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Casting a wide net for sales talent
March 20 2013

Hotel companies employ a variety of strategies to attract the best and brightest into sales careers.

  • “We find sales-oriented GMs tend to be very successful in this business,” said Bob Foley of Pyramid Hotel Group.
  • Hostmark Hospitality and Pyramid cast wide nets in their searches for quality sales talent.
  • Remington Hotels has a partnership with University of Wisconsin-Stout to train students in hotel sales.
By Ed Watkins
HNN contributor

GLOBAL REPORT—It’s an old business maxim that everything starts with a sale. Traditionally, however, sales was not considered to be the best path to leadership roles in the hotel industry. According to a number of sources, that sentiment seems to be changing, if it ever was true.

“There is a misconception in our industry that you must ultimately go into operations to have a long-term successful career,” said Cory Chambers, corporate director of sales and marketing, full service, for White Lodging. “It probably wasn’t true in the past, and it’s definitely not true today.”

Like many hotel companies, Pyramid Hotel Group not only encourages GMs to be involved in the sales process, it requires them to do so. Each GM must make a set number of sales calls a week in conjunction with the property’s director of sales or other senior sales people.

“Our hotels are mostly in the top 25 markets, where GMs must be aggressive and understand both their numbers and also where their business in coming from,” said Chief Talent Officer Bob Foley, noting that 65% of GMs at the company’s 44 hotels have backgrounds in sales. “We find sales-oriented GMs tend to be very successful in this business.”

Casting a wide net
Both Hostmark Hospitality Group and Pyramid cast wide nets in their searches for quality sales talent, particularly at the entry level.

“We’d like to say we only recruit people who are interested in sales, but that isn’t the case,” said Brian Tkac, senior VP of marketing and sales for Hostmark, which operates 38 hotels. Instead, the company recruits recent college graduates into its internship program. Once hired, Hostmark administers behavioral tests that help the company identify interns and other entry-level managers who might be well-suited for sales.

Tkac said he prefers to recruit from hotel schools, but it’s not a requirement.

“We consider graduates with degrees in business or even liberal arts,” he said. “I also keep on my radar graduates with degrees in disciplines such as psychology or economics because they may be able to bring different perspectives to our industry.”

Tkac said the traits that make a good salesperson haven’t changed dramatically over the years. The best salespeople, he said, are “relationship focused and are good communicators.” Technology has made a significant difference in how hotel sales professionals function, he added.

Tkac said he encourages everyone on his sales teams to use social networks as a prospecting and customer relationship tool. He says LinkedIn can be particularly effective as a way for salespeople to continue their conversations with people who might be decision makers.

Pyramid created a talent acquisition portal of nearly 150,000 resumes and job applications the company has received and which individual properties can use to look for specific hires. It also developed a proprietary website applicants can use to post their resumes.

And it has a manager-in-training program that each year includes five to 10 sales trainees, each of which is assigned to a sales manager at a hotel. While Pyramid recruits entry-level salespeople from top hotel schools, Foley said the company also looks internally for associates from front desk, catering or other departments who might be strong sales candidates.

“And we’ve trained our people to always be on the look-out for possible recruits,” he said. “We use (Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International) meetings or any places salespeople congregate as a platform to introduce our company.”

White Lodging, which operates 161 hotels, views sales recruiting in a slightly different way. As Chambers said, the company doesn’t necessarily recruit people looking to get into the hotel business. Rather, it seeks candidates looking for a career in sales. That approach requires some education.

“The hotel business management model isn’t necessarily intuitive to people outside of the industry,” he said. “It can be confusing to people, so we must be deliberate in educating our entry-level prospects on the industry and White as an employment opportunity.”

Robert A. Gilbert, president and CEO of HSMAI, thinks in addition to hotel schools, hoteliers should look internally for potential sales candidates.

“Many good sales people come from within hotels, perhaps from reservations or the front desk,” he said. “They’ve been selling as part of their jobs and they understand the hotel business and know their properties. They also have an affinity for the community in which their hotel is located.”

A connection to academia
Hotel companies looking to find good candidates for entry-level sales positions might follow the example of a partnership Remington Hotels has with the School of Hospitality Leadership at University of Wisconsin-Stout. According to Laila Rach, associate dean of the school, Remington sponsors a live sales laboratory at the school, in which students participate in the company’s sales efforts in a two-year program.

“In the first year, students conduct the behind-the-scenes research on new prospects,” she said. “They then brief the second-year students who make calls to the companies on behalf of Remington. In addition, the students participate in Remington sales blitzes.”

Traits and requirements
The profile of a successful hotel salesperson has changed over the years. As Foley of Pyramid said, at one time a sales job involved “walking into an office building and going floor to floor hoping to meet the right people you might be able to do business with.”

“Today, we look for aggressive people who are also organized and understand social media and the different databases and etiquettes to penetrate organizations,” he said. “Today, it’s all about the intelligence you can gather on companies, which along with social media is how you get to your customers.”

While building business is the ultimate goal for salespeople, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide believes other factors are also important, said Asad Ahmed, VP of sales for Starwood’s Europe, Africa and Middle East division.

“When we think of new sales talent for either at the hotel level or a divisional or global spot we look at candidates from a cultural perspective,” he said. “The sales function is migrating from a purely transactional role to more consultative in nature. As a result, we look for candidates that have transactional excellence but at the same time are skilled at building relationships. Another key is they must have a passion for the product they’re selling.”

Also important, Ahmed said, is “versatility, adaptability and an ability to be agile in how we work in this environment. In the EAME marketplace, in particular, things change on a daily basis. There are socio-economic-political factors that are outside of our control but which have a direct impact on how we manage our business on a daily basis.”

Rach believes hotel sales people today need more than type-A personalities to succeed in the business.

“There’s been an evolution in hotel sales in the past 10 to 20 years,” she said. “Today, a successful salesperson needs something beyond charisma. They need the kind of hard skills that enables them to understand demand management, revenue management and a lot more. Even entry-level salespeople need to be savvier than a salesperson was even a generation ago.”

The GM’s role
While hiring entry-level sales personnel is important for all hotels and companies, the sales effort in a property most often starts the top: the GM.

“The best GMs in the industry have embraced that attitude and are very engaged with their sales teams and with their customer bases,” said Chambers of White Lodging. “We’ve had two deep and prolonged recessions in the past 12 years, and that has put a premium on the value of the guest. GMs who set the tone by taking care of the guest and engaging the guest at a very high level will perform well in the good times but will also sustain that success as the market cycles in the other direction.”

In limited-service hotels, GMs are often also the sales directors. As such, said Gilbert of HSMAI, they need to be disciplined in how they allocate their time so they’re able to interact with key accounts and prospects as much as possible.

“As you go up in property size, it gets even more complicated,” Gilbert said. “The GM should have some type of relationship with key accounts, but he or she also needs to take a supervisory position. They need to strategically understand how to best allocate sales resources and also assist in the process.”

Jeff Beck
3/25/2013 3:34:00 PM
The key difference today is stated very clearly in the article. Business acumen - knowing not only where to find the business, but also whether it is best piece of business for the hotel. Personality can get you in the door, but analytics is the key
Robert M. Peterson
3/22/2013 4:58:00 PM
Try having a successful hotel without customers. A sales background should help a GM's laser focus on customer problem solving, hitting numbers, asking questions to discern needs, team orientation, knowing how to lose and certainly how to celebrate. If you can manage salespeople you can manage most others. Revenue generators are an interesting lot, what's on their minds generally comes out of their months, a nice training ground for future GMs. Most Fortune 500 firms have CEOs from either finance or sales...which one do you want being the outward face of the hotel? Don't get me wrong, while sales is the grounding philosophy, an effective GM will need to know finance, psychology, EEOC, OSHA, technology, a few languages, an ability to interpret what Corporate really wants, how to operate without sleep...
3/22/2013 3:25:00 PM
I came up with and presented a TOP 5 many years ago and still see it as funny and relevant today. I will share the top 3: Top 5 (3) Statements / Indicators That Your GM Is Not Engaged in Sales 3. Director of Sales? When did we get one of those? 2. His rolodex has the name / number to the DOS from five years ago in it. 1. He Uses Yahoomap to find his way to the Sales Office.
3/22/2013 2:52:00 PM
Having 10 years w/ Hilton and now 3 years with another company I can agree that when I started in this business it was considered sales folks did not make good GMs. Flash forward now 6 of those 13 years as a GM and my sales background is a huge plus for me, my property and my team. I'm glad the higher ups are finally catching up! :)
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