Magazine Article | March 20, 2013

3 Mistakes That Can Cripple Your Hospitality Sales

By Mike Monocello, Business Solutions magazine

Experts advise VARs of the common pitfalls they should avoid to increase their chance of success with restaurant and hotel customers.

Today’s restaurant and hotel clients can be among the most demanding for VARs and ISVs (independent software vendors) operating in the hospitality space. Of course, the rewards can be great. According to Joe Finizio, president and CEO of the RSPA (Retail Solutions Providers Association), restaurateurs are looking at total solutions rather than a single operational element. “They want a rock-solid POS [point of sale] system for the front of the house, which is only the start,” he says. “They also are eager for the ability to have inventory/menu management, labor management, table management, above-store reporting, automated ordering, secure payments, interface to loyalty/ rewards programs, online reservations and waitlists, and integrated social media marketing.” Then, he continues, there’s the ability to utilize traditional, tablet, smartphone, and BYOD (bring your own device) hardware devices. With all that technology available, there are many places a VAR can go wrong.

“Keep in mind that the hospitality industry often experiences a high turnover rate, so it’s important to consider ease of use and the need to continually train employees who may not be technology-savvy,” says Terry Cruikshank, senior manager industry marketing, OKI Data Americas. This is an area where VARs can provide a great service (charging for it, of course) to their customers who don’t have the time or expertise to handle training new employees frequently. Conversely, this is also an area where many VARs fall short.

“The single most common mistake VARs make when selling to new customers is setting unrealistic expectations,” warns Jeff Riley, CEO of Dinerware. “Independent restaurateurs often feel a sense of entitlement with technology providers; they can often feel that hardware, networking, and power management problems won’t happen to them and that their upfront investment should cover all their future service and support needs or that they can be self-sufficient in meeting their ongoing needs. Riley goes on to explain that to mitigate this risk, salespeople should be trained to explain in practical terms the broad range of the scenarios that occur which cause productivity disruptions to their guest experience. Just as their staff provides guests with a positive dining experience, they need to understand what technology providers can do to provide them with a high-performance and reliable IT-user environment.

Finizio reiterates that restaurateurs are not looking at specific equipment (e.g. for an all-in-one with a faster CPU or one with more memory). Rather, they want solutions. “The biggest mistakes we continue to see is the age-old mistake of not asking the prospect what they need to make their operation better [i.e. doing a full survey] and simply selling the latest technology,” he says. “Secondly, not keeping up with the new trends in hardware [e.g. mobile], software [e.g. cloud-based], services [e.g. data security], and business models [e.g. SaaS]. You can’t sell the same product or use the same sales methods used only two or three years in the past.”

Others agree with Finizio’s advice. “The common mistake some VARs make is proposing solutions before listening to what customers in this vertical really need — developing solutions before doing the necessary fact-finding and discovery meetings to find out what the hospitality market is looking for,” says Patricia Sappington, director of channel development for MerchantLink. “Frequent follow-up with customers to keep ideas fresh and top of mind is important. Your customers have the day-to-day experience, scenarios, and use cases to determine what solutions are needed in their market space.”

Bill Brennan, senior director of channel sales, resellers for Panasonic System Communications Company of North America, adds that VARs should do their research and go deep and wide into their customer’s organization by speaking to not only the IT department, but other appropriate personnel who might benefit from a technology solution with which the VAR/integrator can assist now or in the future.

Going “deep and wide” also helps win the sale. “Presenting a solutions model incorporating related technologies such as POS, security, and surveillance provides a greater incentive to invest in capital improvements that have proven ROI in the hospitality industry,” concludes Frank De Fina, senior vice president of sales & marketing for Samsung Techwin America.