After a painstaking two-year reorganization, Marriott this summer began redeploying its national sales force against thousands of U.S. customers. The hotel giant has attempted to connect and coordinate sales efforts to these accounts through primary points of contact. Behind those account leaders are teams of specialists handling day-to-day transactions for all of a corporate customer's travel needs, be it group, business, or extended-stay. Contributing Writer Alison Hall checked in with David Townshend, Marriott's senior vice president, corporate segments and international sales, to get the story behind all the changes.

Financial & Insurance Meetings: Why reorganize Marriott's sales force?

David Townshend: Probably the best way to frame the answer is to mention that just 10 years ago there were only three primary ways to make a hotel reservation: You could call the hotel directly, call an 800 number, or work through a travel agent or third party. Today, I can't even count on my two hands and two feet all the ways you can book a hotel. And new channels are emerging every day. Given this changing landscape we decided it would be prudent to step back and conduct a strategic review of all of our sales, marketing, and distribution channels to ensure that our level of investment in each channel was appropriate and properly targeted. We also wanted to ensure that there was sufficient flexibility across all of the channels in order to react quickly to changes in the business cycle, both regionally and globally. One area of focus was the overall effectiveness of our sales force.

FIM: What did you discover in that process?

Townshend: We spent an enormous amount of time talking to internal stakeholder groups (senior management, general managers, sales leaders, and sales associates) to learn where they saw opportunities for improvement. We spent an equal amount of time talking to customers. Two big themes emerged. The first was that we would make it easier for our customers (and their companies) to do business with us by providing them a primary point of contact. Some customers already had a single point of contact but many had multiple salespeople calling on them, and it wasn't a coordinated effort. This was compounded by having multiple Marriott salespeople call on different customers within the same company. The second theme that emerged was the need to more clearly define roles and responsibilities at each level of the sales organization.

FIM: So the reorganization was designed to address these issues?

Townshend: Yes. At the center of our reorganization sits the customer. Our goal is to become less hotel-centric and more customer-centric in terms of how we organize and deploy our sales and marketing channels going forward.

FIM: What does that mean for insurance and financial services meeting planners?

Townshend: It means that as we work through this reorganization, they and their respective companies will be assigned a primary point of contact within Marriott, who understands not just their individual needs but also the account's total business opportunity, whether it is for group travel, business travel, or extended stay.

FIM: Some planners are wondering if Marriott is abandoning the insurance and financial services segment.

Townshend: They shouldn't. In fact, we have more account executives deployed against this sector today then we did prior to the reorganization. These individuals will be visible within FICP, LIMRA, and IT&ME. Many are planning to attend the FICP Annual Conference in Scottsdale this year.

And we have paid close attention to ensure that no customer is left behind in this process. As you can imagine we are dealing with thousands of customers here, but we are doing everything possible to avoid missteps. The good news is that we are nearly done with the customer transition portion of the reorganization, so this should not be an issue. If we hear that a particular customer has fallen through the cracks or is unclear on what we are doing, we respond immediately. Fundamental to our success is the close working relationships that we build and maintain with our customers. If the customers' experience isn't significantly improved, then we have fallen short of our goal.

FIM: Will Marriott's Insurance & Financial Services Forum continue?

Townshend: Yes. We are in the preliminary stages of selecting a location and will be communicating this to our customers over the next couple of months.

Ticker:

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Who's Who at Marriott

DAVID TOWNSHEND
senior vice president, corporate segments and international sales
David.townshend@marriott.com

INSURANCE /FINANCIAL SECTOR LEADERS

DAPHENE STOUT, CMP
global account executive
Based in: CHICAGO
Daphene.stout@marriott.com

KAREN EMINIAN
global account executive
Based in: Chicago
Karen.eminian@marriott.com

GAIL FRAZER
global account executive
Based in: NEW JERSEY
Gail.frazer@marriott.com

DARRYL ARANCIO
global account executive
Based in: ATLANTA
Darryl.arancio@marriott.com