MARRIOTT UPENDS SALES STRATEGY Here's the challenge when you're as big as Marriott: How do you continue as a growth company while increasing your focus on the customer? Reconciling these seemingly opposing goals is at the heart of a complete overhaul of Marriott's sales strategy. The new philosophy: Sell the way the customer wants to buy.

When the strategy is fully launched, a planner should be able to book a meeting through an account exec, on the Internet, or through an Event Booking Center (for small programs). The planner decides.

Say you decide you want the one-on-one contact, but you can't remember the last time you heard from a Marriott rep. That's another part of the new strategy: It's turning the old sales landscape upside down. Instead of a large network of on-site salespeople and a smaller network of national sales reps, there will now be more salespeople working in regional, local, even home, offices all over the country.

"We want to have more salespeople proactively dedicated to more customers," says Marriott Vice President of National Accounts John Parke in Washington, D.C. "Wherever the customer is, we want salespeople to be."

That means reallocating some salespeople to cut down on the current duplication of effort. In the insurance market today, for example, national sales reps and sales reps from meeting properties are all developing relationships with the same insurance clients. Rather than these customers being double-teamed and the rest being neglected, what if all customers were spread out among all salespeople, now no longer based on property and selling that property, but based in an office near you and selling all properties?

It seems like simplicity itself, yet there is the question of how one salesperson can have intimate knowledge of more than 1,800 hotels. Marriott has tackled this challenge with technology. Basically, everything that on-property salespeople know about their hotels will be available to all sales reps online.

On-site, meetings now will be in the hands of "event managers," who are part convention services manager and part salesperson. "These positions are designed to put even more focus on events held at Marriott properties," Parke says.

As for a timeline, the leaders of the individual markets (such as insurance) are putting the pieces in place for their customers. "This is a totally different view of how to work with the customer," Parke says. "We're no longer looking at customers as transactions, we're looking at them as assets."