Authentic Collaboration Between Sales and Hospitality Leads to a Positive Work Environment and Strong Cash Flow
By Matt McDaniel
Shell Vacations is one of the nation’s most respected independent vacation ownership developers in the United States, with 24 resorts in the U.S., Mexico and Canada that are operated by or affiliated with the company. But Shell Vacations, which is headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois, is not what most people would call a traditional timeshare company.
Shell Vacations has long been known for a motto coined by Sheldon Ginsburg, company chairman and CEO: “Have fun and make money – in that order.” Neither happen by accident, though – there is a very special “people chemistry” at Shell Vacations.
Ginsburg is quick to point out that much of his company’s success is due the team of professionals, with the emphasis on team. President and COO Tracy Sherles is extremely proud of the unity and “oneness” that creates synergies, solutions and, most importantly, cash flow. “This team thinks like a unit and focuses steadfastly on a common goal. There are no egos that get in the way” – especially with respect to people like Susan Kelley, president of Shell Vacations Hospitality and Shell Vacations Club, and Jack Chevrier, executive vice president of sales and marketing. In many timeshare companies, these executives would be mortal enemies, waging the eternal war between operations and sales. There is no lack of shared-ownership resort companies where the sales staff tells operations, “you wouldn’t have a job without me” and operations loathes the sight of every salesperson from the bottom of the organization to the top.
But it’s not that way at Shell Vacations.
Delivering the Dream
Everyone in timesharing knows the sales and marketing teams sell dreams of wonderful vacations every day. But delivering the dream occurs long after they leave the sales table. “Club members and guests make the call to Shell Vacations and it’s up to the vacation counselors to fulfill their vacation requests,” Chevrier says. “And then when they get to the resort, the vacation experience has to equal or exceed their expectations based on what the sales team sold.”
“At our company,” Chevrier continues, “the operations team has worked hand-in-hand with the sales side to deliver that. Whereas at some places the timeshare side is the driver, if you will, and operations takes the back seat. Here at Shell Vacations, we’re both in the front seat of the car and we drive together.”
Evolving the Business
“I can tell you that in years past there was a very big conflict between operations and sales and marketing,” Kelley explains to me on a conference call in which Chevrier is also on the line. “That conflict doesn’t exist anymore,” she says. “Jack and I look at every aspect of our business to try to determine what is going to produce the greatest amount of cash flow for the company. And if we look at a particular situation and decide together that in this case sales and marketing is going to produce the biggest piece of cash, then I back off and support what Jack is going to do and vice versa.”
The way Kelley describes it, it sounds as if Shell Vacations has essentially evolved the business – with that classic tension between raising room rates and accommodating marketing guests at low rates no longer being a struggle.
It’s certainly refreshing to see a timeshare company that isn’t fighting over the sand in the sandbox. Still thinking that it’s too good to be true, though, I ask them both what they would like to see changed in each other’s divisions. [member]
“I know this may sound stupid, but I wouldn’t change a darn thing we’re doing right now,” Chevrier states. “Sue’s team is moving full speed in the right direction on all fronts,” he continues. “And any time there’s any kind of challenge, they’re approaching it properly and they’re moving through those challenges.”
Chevrier goes on to make a dining analogy: “If you go to a five-star restaurant and get terrible service, you’ll never go back,” he says. “We may not have the same type of accommodations everywhere, but we clearly have five-star service everywhere. That makes a major difference. There’s nothing in Sue’s division that I would change.”
Kelley agrees completely, and then reflects on the pre-Chevrier past. “If you had asked me that question years ago I would have given you an entirely different answer,” she says. “However, our relationship with sales has changed so radically that sometimes even I can’t believe it.”
Chevrier, a consummate salesperson, knows when accolades begin to sound a bit over the top. “You might think this is smoke and mirrors,” he observes, “but it’s really sincere from our hearts.”
“Absolutely,” agrees Kelley.
A Friendship Formed
“Sue’s a great, great, great co-worker and is easy to get along with,” says Chevrier. “She has so much experience in the business, including sales and marketing … she’s done it all. She understands every aspect of our business, and it’s really a pleasure to work with somebody who has the experience.”
Chevrier says that because he and Kelley share the same corporate goals, she is open to his ideas as he is to hers. “Working together we’ve got high occupancy and good in-house prospects, which is where we make the most yield. I’ve never had a counterpart with whom I’ve worked so well in the past, and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years.”
Kelley, who’s also been in the business for more than three decades, says there’s a mutual trust and respect, “but more important than any of that I like Jack and I consider him a friend. And that makes running this business a whole heck of a lot easier.”
But, of course, it’s much more than a friendship or affable personalities that make an organization successful. Both Chevrier and Kelley run their areas well, and the corporate collaboration is the lifeblood running through the hearts of both divisions.
Chevrier says when he wanted to make changes in sales he was able to capitalize on what operations had already accomplished. “We needed a fairly fundamental training platform that we could roll out and manage companywide. Instead of having to develop it ourselves, Sue shared what they were doing in operations and it was great. She had a great foundation of collateral, trainers, systems and processes in place, and it was consistent. We’re pretty much taking Sue’s best practices and using them in the sales department rather than create something new. It’s working perfectly.” This company-wide focus on training has resulted in the expansion of the divisional Shell Vacations Hospitality University into an overall Shell Vacations University that is accessible across the entire company and now includes sales and marketing.
Another typical example of this collaboration is that Chevrier regularly invites Kelley to speak to his sales teams at the company’s various sales locations. “It’s proved to be so incredibly helpful to our member services operation, our onsite resort teams and our sales teams that we all have the same information. We all have the same knowledge about customer expectations, quality of product, what our benefit offerings are, how they function, how to access them and how to present them to the customer,” Kelley notes. “The customer wins and the whole company wins, because everybody is on the same page.”
The trust and collaboration are so great that neither vets the other’s presentations. In fact, they don’t even feel a need to be there when the other speaks – there’s no need for “re-interpretation” or any kind of departmental spinning required.
The results of this collaborative environment are indeed impressive. The member services team reports that in the past year to 18 months (from around the time that Kelley and Chevrier began working collaboratively) customer complaints have essentially vanished. “That’s because Jack’s team and mine talk very frequently and are on the exact same page, which has been such a success for us and
extraordinarily unique in this business,” Kelley states. “High-touch service has been implemented everywhere we touch a customer in what we call the Circle of Life. The result has been increased customer satisfaction, with ratings consistently in the 93% to 95% range. And just as importantly, employee teams from all parts of the company feel greater satisfaction in knowing their contributions truly make a difference.”
As this team strategically plans for the future, Chevrier and Kelley will continue to look cooperatively at opportunities for expansion and collectively at ways to drive efficiencies and, most importantly, they will keep their eyes firmly focused on company cash flow. [/member]