Sales and marketing

This month, the region's sales and marketing directors talk to Hotelier Middle East about the challenges of balancing the two distinct, but interdependent sides of their roles, and discuss the ups and downs of working at the forefront of the Middle East's ultra-competitive hospitality industry

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By  Sarah Gain Published  December 20, 2006

HME: How do you manage to balance between your sales duties with your marketing responsibilities? |~|Iftikhar-B.jpg|~|Iftikhar Hamdani, director of sales and marketing, Coral Suites, Ajman.|~|Iftikhar Hamdani: I believe that marketing and sales go hand in hand. Marketing is more vast than sales, as it is a cycle based on needs, product, pricing, distribution and transaction, and which ends with customer feedback. Sales, however, is just the "transaction" part of this cycle.
In my daily work, I have to always be in touch with clients to build a strong business relationship and at the same time, keep up with marketing activities to develop and open new doors for the stability of the brand.

Sandra Haddad: Working on both and giving equal time to both is the right way to create a balance between both aspects of my job.

Amit Arora: Sales and marketing do go hand in hand, without sales there is no marketing and without marketing there is no sales. You need both to function properly to be effective. Credit really goes to the solid team we have in place, without them, it would be hard to balance the two.

Kenneth Hill: My director of public relations and I work hand-in-hand to develop our marketing plan so that we can action it alongside our sales strategies. By developing a comprehensive marketing plan that is structured towards the specific markets that we are focusing on, we aid the sales efforts in positioning the hotel accordingly.
My sales director takes the lead in directing the sales team efforts. Together we work on the sales strategies and action plans to drive the desired outcome with input from our team of sales professionals.

Adrian Deegan: Admittedly, sales activities take a lot more of my time than marketing. I have a very good marketing team that keeps on top of matters and deals with the day-to-day tasks and with whom I have very good communication. We have a meeting once a week to go through the details of the marketing activities, updates and opportunities in addition to overseeing the work progress on a daily basis. As a percentage, I would say sales duties take up 80% of my time and my marketing responsibilities takes up approximately 20%.||**||HME: Which side of your job, the sales angle or the marketing aspect, do you find the most challenging and why?|~|Sandra-B.jpg|~|Sandra Haddad, director of sales and marketing, Grand Hotel Kadri.|~|Hamdani: There is a saying that, “Marketing is an ocean and sales is just a bottle of water”. Although marketing is more challenging than sales, it is always my objective to convert marketing activities into sales in order to maximise the profit.

Haddad: The whole role of a sales and marketing manager is challenging, especially in a country like Lebanon. I definitely find the marketing duties more challenging, however. First of all, Lebanon is surrounded by many competitive countries. Secondly, the supply is actually higher than the demand in terms of rooms.
Thirdly, periodically we have to face crisis situations and change marketing plan in terms of how we operate and carry out our targeted marketing.

Arora: Sales is more about nurturing relationships and achieving your numbers, getting the business on the books, while growing your account base. I see it as more short term — you are constantly looking 90-120 days out to make sure you exceed the expectations and fill in the gaps. It's like a puzzle — it all needs to come together. If those numbers don't add up at the end of the month then we've failed as a team.
Marketing is more medium- and long-term, it's about positioning, setting strategies, deploying resources — this is the foundation for successful sales initiatives.
It's about listening to the clients and understanding their true objectives, their hidden needs. It's about generating greater profitability through customer satisfaction.
Both of them are equally challenging, and equally important. You need to able to wear both hats as and when needed to ensure success.

Hill: The most challenging is the direct sales effort. First, you need to identify the right people who can deliver results. You don't go out and hire sales people, you need to hire the right fit; someone who can and will embrace the core values of your company.
Sales represents the front line and is the key contact for your corporate and group business accounts and is responsible for selling the promises and dreams that our service professionals deliver. It takes a special kind of person to manage these accounts; someone who can understand the needs and concerns of the customer and who can negotiate and close business opportunities as they present themselves.

Deegan: I find marketing more challenging as I consider myself more of a sales person than a marketer. Having said that, I very much enjoy the marketing aspect and always try and get involved with the related matters. I believe that both marketing and sales are inseparable from one another and should be done simultaneously.||**||HME: Which aspects of your role do you think is more important?|~|Amit-Arora-B.jpg|~|Amit Arora, director of sales and marketing, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai.|~|Hamdani: Marketing is definitely more important to create awareness of the brand, but at the end, sales is like the blood that circulates in the body to keep us alive. Without generating revenue through sales, no business can survive in this very competitive world.

Haddad: I cannot say that there is one role more important than the other because both are needed and we have to focus on them in order to create the balance and the good result.

Arora: Both of them go hand in hand. You need a strong foundation to build on and then you also need the right tools to build with. The foundation is marketing, the tool is sales. The end product is revenue and you can't get that without either.

Hill: At the end of the day, my success is measured by the sales results: did we exceed budget? This is the key measurement in which the company and ownership deem the result of my own and my team’s performance.

Deegan: I cannot say that one is more important than the other. Both are equally important and have their own roles in the hotel industry. Both aspects must work side by side. ||**||HME: How do you market your hotels and to what extent is this based on brand standards?|~|KenHill-B.jpg|~|Kenneth Hill, director of sales and marketing, The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa.|~|Hamdani: Our marketing strategy is based on consistency, simplicity, identity and the delivery of our brand without compromise. For us, a brand is like a story and our brand message is “immersed in you”.
I believe that brand has impact on customers — the values that go into creating a brand, such as service, quality, room range and brand equity are all part of the guest experience.

Haddad: Grand Hotel, Kadri is a privately owned and managed hotel, so I do not have a brand standard to stick to. However, we do stress the five-star service that we offer.
In terms of marketing, we emphasise the boutique hotel concept as the property is unique in its architecture.
It is a historically typical Lebanese building, which was designed and built 100 years ago.

Arora: The Ritz-Carlton launched a new brand advertising campaign earlier this year. This campaign originated from a challenge to uncover a more emotional and experiential side of The Ritz-Carlton.
In the past, the formula for success for The Ritz-Carlton has been associated with an exceptional service experience and very traditional symbols of luxury. However, The Ritz-Carlton has not yet earned its place as the most relevant luxury brand among a new generation of affluents.
Therefore, in order to maintain future growth for the brand and create unquestioned leadership, there is an imperative to welcome next-generation consumers into The Ritz-Carlton luxury lifestyle without alienating current consumers. The new design enables consumers to attain a strong experiential sense of the hotel while continuing to be a useful direct sales tool to drive business.

Hill: The Ritz-Carlton brand standards are sacrosanct. They are the backbone of our identity as a luxury hotel. That is why we place such great importance and a healthy portion of our budget to marketing details such as having top-notch photography, quality paper stock, and sourcing for innovative design companies that share the same values as our hotel.

Deegan: Each of our properties is marketed differently depending on its feeder markets and customer base. We have our brand corporate guidelines, which we adhere to throughout our marketing activities. We do have strong marketing initiatives for our properties and in most cases according to the marketing plan.||**||HME: Is there room to deviate from brand standards to give the property its own identity?|~|Deegan-B.jpg|~|Adrian Deegan, director of sales for the area Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, Rotana Hotels, Suites and Resorts.|~|Hamdani: A brand is like a promise. Customers expect the consistency of a brand in each property, but it is a fact that many factors vary from one unit to another. Our Coral Beach Resort, Sharjah property is different to the Coral Suites Ajman — the former is popular with leisure guests, as it's a resort, and the latter appeals to the corporate segment due to its location.
"Sub brand" is also important. Each of our properties each have their own distinct personality.

Haddad: Although we are not under any brand, I think that each property should have its own identity in order to create a guest loyalty to the property and not only to the brand.

Arora: Our corporate marketing team has worked very hard to align our overall brand strategy and advertising direction, in order to ensure complete consistency across the board.

Hill: Yes, as we would like to distinguish our hotel as being very much a product of the Middle East.
The region is rich in its heritage, whether it be art, music or culture, and we are continuously seeking ways that we can incorporate these elements into our Ritz-Carlton service culture here in Bahrain.

Deegan: No, not at all, and there should never be deviation from brand standards. Adhering to the brand standards does not dilute the identity of the property but it acts as a support for it.
The creativity in the use of the identity and the way you feature your property with regards to copy and images is what will create its identity. ||**||HME: What are the main challenges of your job in the Middle East, and how do these differ from other places you have worked?|~||~||~|Hamdani: The Middle East is a young but very fast growing market. Here you can find mixed nationalities and people from different cultures. Being in the service industry, we have the necessary experience and exposure to work and interact with people from different parts of the world.
The main challenge is the stiff competition arising due to so many upcoming hotel projects in the UAE.

Haddad: The biggest challenge in the Middle East is the constant political and economical changes we face, especially because these changes are so frequent.
One of the main differences with Europe, for example, is that the governments there have more long term strategic marketing plans and work on facilitating the job of the tourism sector.

Arora: Dubai has developed a reputation for its bold and innovative approach in the creation of many architectural wonders. While there is always a general curiosity about the latest development in the emirate, along with this comes unwanted disruption to existing clientele.
The hospitality industry in Dubai faces labour and human resource challenges, including the shrinking of the labour force and escalating healthcare and benefit costs.
Significant increases in benefit costs, especially rents, cost of living, healthcare and the working week in Dubai, are making it more and more expensive for employers to hire and retain top talent.
There is concern that operating expenses will escalate at a greater rate than income, potentially eroding the bottom line.

Hill: I don't think that the challenges are any different because I'm now working in the Middle East. Learning something about the culture you're working in is not a challenge but a life experience that I will cherish always.

Deegan: The differences between the Middle East and Europe are becoming less every year.
In actual fact, I would say that the UAE is becoming a more professional country to work in compared to some Western countries, and it is somewhere I feel proud to work. I realise this whenever I travel and I see the service levels in other countries. One of the main differences that still remain is the importance of the personal interaction with clients here in the UAE.||**||HME: What trends do you think will emerge in the future with regards to how hotels handle their sales and marketing initiatives?|~||~||~|Hamdani: I can say that sales and marketing in the very near future will be more IT oriented, like we're currently seeing in the European market. Aside from being cost effective, it enables users from all over the world to have access to the hotel's booking system, therefore maximising business exposure and revenue.
Haddad: Global sales will be the biggest part actually. Big marketing companies are growing and I think that in the future we will shift to few sales and marketing companies that will have under them private hotels and even brands.

Arora: There is nothing more constant than change in our industry. I think there will be a lot more consolidation and streamlining between property, regional, global and corporate sales and marketing teams to ensure efficiency and one-stop-shops for our clients. Survival of the smartest will be the name of the game.

Hill: We are definitely moving to a more electronic-based form of marketing, not just for reservations but also for promotional information about our hotel. Print collateral has its advantages, but in this new age of technology, we need to be more fluid and swift in our response to keep abreast with our hotel's and guest's ever-changing needs.||**||

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