when the sector as a whole saw a drop of around 11 per cent. The firm also won Sales Training Team of the Year at the National Sales Awards earlier this month.
Expanding your sales force
“When you start training operators to do sales, you’ve suddenly expanded your sales force significantly. Train them to understand how to generate leads and engage guests, and to sell in a professional way that doesn’t scare customers,” says Mark Gallen, a sales performance consultant at MG Training Solutions, the firm employed by Whitbread to conduct the training programme.
Whitbread wanted to generate a complete cultural change within its business so that operators could recognise the importance of sales and gain the competency to help achieve these.
In a five-day training programme conducted over 18 months, MG Training Solutions aimed to achieve this by making general managers self-assess themselves against a framework of six key points. These were: Sales planning; Earning incentives; Engaging guests, Engaging the team; Improving sales performance; and Matching customer needs.
Several key techniques were employed in order to help the operators develop their sales expertise. One of these was to require them to map out the market and understand their competitors’ activities.
Participants visited competitors’ sites armed with dummy enquiries to interact with the staff there. The goal was to understand more about the sales skills and offerings of the competition, as well as the pricing, the type of people visiting each establishment, and the level of occupancy or bookings at a given period.
Thinking and learning about competitors was part of their journey to be able to sell more, and allowed participants to draw a sales analysis, explains Gallen.
Role-play scenarios – or simulations – were also employed, although these always had to involve at least one trainer who had researched the business in advance and prepared scripts to recreate realistic situations where they’d have to sell to customers.
A sales skills theatre was also used, where participants would have to act out a meeting scenario, followed by group reviews and discussions.
The goal was for participants to observe and practice customer-facing behaviour, and was measured by four stages of engagement: Qualifying (asking questions to understand if you can sell a particular product to a particular customer); Matching (start talking about the product); Presenting the Price; and Landing the Deal.
The Dragons’ Den of hospitality
Another technique employed was based on the popular TV programme Dragons’ Den. In this activity, general managers were tasked with writing a sales plan, including details on how they’d achieve the target.
The same presentation and questioning techniques were employed as in the TV show, which challenged them to think carefully about their plan and its utility.
“This was a practical, engaging and fun approach, and made participants re-evaluate the robustness of their plans,” said Gallen.
Read more articles in this series here.