Shift Into High Gear, Implement A Targeted Canvass Program

Don't wait for business to come to you. Generate it with these helpful tips.

Back in May 1986, an excellent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Sales Blitz Go Bust” (By James C. Makens, an associate professor of marketing at the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University) appeared in the Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly and stated that “the difference between a successful sales blitz and an embarrassing sales bust lies in planning, support and attention to detail.” While I agree whole-heartedly, I believe that such planning efforts should be directed toward an ongoing targeted canvass program (TCP).  What’s the difference? While a sales blitz is essentially a concentrated burst of selling effort in a limited market area for a limited time, the TCP is a continuous and powerful marketing engine which can produce immediate and long range results.  It is especially appropriate for this difficult economic environment.

Please don’t confuse a targeted canvass program (TCP) with a sales blitz.  In order to be successful, TCP needs proper planning, strong internal support, daily feedback and strict attention to detail.  TCP can produce immediate and long range results in the form of new business, market exposure, enhanced image, better community contacts and increased staff enthusiasm.

TCP can improve hotel occupancy during slow times.  My targeted canvass program requires its own business plan complete with a mission statement and a series of objectives, one of which is that you must take positive action to get new business, much of which exists within a fifteen mile radius of your hotel.  But if you wait for that business to walk in, you will wait a long time.  In these recessionary times, the flow of business fluctuates and never stands still.  Some businesses move out, others move in; people change jobs and their hotel habits change.  The world around your hotel is in a constant state of ferment and change.  Nothing but nothing stays the same.  How can you cope with this upheaval?  Especially if you are a small economy hotel?  Use the following TCP techniques:

  1. Hire a designated “rock turner”.  This person can be a part-timer who has spent time as a sales person (not necessarily in a hotel).  He/she will look under every rock for hotel leads: newspaper announcements, business promotions, weddings, company moves, local club activities, new construction, local athletic competitions, etc.  These leads should be recorded with as much detail as possible and turned over to the sales manager for follow up.

  2. Using your hotel as the center of the universe, create wedge-like sections extending out 15 miles in every direction.  Get a detailed map of the area around your hotel and literally draw six wedges using your hotel as the central point.  Go out at least 15 miles in every direction (more or less depending on the physical obstacles: mountains, rivers, lakes, etc).

  3. Create an incentive-based performance program for your sales staff for cold calls made, leads followed, prospect visits to the hotel and room nights booked.  Build excitement into the program by providing recognition and rewards such as an all expense-paid trip to Hawaii, a new laptop computer, etc.  The rewards program should have opportunities for many winners instead of just one sales person.  Unreachable goals can turn off the best-planned program.

  4. Every working day send your sales manager and other sales people out to make sales calls in the designated wedge area.  Some will be follow-up to the leads generated by the rock turner; some will be cold calls.  Train these sales people to think positively and to be effective communicators.

    • Call on every business in the wedge: every bowling alley, every public school, every factory, every retail store, every church and synagogue, every office building, every free-standing business, every hospital, every doctors office, every college, every business!
    • Follow up with letters, phone calls, e mail.
    • Invite the person you’ve met for pizza or lunch at a restaurant near the hotel; take that person on a tour of the hotel.
    • Keep sales material simple.  Sales people should leave behind mostly a good impression and a business card with an open invitation to visit the hotel for a tour and a drink.

    5.  Follow up: recognize that some of the greatest rewards to TCP are likely to occur long after the initial contact.  The general manager should contact an oral interview with each sales person at the end of each day to uncover each prospects but more importantly, to create and sustain enthusiasm.

  • Of course, the sales person will write up call reports on each prospect visited with names of leads, further actions to be taken by the hotel’s sales office and an action sheet describing the necessary follow up.
  • Computerize the list of referrals complete with names, businesses, titles, telephone & fax numbers, e-mail, addresses, etc.
  • Reward the most diligent and effective sales people with cash bonuses.

Case Study Too often hotel operators do not take advantage of sources of business which are readily available in their own backyard.  Here is a case study which shows the advantage of performing targeted canvassing in order to get as much business as possible in its own market place.

In a university town, an existing Holiday Inn had good sales in half a dozen of the university departments, most particularly, in the Athletic Department.  The level of credibility between the hotel sales manager and the athletic director produced a substantial amount of rooms and banquet business.  Other hotel sales staff members called on the continuing education departments and succeeded in booking out-of-town students attending various workshops and seminars sponsored by the university. When the hotel was acquired by a new owner, he gave the management contract to my company.  We hired a new sales manager and embarked on a targeted canvass program.  We transformed the old fashioned sales blitz into a sophisticated market research and promotional sales tool which uncovered data about hotel prospects at the university which were not previously known or fully appreciated.

After careful planning, the canvass team visited every office and department in the university.  It uncovered more than 100 separate locations where hotel reservations were being independently booked.  At least 75 of these offices were not being called on by the hotel’s sales people.  In the following calendar year, the room nights generated by the university doubled at this Holiday Inn.  It meant 5 additional points in occupancy.

Of course, there is much more to the TCP technique than a brief thrust of one week of sales calls.  To be successful, it needs planning, support, and a written blueprint for:

  1. setting of objectives and quotas
  2. planning the geographic zoning
  3. training and motivating your staff
  4. writing and teaching the script
  5. creating incentive-driven rewards
  6. evaluation and follow-through

About the author: Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC ( operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services.  Turkel’s clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions.  Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.  He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  His provocative articles on various hotels subjects have been published in the Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel Interactive, Hotel-Online, Blue MauMau, Hotel Resource News, etc.  Don’t hesitate to call 917-628-8549 or email

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