United Airlines made several changes to its sales structure since Jake Cefolia took the reins in August. It put a greater focus on specializing in clients’ industry verticals, tweaked account segmentation and created new sales leadership positions.
Cefolia, United’s senior vice president of worldwide sales, during an interview this month said the changes reflected evolving customer needs and United’s network growth strategy.
Previously, Mark Muren served as managing director over both global corporate and TMC accounts. The airline split that position into two, with Muren retaining oversight on the corporate side and United veteran Joe Tibble serving as managing director for global TMCs.
United added eight salespeople to a group of about 30 handling a portfolio of 100 “global” corporate accounts and another 75 in a newly named “key” corporate account segment. The airline added a fifth director specializing in industry verticals, with financial services joining energy, high tech, consulting and pharmaceuticals.
United also created a new position, vice president of sales strategy and effectiveness, and picked Glenn Hollister to fill it. Hollister had been principal and practice leader for travel and transportation at ZS Associates, a United client and industry consultancy.
While Hollister was at ZS, the firm began piloting direct bookings through United’s website, including access to corporate rates. In May 2018, Hollister told The Company Dime he had been asking United for such functionality for more than a decade. He also said, “No booking tool will ever be as good as a supplier website in presenting that supplier’s options.”
United has experimented with other forms of direct connections to clients, including via blockchain provider Blockskye. The airline has an active connection to Concur’s TripLink. At United, Hollister oversees sales strategy, analysis, support, events, training and systems.
United’s field salesforce of more than 100 people handles the vast majority of the carrier’s 2,000 corporate accounts, segmented into six or seven buckets based on size, Cefolia said. Starter deals for the most modest spenders come in the form of “self-adjusting” Propel contracts. Cefolia said those were one of the more successful avenues for the carrier’s corporate acquisition team.
For larger accounts, “we take pride in customizing,” he said. “It’s hard to say there is a straight-line correlation between size and discounts. There is as much emphasis and focus on travelers’ experience as the economic trade we engage in with customers.”
Meanwhile, United this year activated a new meetings portal as part of its B2B Jetstream site. The airline committed to establishing within one day discounts for airfares associated with client meetings. United meetings clients can apply soft-dollar funds for upgrades, club passes, waivers and other benefits.