Finding Sales Talent in Unexpected Places

By HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board

While a strong sales team is critical to the success of a hotel, many hotel sales and marketing leaders struggle to attract, and retain, top sales talent. 

In our business, it’s common to seek only salespeople with an established track record in hotel sales. This can be an effective approach, but it is not without risks, the least of which being that most top performers probably aren’t looking for a lateral move.

So, what to do? HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board recently solicited advice from leaders in the field, and their advice all boils down to this:  Take an alternate approach to sourcing talent. Here are a few ideas.

Consider associates in other departments of your hotel.

Famously, Roger Dow, currently President & CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, started his career as a life guard at one of the first Marriott hotels, before becoming a housekeeping manager. As Roger tells it, “I was sitting in the cafeteria with my operating buddies from engineering and housekeeping, and these beautifully dressed, really bright and energetic people came in. I asked the engineer who they were and he said, ‘That’s the sales team.’ I asked what they did and he said, ‘as far as I can tell, nothing.’  I was in for all that!” Roger went on to various sales leadership roles during his 34-year career at Marriott, rising to SVP of global and field sales.

Dow said, “My best sales people have always had some combination of athlete, bartender or waiter/waitress in their background. They were competitive, could change their approach customer by customer with a potential positive financial outcome at the end.”

You might be surprised by how many colleagues in your own hotel have an aptitude for sales, or even prior sales experience.

Look outside the industry.

While many sales leaders insist on hotel experience, sales skills can be quite transferable.

Brian Burton, VP of Revenue Strategy & Optimization at White Lodging shared that the toughest thing to teach an outside-of-the-industry rep is the concept of a shared, finite inventory. Once he or she understands that – several people trying to sell the same rooms or the same ballroom on the same day – they lean into their selling skills and approach the acquisition of customers much differently than traditional hotel teams.

“One of my greatest sales hires ever,” said Burton, “was a business developer for the healthcare industry. She was adept at identifying potential accounts and opportunities, and just needed help to translate that into conventions and events.”

Build relationships with the right local colleges.

Developing a pipeline of recent college graduates is an effective approach. Hospitality programs are an obvious choice, but business schools can also serve as talent sources. You may have a college like this in your backyard. If you don’t, it might be worth the trouble to travel to schools that have specialized programs and/or a large enrollment. Most colleges and universities hold career fairs, with corresponding opportunities to interview candidates. Consider recruiting for sales positions at these events.

Also, more and more schools, like Johnson & Wales University and Northern Illinois University, are developing sales-specific courses and programs, which offer a way of targeting students who have shown an interest in sales. Internships can offer a low risk way to see if the fit is right for both sides.

Lure candidates in with an attractive online presence.

Web and social media are the first place most young people go to research career opportunities. However, the typical online sales job posting isn’t terribly enticing. They often read like a generic laundry list of responsibilities

Brian Burton shared that, “One candidate actually told me that he only picked my job to submit a resume for because the way the job was described online sounded fun. It wasn’t just a list of requirements and capabilities. She went on to tell me that she went to to check out what kind of place it was to work. I’m so thankful that I have kept my eye on all these areas because she turned out to be one of the most productive members of our team.”

The next time you’re looking to fill a sales vacancy and the right candidate isn’t obvious, consider some more creative approaches!

About HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board

HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board leverages insights, emerging trends, and industry innovations to fuel sales for hotels. Members include:

  • CHAIR: Ed Skapinok, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Hostmark Hospitality Group
  • C. Becker, Principal, Titan Group of New York, LLC
  • Brian Burton, CHSE,CRME, Vice President Revenue Strategy & Optimization, White Lodging
  • Michelle Crosby, CMP, CTA, DMCP, National Sales Manager, Allied PRA Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Katie Davin, CHSE, Associate Professor, Johnson & Wales University-Providence
  • Lisa Giaimo, VP of Sales & Marketing, OTO Development LLC
  • Melissa Kouvelas, Senior Manager, Worldwide Sales, Best Western Hotels & Resorts
  • Cindy Novotny, CHSE, Managing Partner, Master Connection Associates
  • Mary Patton, Director, Groups and Meetings, InterContinental Hotels Group
  • Joel Pyser, Senior Vice President, Sales, Newmarket, an Amadeus Company
  • Larry Silman, Director of Strategic Sales, Americas, IDeaS – A SAS COMPANY
  • Michael Smith, Vice President, Sales And Marketing, JHM Hotels
  • Jim Vandevender, Chief Development Officer , The Knowland Group
  • Christine Wight, Director of Resort Sales, Angel Fire Resort
  • Tony Yeung, Principal, ZS Associates

Categories: Sales
Insight Type: Articles