If sales haven't been as strong as you'd hoped in 2018, there are probably as many reasons for that as there are ads on the Internet...But over the past 6 years, as a copywriter and marketing strategist for hospitality tech companies, I've found that a lack in sales generally comes down to one key problem: sending the right message, but at the wrong time.The big problem with this is - if you don't address that issue first, you're going to keep struggling.Because even if you have the best thing since sliced bread, if you're not getting any traction - then you don't have a chance of bringing in well-qualified leads for your sales process. And that means you're starved for sales.So, let me help you get that right.First, by demonstrating where things are most likely going wrong in your current 'market-to-message match'...And second, by helping you dial that in, with some key questions to ask hoteliers at each stage, so you can create more win-win partnerships moving forward.And I think it would help if we had a simple example to keep referring back to, so let me BORE you with a story about my little backyard paradise, to show you why you SHOULDN'T be talking about how great your technology is all the time: My backyard paradise is a little deck I built, deep inside the Tecolote Canyon. Looking south, I'm surrounded by nearly a mile of green scenery, and I have almost complete privacy. In fact, I'm the only one down here, except all birds that call this valley home; doves, sparrows... humming birds... There's even a family of hawks. And, even though I live smack dab in the middle of San Diego, for all intents and purposes... ... this little hideaway makes me feel like I'm right in the middle of the country. I'm sure you can see why this is one of my favorite places in the world.At this point, you're probably asking: Hey, Jeremiah. Why should I care about any of this?You shouldn't! And that's the point.I'm leading with what's important to me... but unless you were in the market for a new house in San Diego, this messaging is all wrong.Do you see how the timing's off?Unfortunately, this is the fundamental mistake that most companies are making every dayAnd this is why most hospitality tech salespeople aren't getting much traction.They're going on and on about how great their solutions is... thinking they're addressing a prospective client's needs...... but they're not. Because they're not meeting hoteliers where they're at, and that's why they're missing their sales targets.People aren't getting a real sense of 'What's in it for me'...... or how their lives and their businesses might be better with your solution in place...... and that's why it's hard for them to see WHY they should invest a bunch of time and effort, just to try it out.Let's dive in a little deeper for clarification on the right way to set things up.How to 'sync up' with your market'Syncing up' with your market is all about creating the right context for a productive conversation.Say I were selling my house (which I am not!)...... how do you think I should go about catching potential home-buyers' attention and developing those leads into red-hot leads?Most hotel tech companies do this sort of work by making cold calls, putting out PPC ads, buying leads, or good ol' fashioned networking... and I'm not saying any of these things are wrong...These are all proven ways of putting names on a list.Where they're falling down is in the next step; when it comes to using the right messaging, to turn those contacts into opt-in subscribers.This is why, even large, established brands are having an extremely difficult time producing high-quality leads with any consistency, these days.Let's not fall into that trapBefore spending any time... money or effort in generating a list of contacts, the first thing we need to do is sit down and map out the 3 stages that every buyer needs to go through before we can call them an actual, qualified lead.This starts by reminding ourselves that: it doesn't matter who you are, and what you're selling (it could be room nights, management services or technology), your prospects are always at some point along a spectrum of awareness; between being relatively unaware of solutions, focusing in on a few solutions, or desperately in need of any solution.And, because of that, we should never talk to these 3 different groups in the same way, right?That would be out of sync.Each one of these groups needs to know different things to make different decisions, at each stage - before they're ever going to feel comfortable moving ahead.So the real question we need to ask is: how can we make sure we're never 'out of sync' with our messaging, ever again?Sometimes you should NEVER ask for commitmentLet's answer this fundamental question by first putting ourselves in our prospect's shoes.If you're targeting someone who is relatively unaware of your solution (which is the most common situation, when it comes to selling technologies) you'll rarely ever win if you go directly for the sale.Why's that?Going back to my house example, let's say you just happen to be in the market...You'd never start your search by randomly booking flights and randomly visiting open houses all across the US, would you?The first thing you'd do would be to start figuring out which state you wanted to live in. Then you'd start narrowing it down my region, city, and then eventually pick a neighborhood and focus in from there, right?In other words, you'd go from big decisions to small decisions. It's only natural.So it would be ridiculous for me to invest in cold calling, sending you direct mail or pestering you with any other social media stalking tactic, at this stage, right?And even if I convinced you to visit my open house, what are the chances that you'd ever sign on the dotted line? One in a thousand?So it would be a complete waste of my efforts, to go for the sale at this point - because the timing's all wrong!Even if I had the best house and the best price, the sheer volume of options out there would almost always scuttle the sale.And it's the same story in selling hospitality technology.You can have the most amazing technology with stunning case studies and tremendous support, but all the other options out there are going to make it nearly impossible for people to reach a final decision.That's why your goal at this point SHOULDN'T be to sell, it should be to influence buying criteria.Creating a tactical advantageSome of my favorite media options to create that tactical advantage include; side by side comparisons, flow charts and quizzes.I like these options because each one of these media types are quick and easy to use.And as potential buyers walk through these high-level, SWAT type analysis of their options, they come away with a much better understanding of their needs - so they appreciate your efforts.And that, in turn, gives them confidence, which is key to working with you, down the road.Going back to house example, again, this where I'd like people to realize, yes, San Diego is expensive, but the weather lets you enjoy nearly every day of the year outside, so you don't really need such a big house.Because if I could just help people realize that...... and I could get them thinking, "Hey, if I don't need a big house, then I don't have to spend so much. So maybe San Diego isn't as expensive as I thought...,"... then voila! I'd have an actual chance closing a deal.So what kinds of questions could I use in my media to help buyers reach this all-important conclusion?Maybe something like this: Hey, if you can only enjoy the outdoors for one or two seasons a year, doesn't that mean you spend a lot more time doing things you DON'T like doing, like shoveling the driveway... and warming up the car every morning...etc.? Doesn't all that time, stuck indoors kind of drive you crazy, making it harder to get enough exercise, or see friends and family? And if you didn't have to spend so much time inside, wouldn't that also mean you wouldn't need such a big house? In fact, if your house WAS smaller, that be better... because you wouldn't have to clean as much... and that means you could spend even MORE time outdoors, doing more of what you love, right?These are just a few examples, but I think you get the picture.The right questions at the right time can help set critical buying criteria for your prospects and that can give YOU a big leg up over all the other options out there.The second stage of awarenessAfter transitioning away from the first stage of awareness, which is called divergent thinking, BTW... our prospects are now actively converging on a much smaller group of possibilities. That's why this stage is aptly titled: convergent thinking.Prospects at this stage are much more qualified for your sales process... so your demos have a higher chance of success...But that DOES NOT mean you can rush into things with any kind of blatant, feature and functionality dump.In fact, I've very, very rarely seen a sale made at this stage by talking about how great any one solution might be, which far too many inexperienced sales people are prone to do...Because, unless you're talking with someone who has already gone through YOUR marketing...... and, because of YOUR marketing, they've gone from the divergent to the convergent mindset - then you might NOT be working with buying criteria that's favorable to your offer. i.e. they might already have 2 or 3 other 'suitors' in mind.So if you spend all your time talking about how amazing your solution is, in that context, you're probably going to get a fairly tepid response. Again, it's not you. It's not them. It's because you're not meeting them where they're at.So how should you engage prospects at this point?At this stage, meeting your audience where they're at means engaging in an open and honest problem-solving conversation. You need to provide genuine consulting here.You can do that by using special reports, articles and webinars with titles that give your prospects:Ideas to overcome known problemsExamples of cost saving strategiesOr checklists that help quantify and break problems down into manageable action stepsAs before, you're going to want to embed questions throughout your media that will help move your prospects forward in their decision-making process.For example, if I were trying to sell my home, I'd include questions such as: Would you like it if you could be 20 minutes from downtown, 20 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from the beach, but feel like you were living in the country? Would it make your life easier if you never had to worry about parking, so it was always easy for friends to come over, and, because of a weird quirk of urban development, there was never any traffic in your neighborhood, either? And don't you think it would help you buy with confidence if you knew that houses in this area have appreciated at least $10k every year, over the last 20 years, and now that they're putting a train station at the foot of the hill, land values were projected to go up by another 10%?Yes, these are leading questions, so they're a little more-heavy handed.But that's welcome at this stage, because each one of these questions helps paint a picture of what life will be like after making a buying decision, and that helps people understand how your solution fits in with their needs.Because success is all about the win-winRemember, I'm using these examples, here, because this is where I see most hospitality technology companies striking out these days. And that's an absolute cryin' shame!Because most technology platforms deliver an enormous ROI these days...5X, 10X, even 50X are not unheard of.So fewer sales isn't just hurting your bottom line...... it also means hotels aren't earning as much as they could.And that means, when you look at economic forecasts for 2019...... with THE chief Japan rates strategist at Nomura predicting that we're in for more volatility...... "signs of a slowdown strengthen through the first half of 2019..."... and even going so far to say that we're now on "an irreversible path to an economic downturn"... as you can see in the chart, below...There's ample cause for concern.Especially since, downturns have always hit the travel industry first, just like we saw with sliding ADR and occupancy rates in 2008.So the bottom line is: if you aren't doing everything you can to meet hoteliers where they are on the strategic decision-making spectrum - right now - and helping them smoothly transition towards a place where they CAN make an informed decision, then you're putting yourself, and the industry at large, in a much weaker position.Fortunately, there's a silver lining...The good news is that human nature is nothing, if not resilient.And so it's only natural that, as the industry start to shimmy and shake... either because of volatility... or falling consumer confidence... more and more hoteliers are going to start taking bigger and bolder moves to modernize their operations.Most people remember what happened in 2008, after all.That's why I predict that hoteliers are going to be the #1 driving factor in your sales process over the next 12 months.In other words, 'the writing on the wall' will help more and more people to step out of the comfort zone and get them into the cognition stage; where a marked departure from the standard operating behaviors is finally possible... as long as you can show 'em the ROI, of course.They're going to have to.Because 'the writing's been on the wall' for some time now.In fact, way back in January 2017, Michael Dominguez, Chief Marketing Officer for MGM, raised the 'clarion call of warning', at HEDNA's digital distribution conference in San Diego, declaring, point blank, "40% of the people in this room will be irrelevant in 5 years... because you can't change."There was absolutely no way to misunderstand what Mr. Dominguez was saying here.Shape up or ship out!And while this message might signal good news for your company, because that's going to help facilitate change, and make it much easier for you to sell your solutions...If this is the only thing holding up your revenues, then you need to realize that Michael Dominguez was speaking to you, too.Because if you're only going after the 1 or 2% of the market that are in a true, do-or-die cognition state of mind, then you're always going head-to-head against every one of your competitors. That means it's incredibly easy to burn through your marketing resources trying to compete for attention. And,Where happens when times change... and prospects stop doing all the heavy lifting, for you, just like we saw in 2009-12, when quick and easy distribution solutions became the preferred methods of driving revenue. We need to remember that whenever there's a crisis, selling solutions that require any time or capital investment becomes exponentially more and more difficult...So, let me be frankYou have something incredibly valuable to offer, and you know it can generate a substantial ROI for a wide range of hotels out there...... but if your demos are always getting 'wrapped around the axel' of how you go about generating that ROI, then you're probably losing a majority of those demos. And those numbers can quickly deteriorate if Nomura's credit crunch forecast comes to bear.So why not stop going after the minority...... and turn your eyes to that 95-97% the market that still hasn't heard the warning bells...... so you can start helping them go from distracted and divergent to confident and convergent...... and develop some much needed familiarity and trust along the way?Because if you do that well... and if you're the only one that's in-sync with your target audience, just think about how much better... and how much stronger is your businesses chances are going to be in this, uncertain economy.People buy from people they know, like and trust, as the old axiom goes.The key to accomplishing that is to put your marketing system together in a way that's in the greatest alignment with where your prospects are, mentally.That's how you start relationships off, the right way.That's how you prove you deserve their business - because you've already DEMONSTRATED that you speak their language.And THAT'S how you convince people you'll continue to caring for and nurturing those relationships, long after a hotelier signs on the dotted line.And isn't this is one of the most important, and powerful marketing messages there is?So let me give you a little vignette...... to help you remember that success in selling is all about being in-step with your prospects.Imagine you only had 2 choices between equal 'suitors', and you just one dance to decide who you were going to marry...Would you rather go with the one who who's light on their feet, and knows how to dance with you cheek-to-cheek?Or the one who keeps stepping on your toes and talking about him or herself all the time?It's pretty obvious, isn't it?But we forget about these simple truths sometimes when there are so many whiz-bang features involved...So just remember, it's just the same in love and relationships... as it is in business.You have to meet your prospects where they are and build from there.Do that the right way, and you won't have to 'sell' your solutions anymore.The relationship will naturally make the sale, for you.About the author:Over the past 6 years, Jeremiah has worked as a direct response copywriter for a wide range of hospitality technology companies, helping them elevate their marketing game, from the typical transactional, race-to-the-bottom approach, to value-based selling that results in high-margin repeat sales.