Brett Sterenson, a frequent speaker at industry events, brings 23 years of supplier side experience, both from the hotel side and 14 years as a small business owner. Brett worked in government sales for both Millennium Hotels and Resorts and Kimpton Hotels. His firm, Hotel Lobbyists, was founded in April 2007.
Just Like Starting Over
I recently paid a visit to my PO Box for the first time in about seven weeks, an activity I used to relish. About twice weekly, I would turn the key and have the mailbox door spring open with warm notes from vendors, new promotions, industry publications and, of course, a deluge of commission checks to commemorate how busy I’d been. Last week, as I could tell from the hollow sound turning the key, the mailbox was anything but full.
That said, there were tax forms, a handful of vendor gifts and two checks. These were the last two checks on which I’d been waiting. When these two commissions get deposited, I’ll officially have no receivables. No invoices pending. No checks in the mail. I haven’t had books this clean since starting my business in April 2007.
In many ways, emerging from the pandemic is like starting over. My firm has always specialized in short-term bookings. When I began it 14 years ago, it only took a few months before I was beginning to see paychecks. Now, here I am, waiting for it to feel safe again so I might start booking my clients’ meetings and make my visits to my mailbox more fruitful.
But beginning the pipeline over is not the only way it feels like starting anew. My entire set of suppliers is changing. For one, because of social distancing requirements, my small meetings are opting for medium-sized hotels, my medium meetings are forced to use large hotels and my large meetings, once easily self-contained, are now relegated to convention centers. Beyond that, even were I able to use my existing set of suppliers with a new mix of customers, due to furloughs and layoffs, an unconscionable number of them are no longer there. How sad.
Relationships more than a decade in the making are to be created again. That excitement I feel when I’m about to source a brand new RFP still exists, but no longer because of the feeling of being able to bring business to someone with whom I’ve built tremendous rapport, but because I’ve got any business at all! And after a decade and a half booking meetings and conferences, I find myself in the unusual position of having to prove my worth again, to brand new sales professionals.
Lastly, booking meetings in 2021 has almost no similarity to 2019. Our ability to gauge attendance is nil and the litany of concessions we require is starkly different from the ones we enjoyed less than two years ago. Further, sales managers who began their employment in the last 10 years have never worked in an environment which necessitated them to truly sell. With demand as high as it has been, far more often sales managers were asked to “yield” – to pick and choose the business that maximized return for the hotel. You thus have hospitality “veterans” eight, 10, 12 years into their career who are being asked to hustle for the first time.
In the past, I never had time to take phone calls. Sure, I would answer the phone when a client called, but I would scarcely ever take a call from a vendor. In the last 10 months, I’ve not only taken their calls, but I’ve sat down on virtual calls with them and indulged in much more substantive conversations. I’ve participated in virtual FAM tours that have allowed me to remain engaged with my colleagues and stay educated about destinations all the same. I don’t expect to be able to maintain this effort when meetings resume in earnest, but I’m grateful for the time now, to keep my mind and my skills sharp.
Pre-pandemic I would also take opportunities to speak to audiences at conferences or industry meetings and at the same time, it would give me an opportunity to explore an area that I needed to vet for my customers. While I can’t do that right now, I’ve kept up my speaking engagements virtually. This still puts my voice and my image in front of prospective customers and allows me to do better than tread water during this period of challenged visual presence.
No doubt this new environment will continue to have a learning curve. None of us could have predicted nor hoped to be in the position we are. Often in our lives we procrastinate about reinventing ourselves even when the writing is on the wall. Perhaps we can all take just one little gift from the pandemic then: a forced reinvention.
On the bright side, those who heed the occasion, hone their skills, reinvigorate their work and blend patience and persistence may just come out the other side even better than they started.