Our industry is inundated by new technology companies offering to deliver the next solutions that will have a meaningful effect on everything from revenue, guest experience, staff efficiency, cost savings, high-level gaming experiences and more. I wanted to use this article to talk about these new disruptors and the culture of the leadership looking to generate revenue from our industry.
Who are these new vendors? First and foremost, we are in the hospitality business. Sometimes we forget that – especially newcomers who hope to establish themselves as the next “need to have” solution that will change the guest or player experience. The executives in these new companies have a much different culture and mindset than the suppliers who have been doing business for more than 20 years. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s examine the cultural changes this brings to our industry.
Who are these people? In many industries, C-level executives are either the decision makers who sales people are trying to align with to get exposure to their products and services, or they are running software companies trying to win business. There is no doubt that getting the attention of a CIO or CTO to open dialogue about their company’s initiatives or challenges with current solutions or vendors is a good starting point. Any company, especially in the technology space, has to know how to align its culture, products or industry knowledge as a possible fit in order to create value. This is what both sides work toward every day in relationship management. Modern platforms such as LinkedIn help us to identify these companies, their people and target industries between suppliers and buyers, but can it identify the right cultural fit?
With new suppliers entering our industry every year, the CFO and CIO are dealing with people who haven’t necessarily come from the hospitality industry – they aren’t hospitable. I call this out because the owners or leaders of these companies push their organizations to grow sales and increase market share, however they haven’t endeared themselves to our industry by being hospitable. This goes both ways. Hotel companies often play “hard to get” with venders trying to gain access to decision makers such as the CIO or CEO. Although they are busy with everyday tasks of running their businesses, an executive in the hospitality industry should share the same core values defined by their company related to customer service. For example, how upset do you get when someone doesn’t acknowledge your email request? In some cases these senior level executives are put on a pedestal as they become well known in the industry. They speak at industry events and make technology decisions for well-known brands, and they seem unapproachable in an industry of approachability. What sales professional wouldn’t want to be in a personal relationship with the CIO of Hilton, Caesars, El Dorado Resorts, Interstate, Montage and so on?
With more technology startups and unicorns entering the market, they must fill key sales positions with resources coming outside of the industry, making it hard for the buyers to communicate their needs because of our unique vocabulary and business. Other industries, such as healthcare, probably have the same unique set of challenges as well, but we are focused on hospitality and not under Government mandates.
If you’re planning to enter the hotel, casino, cruise or restaurant space, decision makers will want to meet with and get to know you, especially if you own the company proposing a new solution. All selling involves some type of process whereby both sides get to know each other in a social meaningful way. But in hospitality it is different because the GMs, IT, Sales and Marketing and finance decision makers will expect you to understand their business – “the language” – as well as understand your competition selling into the industry and most importantly “you” personally. The GM of a hotel is focused on guest service. Just spend some time with them walking through their property, and they can tell you everything about it and the people working there. It is said that people buy from people they know and trust, but in this fast changing IT environment, hotel companies will skip part of that process and engage with a start-up for the sake of FOMO (fear of missing out) on a solution that will have a perceived change to their business, give them uniqueness and create not only higher ADR, but offer a superior guest experience.
As the owner of one of these software companies, how will you endear yourself to not only decision makers, but also the employees inside your organization? What are your company’s core values, organizational culture and do you provide the necessary tools or support to your sales team? Are you entertaining customers, and does your company exhibit at tradeshows and sponsor industry events? If you study the companies in our industry that have had success and longevity for five years or more, the core people are friendly, open and understand the industry as well as the people in it. If you are not a CEO who is hospitable, approachable and supports your employees, then look to bring in people who have those qualities, because we are a small industry and word gets out.
Software companies in the hospitality industry have been disrupted by mergers and acquisitions or emerging technology companies run by industry outsiders who look at hospitality as a new revenue stream as well as a “fun industry” to gain new market share. These companies tend to look at casinos or resorts as shiny, exciting and well-funded companies ready to buy any new solution that hits the market. But what are the core values of the companies, and how do the leaders demonstrate these values to staff engaged in sales and support? When dealing with one of these companies, are you only talking with the CEO or a team of people committed to the product and service delivery? At its core, a company should be more than the slide deck of customer logos, they should be open to understanding the industry and the first slide should reflect their objectives and core values, not references – so don’t just shop for “features and functions,” instead shop culture and hospitality.
Core values are commonplace in almost every major company, and although the CEO is one person, they tend to shape and influence the behaviors of everyone within the company, which flows down and is felt by the customer. The smaller the company, the more influence the CEO has on each employee. For example, does the CEO say hi to people in the hallway or simply walk by and avoid eye contact? Corporate culture can impact everything from sales, profits, recruiting, turnover and employee morale. Just check sites like Glassdoor if you want to know how employees feel about their leadership. As a buyer, if you see these trends from a potential or current vender, you should dig deeper into their leadership and culture before making a purchasing decision. Remember, you’ll be together for a while – some SaaS projects take up to 36 months. On the flip side, if you are the point of contact or decision maker of a hotel or casino, think about the core values of your own company and be open to having a conversation with someone new, hearing what they have to say and maybe you’ll be sharing a coffee, making a new friend and eventually even a purchasing decision from the right vendor.
Michael Caruso has over 20 years of experience in the casino, resort, hospitality and travel industries. Michael is an entrepreneur, thought leader and trusted advisor helping hotel companies with digital transformation of the guest experience and shifting legacy applications to the cloud. In addition, Michael enjoys working with software companies and contributing strategies that drive meaningful organic sales growth. Previously Michael worked in sales leadership roles managing global business development with Agilysys and Infor.