Sales centers serve as the literal entry to vacation ownership, and it’s where potential customers are turned into vacation owners. Walking in, a prospective buyer should feel enticed and engaged and even entertained, and the physical flow through the center itself is just as important as the flow of the sales presentation. It’s no wonder that resorts and the timeshare industry put a tremendous amount of resources into the décor, layout, technology, sales teams and special amenities that make up their sales centers.
We invited an experienced panel of industry experts to discuss their brands’ sales centers and how they function today, what challenges and changes they have faced and what successes they’ve achieved. Derek DeSalvia, vice president of sales at Disney Vacation Club, talks about its flagship sales center at Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida; Maria Margenot, senior vice president of sales development, recruiting and training at Wyndham Vacation Ownership (WVO), discusses the ins and outs of approximately 90 sales centers across the country; and Michael Brown, chief operating officer of Hilton Grand Vacations, shares his insights about Hilton Grand Vacations’ global sales centers.
V: What has changed the most about your sales centers in the past 10 years?
DD: About two years ago, we performed a major renovation of our flagship sales center at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Our focus was on the overall experience of the guests, specifically their impression of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) brand when they first walk through the sales center doors. Our internal Walt Disney World® Resort Imagineering Team led the project, with input from other teams, and developed a warm and inviting atmosphere with a physical flow that helps to immerse the guest into the DVC experience.
MM: We no longer use scripted presentations or present the same product to every guest who walks through the door. For example, our sales tools have evolved from static wallboards and hard-copy pitch books to immersive technology such as interactive touch screens, iPads®, apps and presentations that incorporate videos, testimonials and more.
MB: Utilizing technology in our sales centers is the biggest change and has evolved the sales experience in two significant ways. First, technology has helped us create a very personalized, customer-driven sales experience, where the conversation is focused on our customers sharing their vacation goals. Second, technology has streamlined our back-of-house processes to increase efficiency and reduce the amount of time from the actual sale to the customer getting on with their day.
V: What has remained the same?
DD: The journey of the sales process has largely remained the same. We like to end the presentation with some Disney “magic” to make sure guests leave on a good note, whether they decide to become members or not.
MM: Regardless of how technology and collateral may change over the years, forming an authentic and genuine relationship with a customer has always remained fundamental to the sales process.
MB: What hasn’t changed is the importance of interpersonal contact and relationship building. We’re improving the physical space and the tools we use to provide information, but we will never replace the human connection.
V: How do you bring the product to life?
DD: Our employees, who we refer to as cast members, play a big part. They are as warm and inviting as the physical structure of the sales center itself is. These cast members focus on guiding guests through natural, organic conversations and help to ease any tension a guest may have had prior to the sales presentation, or what we call an Open House Tour.
MM: We strive to keep the content on our sales tools fresh so we can effectively inform current and prospective owners about the latest enhancements to their vacation ownership experience. One example of this is our interactive touch-screen tool that includes videos and updated maps of our newest properties. In addition, the touch screens include the latest photography to better showcase our resorts, a more extensive owner database and much more.
MB: We immerse our guests in the experience, allowing them to go where they want to go. We talk to them about their dreams and aspirations and how our product can make that a reality.
V: What technology is vital for your salespeople and why?
MM: In 2013 we began providing every member of our sales force with a comprehensive sales-tool center on an iPad® platform. This has been vital to our sales team—WVO can now provide every sales associate across the country with the most up-to-date, consistent and accurate sales information and training, all while reducing the company’s environmental footprint. In the past, our sales team would have to factor in days or sometimes weeks for printing and shipping new promotions and collateral, whereas now they have access to nearly immediate information. In addition, sales associates can walk their properties with their iPads®, which allows them to be mobile, no longer needing to be near a desk or computer to showcase the product to prospective owners.
DD: Our cast members use a platform on a large touch screen that allows them to highlight many different aspects of a DVC membership, such as the benefits and how to use it. They also use it to highlight the 13 resorts in our product portfolio to show guests the additional destinations they would have access to for a vacation.
MB: Our interactive platform is absolutely essential. More and more, we’re simplifying the ability to digitally collect details needed to complete a sale. People expect cutting-edge technology, and we deliver.
V: Are you using or planning to use 360-degree video?
MB: We are planning to incorporate 360 video into our process and have done some trials with versions that go on our tablets to showcase the units in a very unique way.
MM: Last year Wyndham Vacation Ownership launched a new app called WYN 360° Virtual Tours that is available for download on nearly 4,000 sales and marketing iPads® across the company. WYN 360° Virtual Tours allows guests to virtually navigate through stunning resorts, and our associates can download iPad®-ready 360-degree views of resort accommodations and amenities. This truly immerses future owners in our vacation products and is just one example of an innovative new tool that WVO has rolled out to support our sales team.
V: Are you using or planning to use virtual reality headsets?
MB: Our first trials with virtual reality headsets are currently planned to take place in Japan using Samsung headsets. We aim to bring our guests into an active rather than passive VR experience to allow them to gain a more complete understanding of our properties.
DD: We’re always looking to enhance our technology and platforms, and we’re always exploring options. We make sure technology flows into our presentation and is something that makes sense for DVC.
V: How does your changing or evolving product get showcased in the sales center?
MB: Our evolving products are showcased in various areas in our sales centers. Because we’ve created dynamic areas, we can push content in real time. A model room is still integral when available, but technology helps supplement when it isn’t. We continually learn. We don’t think we’ve found the final product—we keep evolving and innovating. Little tweaks make big differences, and we’re working toward having the ability to monitor the process as a whole, mentor and manage the sales lines and provide a better guest experience overall.
DD: Right now at the Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa sales center, we have full-scale models of Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, in Ko Olina, Hawai‘i, and Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. These fully kitted-out models help guests who are part of an Open House Tour have an almost true-to-life experience. For destinations that we do not currently have full-scale models constructed, cast members can showcase these resorts by utilizing video and image content on our touch-screen platform.
V: What materials do you use the most?
DD: We understand that different consumers have different demands. Some want tangible materials, others may want an email that contains all the necessary information, and others may want to learn more about the product on our website. Therefore, we use a combination of these depending on the consumer. Furthermore, our cast members can customize an Open House Tour based on the consumer type.
MM: In addition to the iPads®, we are now offering digital owner kits on tablets at select sites versus traditional owner kits, and we are currently in the process of rolling these out company-wide. These digital kits significantly reduce the paperwork to manage, and they are also environmentally friendly.
V: How is the new generation of buyers/owners different from before?
MM: Today, customers are looking for a balance of genuineness and novelty, which drives buying behavior. They expect an authentic experience with a company and are far too savvy to be “sold” in the traditional manner. There’s a real opportunity for sales teams to build trust and connect with customers to truly understand what they are looking for and how they can help enhance their lives and access new experiences.
DD: In the past several years, consumers have come to Open House Tours profoundly educated. I’ve noticed that these consumers are especially informed on the parts of the DVC membership they are most interested in. It’s interesting to see how our cast members customize each presentation based on the guest in front of them. Guests want different levels of accommodations, different amounts of flexibility and more. No two are the same.
MB: We look at our customer’s evolution as a whole—people don’t want to be labeled. For the most part, many of our older customers really appreciate the new technology and engaging content, while our younger customers expect it.
V: Is the salesperson and the one-to-one relationship still important?
DD: No matter how much information we share or how much customization we provide our guests, I think they will still want to speak with someone in person. Even though Walt Disney World is well known, not everyone knows the benefits of the DVC membership. This is a great opportunity for our cast members to guide these guests through the journey of the sales process. We continually seek feedback from our members, guests and cast members and use this feedback to enhance the overall experience.
MB: That one-to-one relationship is essential. It is central to what makes the sale. Relationships are still key to building trust, and consumers buy their trust in you. They have to immerse themselves in it and have to believe, and all they have is you. You’re expressing the brand—you’re personalizing what Hilton is, and that’s so important.
V: What has impacted sales numbers the most?
DD: I think micro and macro environmental issues really weigh heavily on guests now. We work for a powerful brand whose main focus is on delivering the best experience possible for a guest. DVC is no different: We take guests along an incredible journey and help them create magical memories with their families.
MB: A combination of elements has accelerated our sales growth, including more efficient processes, strong sales training to increase transparency, and outstanding creativity to immerse our customers in our resort portfolio and Club Member experience.
MM: An example of a program that has positively impacted our sales numbers is our Specialist Presenter program. This program leverages technology and is high-impact, fun and interactive and allows for a better guest experience in a more relaxed group setting while building trust and showcasing our value proposition.
V: What has been a successful physical change in the sales center?
MB: The successful physical changes are a cleaner, modernized, contemporary space that is more welcoming. Also making sure the experience is personalized while maintaining a delicate balance of privacy and awareness of surroundings and camaraderie is key.
MM: We tailor each of our sales centers to the resort and geographic area. Over the years, we’ve expanded and updated areas in our sales centers and built out presenter rooms with projection screens and surround sound, added intimate settings and created buffet stations at select locations. In addition, depending on space availability at a location, our interactive touch screens can range from 55 inches to 80 inches.
DD: Included in the major renovation we underwent about two years ago were updates to the textures, colors and lighting of the sales center. These changes helped to provide a more contemporary and engaging environment for our guests. From a strategic standpoint, we did not want to disrupt too much. We stayed true to the function and flow of the sales process, maintaining a guest-centric approach.
Illustration credit: A. Richard Allen/theispot.com