Ragan began her sales career in 2005 with Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts. She then worked for the legendary Little Nell Hotel in Aspen Colorado where she helped produce nationally recognized events like the Food & Wine Festival as well as the X Games.
Ragan returned to Four Seasons in corporate sales where she covered multiple geographic territories, developed training programs for new hires, and was part of a transition team that assisted in rebranding new hotels added to the Four Seasons portfolio.
In 2016, Marriott hired Ragan as the Director of Sales at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale Arizona due to her luxury background. She led the department of thirteen through not only the Starwood/Marriott merger, but also through a complete, two year, $120M renovation. Ragan now helps train sellers across all industries, and speaks about how to effectively navigate the corporate culture.
[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]
Umar Hameed 0:01
Hello everyone! Today I’m joined by Ragan Grossman, she is an expert at selling luxury. Ragan, welcome to the program.
Ragan Grossman 0:09
Hi, Umar, thanks so much for having me.
Umar Hameed 0:12
I’ve got a client, they called
Smyth Jewelers, and one of the lead people there was telling me, “You know, we get these new salespeople coming in, and they’re so nervous and selling.” And then one day they end up making $1,000 sale, and then after that, they can do that easily and then the next step is 5000…10,000…50,000. So people have hangups around money, so you were training people how to sell luxury, how did you do that?
Ragan Grossman 0:38
One of the first things you have to do is get their buy in, that they see the value in what they are selling. When I first started in the luxury hotel world, I had to sell a coke for $8
Umar Hameed 0:56
Oh my God!
Ragan Grossman 0:57
I remember thinking how am I going to do that. But my training was very extensive and they explained to me that the level of service we provide and all of the extras that go along with this, and the value of that elevated cost is in the level of service.
Umar Hameed 1:17
Ragan Grossman 1:17
So it’s really easily explained to me much like I’m sure the example that you gave, you know, hotels have a toilet, a bed, a sink, a window and so did my hotel, but why was I getting a triple rate premium on that. And it was because a lot of the level of service.
Umar Hameed 1:38
Partially that but also when I go into a Four Seasons, it’s a totally different experience, not only the service, but just the amenities and the bed is really, really nice compared to…I remember when we first moved to the US, my wife was American and I’m a Canadian, and I’ve been hearing these commercials for Motel 6, was Tom Bodett, and I said, “Absolutely what we’re driving cross country, we have to stay at a Motel 6.” And when we stayed in one, it was not as the same level of quality as Four Seasons, and my wife was quite upset. So how do…tell me about the first time you had to sell something, a luxury item, where you kind of went, “Gulp!” like I can’t believe I am charging this much for this product.
Ragan Grossman 2:30
What started right away, I mean, I had a crash course in, you have to remember, I was 20 nothing years old coming out of college eating ramen noodles for, for four years, and all the sudden, I was going to sell that same maybe that ramen noodles but something of that nature for a huge price, I had sticker shock myself, again, it went back to the training that I received. And one of the big things that Four Seasons talks about is consistency. And I continue to preach that as well. It’s not just Four Seasons, it’s any, any high end car or jewelry or any of that stuff. The reason those companies have that reputation is because their product or service that they provide is consistently superior. And it’s really important for salespeople selling those things, to also be consistently superior, you know, it’s really easy for a salesperson to have a good day or a good…
Umar Hameed 3:26
Ragan Grossman 3:26
…sales pattern or process, but to be in a company that expected that from you every single time you touched a client every single day, every time you open your mouth was really important, and that was where my training began. So once I really started drinking the Kool-Aid, it became quite easy to be honest with you to make those sales into not bad and I when quoting a lot of those prices.
Umar Hameed 3:54
So you’ve probably had some disciples that you were training other people coming into the company and some of them became rock stars, and some of them reached a plateau but didn’t go beyond it, and some of them probably washed down. So tell me about one of your rock stars, like what was that journey like for them?
Ragan Grossman 4:14
Well, the, again, the training started with getting to know the product, I always say that there are three things that you have to do to be good in sales, you have to believe in what you’re selling, you’d be very knowledgeable about it, and that’s just the bells and whistles, that’s usually where kind of a baseline of sales starts and then you have to be excited to share that. And when you work for a company that is innovative or has cutting edge and I mean that in a sense of, you know, really luxury items they can get their hands on and things like that you can get your salespeople really excited. So I had, I’ve had sellers on both end but have a seller come from maybe a mid tier or select service hotel into this and really get excited about now what they have access to, and the things that they can sell to their clients, those are the people that rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, I’ve had other sellers that have been groomed in that lower tier market…
Umar Hameed 5:14
Ragan Grossman 5:15
…they’re positioned to sell based on price, and that’s it, and they train their sellers, we position ourselves to sell, we want to be the lowest in our tier or we want to be you know, they quote, a competitor, and you can come off the price. And I knew that that would be a challenge for a seller that was on our team that would constantly come with, I need a lower price and need a lower price and need a low price, because that’s not the business model of any high end product or service.
Umar Hameed 5:47
So tell me about, so if I was in a group of people, and I asked them, you know, tell me about your first negative memory around money, and people are gonna go, “Oh, yeah, I remember I was doing da..da..da, my grandmother said.” So a lot of times, we have beliefs around money, and a history with it in the past. And so when we come into selling luxury goods and charging a premium price for a great product, sometimes when the customer pushes back, people that have hangups around money are more likely to shy away or give a discount. So how do we make allowances for that when we’re training people to sell luxury items, because we are human beings, and our beliefs around money, sometimes a well hidden, but the results of it kind of come out in negotiations?
Ragan Grossman 6:42
Again, it’s the old adage that you get what you pay for. Aand I know that sounds very, quite simple, but that’s where with a salesperson, you start that training of the value of this elevated cost is in the service that we’re providing, it’s the intangibles, it’s having somebody answer an unsaid request, it’s anticipating needs, it’s doing all of those things. So when a client pushes back and says, “Well, I can get this for X amount of dollars, I can get this $100 less over at this hotel, or this competitor,” you have to explain that they’re not getting that they’re not getting apples to apples, yes, you’re getting a bit.
Umar Hameed 7:25
So that’s the mechanics of it, that’s the mechanics of it. But I’m sure if you trained 10 reps, some of them are going to embrace it and go, “I got it, I’m going,” and other people are still going to struggle with it for a while. So I’m more interested in how you help those people that struggled with it, kind of really embrace it and embody it.
Ragan Grossman 7:46
Again, it…it goes back to the buy in there, they have to believe in what they’re selling. And you’re right, there are salespeople that, that don’t ever get there, they don’t believe in it, because they personally would never spend the money on it. And I feel like I failed as a leader if they continue to feel that way, because it’s my job to get them to see the value in what they’re selling, I have to make my team believe that if they could afford this, that they would spend money on it, but it’s…
Umar Hameed 8:19
Ragan Grossman 8:19
…that important, that the experience that we’re creating is that important. So we hear what you’re saying, you know, how, how do I change kind of how they’re hardwired, but…
Umar Hameed 8:30
Ragan Grossman 8:32
…it is a constant reminder of putting all the value on what it is taking the blinders off of, you know, just selling a hotel or just selling a watch or just selling a car and seeing the experience that that it provides and the service that it provides.
Umar Hameed 8:54
So do you have a, if you check back to your memory banks, do you have a particular person in mind that was struggling with that price value thing, and then all of a sudden it was like a, “Taddaa,” and they saw the light and it had that transformation, do you have one of those in your memory bank?
Ragan Grossman 9:14
You know, probably, I had a salesperson one time that was one of the the training tools that we use is to try to get to yes, you always want to get to yes with the client, because we never want to say “No, you can’t do this…No, you can’t do that…No, you can do that!” Four Seasons and any other company that is a luxury company, they try to get to yes with their client, and this particular person had a hard time turning one into the other.
Umar Hameed 9:42
Ragan Grossman 9:43
And also realizing that you have clients willing to maybe pay for some of the things that they’re not used to seeing people pay for. So I got a call from this salesperson’s client that said, “We want to have a luau around the pool, and we want to dump 60 tons of sand around the pool,” and your sales manager is telling me that, “We can’t do that!” Now in the sales manager’s defense, generally we can’t do that, but there’s no policy written in the book that says we can’t put 60 tons of sand around a pool, what it says is, you know, we can’t make the area private, and we can do this, we can’t do that, and this salesperson had the blinders on. So my, my explanation to this person was, “How do we get to yes? “Well, engineering said it’s going to kill the grass.” “Okay, well, let’s talk to engineering, let’s see how much that cost to get that responded.” And “Well, we can’t do it, because it’s gonna interfere with all these other guests.” “Okay, well, there’s 60 rooms around the pool, so if they maybe they’ve purchased all the rooms, they rent all those rooms around the pool.” So now we’re trying to get to a point where it may seem astronomical to a lot of people, but you can go back to the client and say, “Yes, we can do this for X.” And she did this, and the client said, “Great, we’ll take it.” And you know, including the cleanup fee and all those things. And I think that was her AHA moment.
Umar Hameed 11:17
Ragan Grossman 11:19
Kind of, “Hey, this is gonna be fun actually because when people think things up, I just get to figure out how to get to yes and how we can actually create?
Umar Hameed 11:30
Absolutely! I think that’s a thank you for sharing that. Because oftentimes, people don’t know till they go through the experience of it, and I think what you really modeled well was “Okay, how can we make that happen?” I was working with a client out on the west coast, and we did a management team retreat for the salespeople and the other divisions, and three months later, I was asking the salespeople, “So what’s the difference now?” and they said, “The difference is, when we came back from a customer, and said, the customer wants this special thing done,” all we heard from finance and the tech support people and the manufacturing people is like, “We can’t do that!” And says, the transformation has been they go, “Huh, how can we make that happen?” It’s a totally different question, and it’s collaborative, and that’s what leadership is, is getting people to kind of realize, “Hey, we’re in the business of pleasing people and let’s make a spectacular event.”
Ragan Grossman 12:28
Exactly! I mean, as long as clients aren’t asking me to do something illegal or anything like that…
Umar Hameed 12:34
We’re truly legal! …
Ragan Grossman 12:35
Umar Hameed 12:35
It was a joke!
Ragan Grossman 12:36
…it makes it really fun to try to please your client which is what you’re there for, you know, you’re not a lot of people, I think have a misconception about sales that it’s kind of a gotcha profession, you know, and that’s actually not what it is, they’re on your team.
Umar Hameed 12:56
Absolutely! And I think…so tell me in your journey, tell me about one of those learning experiences, so you’ve reached a certain level of performance and excellence, like one of those things, where it was like, an epiphany for you that helped you get to the next level, didn’t think you’d have to do a lot of thinking on this podcast, did you?
Ragan Grossman 13:21
Well, I’m trying to think of an epiphany in the sense of the kind of salesperson that I wanted to be.
Umar Hameed 13:31
Yeah! tell me about it!
Ragan Grossman 13:33
Just like what we what I said, unfortunately, the profession gets a bad rap a lot of times have salespeople saying, “How much money do you have, how much can I get from you?” know, that kind of thing. And I will say that my natural personality is competitive, and they’ll get it and see if you can win and do well, sales was a really good fit for me because you constantly reach a goal and then there are other little kicker goals, and then you it was a constant reach…reach…reach, higher…higher, and I really got into that. Unfortunately, my first sales experience in hotels, I was selling event space, which meant I predominantly sold weddings and social events, or Mitzvahs, fundraisers, that kind of thing. The reason I say unfortunately, is because that is a very emotional purchase. And a lot of times they were up against the salesperson who was a competitor, and I wanted to close that contract because I could get to the next one and the next goal and a revenue goal. So I, it was a learning curve for me, I had a wonderful boss, which was most fortunate about because someone in my profession at that time should have gone out and said, “Oh, how did you two meet, let me see the ring, where are you going?” Instead I would come out and lead with, “So where you guys paying for this or your parents?” very like…
Umar Hameed 15:00
Ragan Grossman 15:01
Yes, I need to get in the meat potatoes of this whole thing. And I did have a situation where I was looking back on it, I feel like I was very abrupt and, and really unfortunate that a lady came in a very nice woman without her fiance, she came in, she said, “I’ve always wanted to get married here.” And I thought,” Oh, that’s good to hear.” So I knew that this was something she was passionate about this place, and I put the pressure on as hard as I could, because I was at a, I’m sure some quarterly budget whatever. And I got her to sign a contract for $30,000 food and beverage minimum on the spot, and I mean, I went in with this date, maybe not be available tomorrow, it’s one of our most highly sought after days, I paraded the director of finance out there, making this out to be like it like she needed to decide today or could be the end of the world, and she did. So fast forward, she ended up coming back around and saying that she wanted her money back. So I got called into the director’s office and, and actually I wasn’t being reprimanded because they appreciate it as a for profit company, that I was able to get somebody over the hurdle as quickly as I could, unfortunately, she was having buyer’s remorse, she wanted her fiance to be there, he needed to see the place, and she kind of really backed out of it wanted her deposit back. And I was horrified to be honest with you, I felt like I did her a disservice, you know, I was very selfish and trying to get to a goal for myself, and I kind of steamrolled the process, and this is her wedding, I remember when I got married and went through all that. And I decided at that point, that that was not the kind of seller that I wanted to be, I still want to be competitive and reach the goal but I’m there to please the client, and they need to come out of this transaction happy, not just, I don’t need to just come out with money on my end, you know.
Umar Hameed 17:10
So thank you so much for being transparent and sharing that with us, because you know, that’s, that’s the truth, right? And a lot of people need to hear that, because it’s so easy to get into the quarterly numbers and winning the award and doing that kind of stuff, and sometimes salespeople will kind of get a bad rap. I was doing a consulting gig for a catering company, and they do a lot of weddings, and that’s what made me think of it as you were telling that story. And on the second day of the retreat, I asked the VP of sales, so a lead comes in, then what happens is, “Oh, we take a look at the lead and we figure out who’s going to take it,” said “Okay,” then what happens, then that person reaches out to them, then what happens, they book an appointment, and they come in to kind of see our facility. And then by the time we were finished, it was like a 60,70 step process, from going from initial lead to getting a referral for somebody else’s wedding. And about two months later, I was in the kitchen of that place and everybody hates the salespeople, and one of the people in the kitchen was dissing the salespeople and the top chef went, “No, you have no idea how tough their job is,” because everyone gets a sense that you know, we’re just fancy dinners and fancy meals, and it’s so easy, but sales is hard. And a lot of times we make it look effortless but it’s it’s a tough gig, a lovely gig but a tough one.
Ragan Grossman 18:33
Well it is! And in a in an environment like a hotel, you have your operations people and you have your sales and marketing people and it’s the old adage, we sell the dream and they service the nightmare.
Umar Hameed 18:46
Ragan Grossman 18:47
That is not how it should be, and I got the best advice ever. I started in this business as an assistant in the department. And the first thing that my mentor said to me was, “You are an assistant in the sales department, you will call every department in this hotel and need something,” and they will never call you and need anything. Now in the grand scheme of things, they need us to make sales, but as an assistant, I wasn’t even responsible of that. Basically, she was saying to me, you need to be nice and play nice with everyone because we’re we’re all in it together, it’s one team one dream, but you got to make sure you’re gonna call and you’re gonna ask for rooms to be ready quicker, and you’re going to ask for things to be fixed, and you’re going to ask for laundry to be done, you’re gonna ask for food to be made, and all of these things we do for the clients. And those departments are never going to call you and say we need something from you. So I always relay that message and I always tried to remember that as a salesperson that, “Yes, my job is important, and it needs to be done for the hotel collectively.” But if they didn’t all perform, there will be nothing for me to sell.
Umar Hameed 19:57
Absolutely! And I think you can highlight a problem for a lot of organizations is the tends to be like, here’s the organization and here’s the sales team as a separate thing, and what we need to realize is that we’re one company with one goal. And how do we all work together? I think, if we build up those collaborative relationships, not only, because a lot of times salespeople can set up the expectations in a different way that will make everybody look amazing, and so I think we need everybody to come together and say, “Okay, how do we improve the customer experience, what do we need to do?”
Ragan Grossman 20:36
Correct! And it needs to look at it from all sides because there’s a…if you’re talking about a product, I, I try to be careful about just talking about hotels, because this is applicable to any industry.
Umar Hameed 20:49
Ragan Grossman 20:50
You’re talking about a pharmaceutical drug of some sort of it, you’ve got manufacturing, you’ve got customer service, you have your sales team and it’s their job to all work together, because even though the salespeople are the ones, they present it, they don’t find the clients and you know, the paperwork. The people that provide you with the details to be able to sell are the manufacturers, they are the customer service, you know it, inside and out, and they’re the ones that you need to have on speed dial when clients have questions and those kinds of things. So you’re right, a team approach is paramount in any company.
Umar Hameed 21:31
So I’m not sure what it was that Four Seasons, but I think it’s Rit..Ritz Carlton, any employee had the ability to spend $2,000 to make a customer happy, doesn’t happen every day, but if you go to corporations here in Maryland, and go to a VP, oftentimes, they do not have the authority to make a $2,000 purchase. And they do it specifically that if a customer’s got a problem, something got damaged with the clothing, the make and say, “We’re going to take care of that right now.” No, taking it up the ladder, which I think is pretty amazing. Ragan, what would be two pieces of advice you would give salespeople out there that are selling luxury, that would help them do better?
Ragan Grossman 22:19
Two pieces of advice, I don’t know that, I don’t know if I could narrow it down to two.
Umar Hameed 22:27
So pick one, what would be the top one, which will make it even tougher, but what pops up whatever one is.
Ragan Grossman 22:32
Um, I would say, I probably would have to go back to consistency. The sales process is pretty cut and dry, I mean, people put bells and whistles on and do all kinds of things, but you prospect, you follow up with clients, you pitch to them, you follow through you close, I mean, we do that over and over again. And it’s the quality and consistency of how you do that, that separates the good from the great. And when I say great that I’m not just talking about luxury, that those tend to be the people that excel because you it’s easy to get somebody to buy a $50 hotel room, but try to get them to buy a $1200 hotel room. And the way to do that is with consistency.
Umar Hameed 23:24
Ragan Grossman 23:24
They know every time you call them, you are going to answer, they also need to know that you are going to go to the depths of the earth to make happen, what they want to make happen. So I think that would probably be my bit of advice, is when you think that you’re having a bad day and you don’t want to follow up with these clients, and it’s just easier to tell them, “No, it’s against our policy,” or it’s easier to, you know, turn, turn it down or give it to somebody else…Remember that every day, it has to be the stamina of making it checking every single one of the boxes.
Umar Hameed 24:05
Brilliant! Ragan, thank you so much for being on the show, I learned a lot and once again, I applaud you on your transparency of just sharing, “Sometimes we learn more from the mistakes than we do from the wins.” So thank you.
Ragan Grossman 24:18
Absolutely, Absolutely! Well thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
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