Choice Hotels International, Inc. | 1 Choice Hotels Circle, Suite 400 Rockville, MD 20850
Sarah Searls, VP, eCommerce
Tell us about yourself, what brought you here, and why you chose Choice?
Prior to Choice I started my career in politics, but after business school, I worked at AOL for about ten years. The first five years I worked in corporate development, structuring and negotiating various deals to drive acquisition of AOL software. But after I had kids, I wanted a job that offered less travel. I serendipitously fell into the world of analytics, which was awesome because it was an area that I really had- and have- a lot of passion for, and just loved. I worked in various capacities at AOL leading analytical teams.
After my third child, I made a move. I found an opportunity at Choice to build out a marketing analytic function. I loved the opportunity to really be able to create something and build a new capability in an organization. Ultimately, it was that combination of my love of analytics coupled with the opportunity to build out something new.
I love the problem solving element of analytics. I love the opportunity to use information and data to drive strategy. It’s fun to get involved in different areas of the company because right now we have this proliferation of information and data that really allows for a lot more use of information.
You’re new to this position! Previously you held the post of Sr. Director, Business & Analytics Services. What’s different- and exciting- about your new role?
Moving to my current position from Sr. Director has been a pretty big change. I’m moving from a corporate staff role, which was great because I got to learn about all the different aspects of the organization, to leading an operational function, which is to ensure that we have the best eCommerce, web, and mobile products for our customers in order to help drive bookings and ultimately, the value proposition for our franchisees.
Luckily a lot of the work I’ve done, in terms of the industry knowledge, was transferrable. There’s a lot of work within analytics, whether it be web analytics to understand the drivers of a site, visitors, conversion rates, or marketing analytics to better understand what drives visits to our websites- search or display- it’s all applicable to this new role.
What’s different about this position is probably more of the creative element. A good chunk of my time now is spent looking at copy, at new user experiences on the website. That’s been interesting- to work with different types of talent and people, and to use different sides of my brain like that.
How would you summarize what you do, and what you’re doing to help drive Choice?
Our department is responsible for creating the best online/digital customer experience and our goal is to offer a way for people to book hotel rooms in a low-cost way for our hotels, but that also provides a great experience for guests. . Our job is to ensure that we’re staying current with everything that’s happening in the fast-paced, quickly changing landscape of tech, particularly with the proliferation of mobile and cross-device usage. Ultimately, we want to drive bookings and ROI to our franchisee and create great value proposition for Choice Hotels through direct proprietary bookings.
What advice would you give someone who would be coming to work at Choice, and what are the key ingredients for success?
Choice is a phenomenal place to work in that it really is supportive of people who want to take initiative and who want to make an impact and have a seat at the table. Choice offers a lot of opportunity for people who are driven. One of the benefits of working at a company like Choice is that it is small enough that decisions can take place quickly, and people across all different levels can make a significant impact. However, Choice’s scale is large enough that the impact one can make can be significant.
Describe what you’d like to see from folks in tech and e-commerce.
A balanced skill set and a combination of skills that make you more well-rounded and holistic. For the roles we have, we need people who are strategic, who are really thoughtful about the industry and the future, where things can go, and our potential. We also need people to have great executional skills and know how to get things done. We’re building product, we’re working with IT on very detailed requirements, and so we need a combination. We need people who have strong opinions and who can stand up for their perspectives and put forward new ideas, but also people who can collaborate really well across the organization and work well with other stakeholders who have a clear stake on what happens. As an example, our Loyalty group. A lot of what happens in loyalty is what manifests on our website. You need that combination of skills across the board in order to be successful.
So talk to us about current demands being placed in your area of expertise, what you see coming, and how you plan to tackle it.
There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of changes happening within the eCommerce environment, particularly on the mobile front. As the adoption of mobile has just exploded, it creates an opportunity for Choice to extend its digital presence and reach with customers beyond just bookings. This presents huge opportunity for Choice because we have great relationships with the hotels and we can offer customers value and digital experience that extend into their stay.
What is the most rewarding part of the work you are doing? Any big projects you can share?
One of the most rewarding parts of this job is knowing we can do whatever we think makes the most sense for the business. We’re not limited by preconceived notions. We’re encouraged to be innovative, to be thought leaders, and well-structured ideas and business cases are apt to come to life here at Choice, and that is really exciting.