Picture: 123RF/ hxdyl
Picture: 123RF/ hxdyl

Over the past year, Covid-19 has acted as an accelerant for our business. We’ve made critical improvements to the way we operate that would have taken five years without the pandemic – if they ever happened at all. The truth is that if Covid ended tomorrow, we wouldn’t go back to the way we worked before. Yes, it’s been a tough year. But it’s also been the catalyst for a more future-fit organisation.

New challenges and new ways of working

Legacy Hotels & Resorts has frontline sales teams in seven key regions. Internationally we focus on Germany, the US, the UK and South America, and our African markets are SA, Namibia and Ghana.

Hospitality is a very personal industry, so before Covid, 95% of our work was conducted face to face and our core customers were tour operators and corporate businesses. If our teams weren’t conducting face-to-face meetings, they were attending trade shows and hosting site inspections. In many ways we sell an experience, and so the ability to touch and feel that experience is important. Lockdowns turned this on its head. Overnight, the entire way that our sales teams had always operated was gone.

There have been two core shifts in our business as a result. The first is in line with what most companies experienced – a move towards digital communications.

While everyone was accustomed to e-mail and WhatsApp, digital engagement platforms such as Zoom or Teams had never been primary tools of engagement for us. This meant we needed to upskill in a hurry. E-mail took a backseat when we realised that many people didn’t have access to their mails because they weren’t in the office.

The second shift is specific to our organisation. Instead of dealing with large corporates, we have revised our business model and sales strategy and now deal primarily with independent tour operators, including some smaller businesses and new customers. Our sales teams’ ability to engage digitally means they can act as advisers to individuals as opposed to companies. We’ve streamlined our processes as well, which has increased our efficiency and productivity.

Buy-in from the top

Speed was critical. Businesses that took too long to adapt to the realities of Covid were on the back foot. We succeeded in changing the way we communicated and operated in three short weeks because the change came from the top: we had buy-in from our CEO and leadership teams, and this filtered down throughout the organisation.

It was proof that all change needs to come from the top. Our leadership team brought our people together and we quickly learnt how to communicate well with each other – albeit differently.

The most significant lesson, however, has been how much better we communicate, both internally and with our clients, as a result of these changes.

For example, instead of having to read e-mails of minutes from regional sales meetings, everyone across our key markets is on the same call because meetings are virtual instead of in person. These weekly Zoom meetings have brought our seven regions together in an unprecedented way.

We’re also in constant communication with hotels and our clients. Fortnightly “touchpoints” ensure we keep our clients up to date with our news and new protocols for travel and hospitality, and that we can check in, see how they were coping and stay on top of what Covid means for their businesses – and our own. Everything we do has become more personal and human, even though we spent months only communicating digitally.

Of course, we also had to learn how to do workshops and attend global tradeshows digitally, which means the days of the nine-to-five workday are gone. However, these experiences are opening a whole new world of contacts and knowledge for our various teams – particularly in terms of the different ways regions and markets operate. We’ve also used this time to plan. When the time came, we were able to go to market without any additional preparation or planning. Our marketing collateral, in-place safety protocols and staff training were ready and all we had to do was hit play.

Here are my seven key takeaways for sales agents in hospitality or other industries:

1. Communication is critical;

2. Educating, advising and being a leader in your industry are essential;

3. Focus on building and maintaining trust with your team, clients and partners;

4. Value and show value in your business relationships;

5. See everyone as a partner instead of someone in your supply chain. If we’ve learnt anything, it’s that we rise and fall together, and we’re all deeply reliant on each other;

6. Change, whether forced or not, has to come from the top. Once the CEO is on board, everyone follows suit, but you can’t expect your people to change if you won’t; and

7. Just try! If something doesn’t work for you, your business, your teams or your clients will adapt – but going back is not an option.

  • Hara Jackson is Legacy Hotels & Resorts’ sales director

 

The big take-out:

If we’ve learnt anything, it’s that we rise and fall together, and we’re all deeply reliant on each other.

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