For Marriott's New Sales VP, the Hotel Biz Is a Family Affair

It's not uncommon in this industry to find hoteliers who love their work so much that they say it's in their blood. But in the case of Stephanie Coleman Linnartz—recently named senior vice president of global sales at Marriott International—it's true.

The daughter of the Phoenix Park Hotel and Dubliner Irish Restaurant owners in Washington, DC, Linnartz has worked in the industry since her childhood. Her fondness for it never wavered, and after stints in everything from housekeeping as a kid to revenue management as an adult, Linnartz is tackling uncharted waters in her new role.

Previously Marriott's senior VP of sales, marketing planning, and support, Linnartz took time out to talk with MeetingNews.

Q: When you were promoted this summer, you said that Marriott has to think and act globally. How will you have the sales operation do that?

When you think about the statistics for the growth of global tourism, that has to be a focus area for Marriott, with 3,000 hotels worldwide. India and China, especially, are going to be important for me; most economists predict that those countries will have the first and second largest economies within 20 years.

The big question for me is, how do we market and sell to that customer base?

Also, there are so many international travelers coming to the U.S.; how do we get them into our hotels? The Department of Commerce said 29 million international travelers came to the country in the first part of this year; that's up 10 percent from the year before. We want to find ways to capitalize on that.

There's big growth in the meetings market, too. Between now and 2011, we are opening 75 group-friendly properties with over 1 million sf of meeting space. So we have to ask ourselves how we create meeting experiences that are impactful for our customers around the world.

We are working on that very closely with our brand team on a project called "meetings of meetings," to figure out how to distinguish our meetings from our competitors', and how to make them state of the art. A lot of the work there is on food and beverage; I'm seeing some creative work in that area as I attend meetings at various Marriott properties, like unique buffet setups and lighting, food being served that isn't the same as before, as well as different presentations of table linens and tablecloths.

We're also creating unique room setups and trying to think of new ways to market and sell our hotels.

Q: You have also said Marriott needs to be innovative and in touch with the new ways customers are doing business? What are you developing in this regard?

The number-one thing we're doing is Sales Force One (Jan. 28 MN cover story). That started before I took this job a few months ago, but I worked closely with David Marriott on the development of the new sales strategy.

Before, we might have had a half-dozen people calling on a planner. Now, we have deployed our sales force in a more intelligent way so that customers have a primary point of contact.

We're getting tremendous feedback from customers that they like being sold to this way.

We're also doing a lot in e-tools; we launched QuickGroup on (an online booking tool for small meetings), and we just launched a site for third-party planners, which includes an online training program for buyers (Oct. 6 MN, p. 6).

As we think about technology—there wasn't texting, MySpace, and the like even five years ago—the landscape has changed.

Our efforts are helped by the fact that we talk regularly to customers. We hold focus groups, events, surveys, and more to find out what products and services they need.

Q: When you first joined Marriott, you worked in finance and business development, and you later worked in revenue management. Why did you shift from those areas to sales and marketing?

I started my career in sales and operations, at Hilton, and I loved that, but I decided to get my MBA and learn more about real estate and business. But my passion was always sales and marketing.

And the various departments all need to work together: Sales Force One is a perfect example of that; when you make a big change in a company, you don't do it alone. It's done with the support of a lot of disciplines. Having worked in some different areas, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the other disciplines.

Q: How does your parents' ownership of a hotel and bar inform your work today?

I grew up in it, it's a lot of fun. I love the way the industry allows you to have interaction with people. So many happy occasions in people's lives—whether they're deals, successful meetings, weddings, or other celebrations—take place at a hotel, and I have always loved being surrounded by that.

I have five brothers and sisters, and we had to be maids one summer. I was even a PBX operator at one point. It gave me an appreciation. If we didn't have housekeeping, the restaurant, and various departments, I wouldn't have a job in sales. I know you need the whole picture.

I feel lucky that I've been able to do almost every job in a hotel. I just understand it better because of those experiences.

Originally published Nov. 10, 2008