Nonstop Connections

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My First Brand Standard

Neil Betterton

What does it mean to win a brand standard in the hotel industry? Simply put, it’s when a hotel brand adopts or endorses your product. One of my favorite and most memorable business experiences was the first time I was involved in winning a brand standard.

The year was 2006 and Hilton was working on an in-sourcing project for rolling out high speed internet across its entire estate, managed from within the company.  My involvement (with my former employer) was because they wanted to create a clean and consistent guest room “point of presence” for the internet amenity, complete with guest instructions and support information.

I think we got a little lucky with HITEC being in Los Angeles that year. Remember in those days Hilton was still headquartered in Beverly Hills with IT headquartered in Memphis. When the telecom managers from the Beverly Hills office walked by our booth and spotted our Ethernet products their eyes lit up. When they said “this might be what we’ve been looking for... Can you send us some samples”... I was like “um ya, that’s not going to be a problem”.

Los Angeles Convention Center. Site of HITEC 2005.

Los Angeles Convention Center. Site of HITEC 2005.

Down to Business 

Some weeks later after a few conference calls confirming that our product was on track to be a good fit, it was time to head down to Los Angeles for a face to face meeting. I was excited but also nervous. I wanted so bad to return to the office with good news.

Once I got down there the nerves disappeared and it was time to get down to business. We talked about the typical things like project timing, volume pricing and even customization so that the product had labeling to match each brand it would be deployed into. After that we went to lunch and really hit it off. Our eagerness to do whatever it took was obvious. It was one of my first sales opportunities with one of the worlds largest hotel companies plus the whole Beverly Hills HQ and history made it even more cool.

To top it off the meeting was on Friday and my college friends were all converging in LA that weekend for a golf tournament. My friend hosting was the casino manager at the Commerce Casino and to my surprise he sent a limo to pick me up with one of my other friends already in there. I’ll never forget how good it felt walking out of that first meeting with Hilton and straight into an awesome weekend.

After more calls and meetings it was finally time to get in front of the ultimate decision maker. John was based in Hilton’s Memphis Tennessee technology headquarters. Actually I spent most of my time with John’s project managers there going through the details of how the program would work, and what they would need from us in terms of product spec, quantity, locations, and schedules.

I ultimately did have the pleasure of meeting the man who would later sign the checks. Even though this was just a tiny part of a much larger project, our commitment to making sure our small part was delivered on time and as expected to thousands of hotels, impressed John and led to us winning the deal. To this day John has an open door policy with me. Which just goes to show, no matter how big or small of a service your providing, do whatever you can to go above and beyond what is considered “normal.”

Beverly Hills - the site of the old Hilton HQ until they relocated to D.C.

Beverly Hills - the site of the old Hilton HQ until they relocated to D.C.

Keys to Winning That Big Deal

That was a big deal for me and a major milestone in my career. I learned a few things that have stuck with me to this day.

First and foremost, I always go back to something I learned from pragmatic marketing (a course I highly recommend for marketers) - your product needs to solve a problem. The problem should be pervasive, and urgent; because then customers are willing to pay to solve the problem.

Secondly, listen. Listen first, talk second. I can’t stress this enough. Most people claim to be good listeners, but many make the mistake of missing key points because they were thinking of what to say next. One of my favorite quotes by Stephen Covey  illustrates this common mistake:

"The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand.
We listen to reply"

Be in the moment and truly understand what it is the customer wants.  Do that and you’ll be able to add value by responding to their particular needs. No two customers are the same. Ask good questions and listen. Find out what matters most and nail it. It’s simple but also easy to forget.

Lastly, deliver  But don’t just deliver, strive to go above and beyond whenever possible.  Always keep the big picture in mind, and make sure you’re entire team sees it.  Not all customers are the same. Customer’s of this magnitude must be at the top of everyone in the organization’s mind from CEO to shipping manager, to customer service rep.  

Clear the decks, do everything you can to ensure this customer is handled with care and precision. Be prepared, anticipate, err on the high side. And when something goes wrong (because it always does), turn it into an opportunity to show your commitment.  Get in front of it, rectify it, spare no expense, keep the train moving forward. The customer will notice, and future opportunities to work together will only strengthen.

Famous Quote by Stephen Covey

Famous Quote by Stephen Covey

The Pay-Off

In the end the project was bigger than my wildest dreams and involved supplying product across all of their brands (one brand standard is great - this was like 8 of them at once!). We’re talking like two hundred thousand rooms! Needless to say it was one of the most exciting times of my career.

While the sales volume was great, the most rewarding thing about these kind of deals is how they create relationships among people with a shared objective to make the project a success. It’s the most fun you can have doing your job. Not that it’s easy. Not at all. But it’s so rewarding. It’s kind of like your team making it to the super bowl (Go Raiders!!!).  With a little luck and a lot of hard work we all have a shot at making it to the big show.