“Free Holiday Inn Club Vacation”; Or, A Story About Bamboozlement as a Sales Qualifying Tool
Perhaps I was unguarded because the call was one of the easiest and most impressive I’ve experienced. So when the agent asked if I’d be interested in being transferred to receive a “free Holiday Inn vacation,” I said, well, okay, sure.
The phone experience had been remarkable: I’d booked a room at New York’s Intercontinental Hotel and they used computer automation perfectly to find city and dates. It was the most smooth and reliable automated phone system I’ve ever experienced. And just when the automated service was going to be less useful, a very friendly agent immediately came on ready to go.
I was really impressed.
Ready to sign off, I said “Okay, thanks” — and the agent stopped me and said, “Well, Mr. Marshall, just one more thing: can I transfer you so you can receive a free two nights at a Holiday Inn Club Vacation?”
I just said, sure, okay. I was transferred to a phone line with a bad connection and background noise.
Then commences one of the worst use of telephone sales scripts I’ve ever seen. “Rhonda” gets on and starts asking me how long I’ve been a member of IHG’s rewards program, says “You have 63,000 rewards points — wow, congratulations!” and asked if I travel regularly.
This went on for rather a while, until I said — “Okay, what’s the point?”
She says they just renovated a half-dozen Holiday Inn properties, and they’re giving away rooms to promote them.
She reads me six locations. Most were out of the way, but there was one in the Carolinas that and one in Las Vegas.
She asked if any interested me: I said, maybe Carolina or Vegas. She says, “Let’s use Carolina.” I say, “Actually, I know I’m going to Las Vegas in the next year. Let’s use that.”
She then starts telling me all about the Carolina property — she’s not listening — and how, if I want, I can come for this great opportunity to stay in a great place and have meals there if I’m willing to sit through a two-hour presentation.
Oh. Now I get it. Time share nonsense. I don’t think I’ve been pitched on one before, but I’ve obviously read about it.
And then she says, “That’ll be only $199 for this great opportunity, only for today on this live offer!”
I say, “Umm, the agent that transferred me said you were giving free rooms.”
“Oh, well, because he said that, I can give you a voucher for $200 after you pay $199, so you wind up paying and getting money, because 200 is one dollar more than 199 dollars, so you get a dollar.”
Except, she’s saying it really fast and it’s making very little sense. What? 199 dollars, 200 dollars, I get a dollar? The agent said there was some promotion with free rooms, and you’re asking me to pay now, to get a voucher, to get a dollar — wait, what?
Annoyed at having wasted the time to listen to this, I told her that I thought it was inappropriate and asked her to transfer me back to IHG. She said she couldn’t, “but it was a really great offer, really…” and wouldn’t leave the phone politely; I eventually hung up on her, called back IHG, and told them I think it was silly that they’re destroying so much brand equity when people call to book Intercontinental rooms and wind up getting an awfully-executed pitch like this.
The whole thing didn’t even make any sense.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what was going on: someone who is skeptical, critical, does due diligence, and isn’t impulsive probably isn’t a good buyer for a time share.
I’ve done a fair amount of work in high-end business-to-business sales and improving sales processes and operations for high-tech and finance companies.
One of the most important things to succeed at this kind of work is having a set of criteria to qualify a customer. It might include things like:
— Has budget authority
— Has decisionmaking authority
— Has used this type of service/vendor before
— Has a bad need for this service
— Sees this as critical for profitability and growth
— Have the underlying resources/operations to be able to implement and get the benefits from the product or service
In other words, in B2B sales, you’re largely looking for people who are smart, who have authority, who have a legitimate need. In a world where none of us have time to follow up on all our opportunities, you don’t want to devote a huge amount of time to someone who doesn’t have a real need for the service, who sees it as a “nice to have” instead of a critical business need, and so on.
In other words, in B2B sales, you’re largely looking to make sure you’re dealing with people you can actually assist and who are smart and good to work with.
While packing for New York, I started thinking about this Holiday Inn Club Vacation. The telephone sales rep was kind of dimwitted and didn’t actually listen, but it wasn’t her decision to structure the call the way it went. She’s just reading a script.
Those sales scripts are no doubt written by very sophisticated people, and relentlessly tweaked and tested to get the best results.
As I was packing, I had an epiphany: I think their scripts are written to intentionally filter out people who want to get logic, facts, and make good decisions.
For instance, being offered something for free and then immediately asked for $199 for it, and then “because you asked for it for free we’ll give you a voucher” — this doesn’t square with trustworthy and reasonable behavior. Anyone who is skeptical or critical is worried about this.
The offer itself was obfuscated, and there was a lot of light-on-facts fast-talking. “You’ll pay $199, and get a voucher for $200, so you’re getting more money than you’re giving, and blah blah… fair enough, right?”
She actually did the, “That’s fair enough, right?” which is very 1980's-style hard-selling and kind of cute if you’ve studied sales and the history of sales.
At first I’d felt that this Holiday Inn Vacation Club nonsense was a waste of time, and I was surprised IHG would risk their brand like that.
But now I’m thinking it was a terrific use of 10 minutes. I just realized, maybe for the first time, that much of consumer sales is geared not towards winning over sophisticated buyers, but actually filtering sophisticated buyers out, to exploit people who are more trusting, naive, or who trust fast talk.
In B2B sales, it’s about finding high-level smart people with real needs. We ask questions to learn points like, “Who is going to implement this? Do you have signing authority? Is there some approved vendor or procurement process? Is there budget? What types of vendors have you worked with in the past, and how did those go?”
Perhaps in B2C telephone hard selling, it’s about asking, “Are you going to proceed in the face of huge obvious red lights and odd behavior?” as the first step to qualifying.
A scary notion: Bamboozlement as a sales qualifying tool.
Marshall writes long-form historical bios with actionable takeways at http://www.thestrategicreview.net ; the next edition is about the Athenian philosopher and mercenary commander Xenophon, and how he led the betrayed Greek army out of the Persian Empire 2400 years ago. You can subscribe for free at TheStrategicReview.net