The sales field is all about networking, but according to hospitality industry consultant Cindy Estis Green, one major networking tool that is underutilized in the hospitality industry is the social network LinkedIn. Green is Managing Partner of The Estis Group and has also authored special reports such as The Travel Marketer’s Guide to Social Media and Social Networks.
“LinkedIn is a good example of a tool that can be used for warm calling instead of cold calling,” Green noted. “In other industries it is much more effectively used in sales than I have seen it used in hospitality. I don’t know why.”
“When you go into a lot of Director of sales’ LinkedIn profiles,” she continued, “you’d think they’d be over the 500 connections mark, but they’re at 38 or 160. A hotel Director of Sales should have a minimum of 500 contacts.” (Once a person passes the 500 connection mark on LinkedIn, the site lists them as having 500+ connections.)
She offered a simple piece of advice for executives who haven’t yet embraced LinkedIn as a networking tool. “Forget that it’s online. When you think about the process somebody goes through for business, you do it through networking.” For example, you can use LinkedIn to find people in the industries you’re interested in and/or reconnect with former business contacts. She explained that it’s the same principle as traditional networking, only the process has moved online.
Green described three ways that sales and marketing executives can use LinkedIn:
Prospecting. LinkedIn makes it easy to look up people, companies and topics. It also shows you which contacts you may have in common with a person you’re trying to reach.
Establishing Yourself as an Expert. Whether you have a lot of expertise in a specific area such as pharma meetings, or your hotel does a really great job with product launches, you can use LinkedIn’s update feature to broadcast that fact. Green recommends posting regular updates promoting new ideas or success stories from your property. “It has to be dynamic. It’s like how people use Facebook for their personal updating, but it’s for their business persona.”
Gathering Industry Intelligence. Green said that LinkedIn Groups offer a good way to keep an eye on what’s happening in the industry. Two examples are the Green & Sustainability Innovators and MPI’s Meeting & Event Discussion Group. She cautions, though, that this is not the place to try to sell planners on using your property. “I don’t think if you’re a hotel sales person you should get too active in those sessions, but it’s good to listen in on them. The point is to gather knowledge and to learn what kinds of questions meeting planners have.”
Green summed up the key to LinkedIn success: “It’s a combination of using it as a platform to establish expertise and using it as a networking tool for warm calling.”