Ms. McIntosh

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Retaining Great Salespeople

Five Key Areas That Keep Your Sales Team Engaged & Committed To Your Organization

By Suzanne McIntosh, President, McIntosh Human Capital Management

Great hotel salespeople are hard to find. Our Sales Leaders and Talent Recruiting Professionals commit time, money and energy recruiting for high performing, passionate and productive salespeople. Our best salespeople consistently drive revenue, inspire confidence and loyalty with our customers, generate new business, increase brand trust and contribute to the company culture. Conversely, turnover is expensive and negatively impacts our property's performance. Successful leaders must cultivate engaging environments and maintain high business standards to retain their salespeople and to create successful teams.

We all strive to create an effective, cohesive sales team, led by an inspiring and motivating leader who consistently drives results. Your salespeople have done a great job of creating relationships and confidence in your service delivery and guest experience. Customers look at turnover of your sales organization as an indicator of "something wrong" with the hotel or company. When they leave, this confidence can be shaken and the client may follow your salesperson to your competition.

In this article, we will explore the five key ways sales leaders can retain their salespeople and what other contributing factors prevent sellers from leaving to join the competition:

  1. Provide a clear path of career development and advancement.
  2. Provide competitive compensation, meaningful incentive plans and extend sincere recognition
  3. Create a culture built on trust.
  4. Have solid brand integrity and consistent service delivery.
  5. Communicate clearly and openly about major organizational changes, mergers and integrations

Setting a Clear Path for Career Opportunities

Aggressive, highly motivated salespeople are always looking for ways to advance their career and increase their earning potential. While a certain amount of "comfort" in a role is important, a complacent Sales Manager will not be looking for the new business and expanding the markets you need to grow your business.

Hospitality salespeople look at their company and leadership to provide a clear path for their growth and career progression. If you give them a realistic and timely road map as to what to expect as their next career step, they are more likely to stick with you. If the company is not growing (or worse retracting), or long term leaders are not "going anywhere", high performing salespeople will look elsewhere to progress their careers. Unfortunately, in the meantime, you have a potentially unmotivated and bored team member, that effects their performance and the entire sales team's morale.

During the annual review process, along with the performance assessment and feedback, a discussion should take place about career development. This is the opportunity to talk with your salesperson about their career aspiration goals, along with the next steps that are planned for their growth by leadership. Whether you operate an independent property, or a brand, it is important to help the salesperson understand where you feel they can progress in their career. If the next step is to another property, is this person open to relocation and where? Does your employee want to progress into a leadership role, or are they best suited to a 100% sales role?

When I was in my role as a Corporate Director of Sales, I kept a record of every member of our seventy-five person team, spread across our fifteen properties and Global Sales Organization, with their current location and if they were open to relocation and where. I knew what their market focus was and what industry segments were their strength. I also noted, with input from their sales leader, what could be their potential next career step. When we had an opening in our sales organization, we referred to this information to promote from within where possible, before looking outside for sales talent. This applied to every level including Sales Coordinators with a desire to move into a sales role. This process accomplished several goals; our team knew we were looking out for their career development, we lowered staff turnover costs by promoting from our internal team and we kept our team motivated and engaged.

Competitive Compensation and Meaningful Recognition

It is important to know that your sales team's salary compensation is competitive with the market. Ongoing salary surveys are required at every level. Make sure your base compensation is commensurate with your market and have bonus plans that are easy to understand and don't change constantly. It must be measurable by the salesperson and they should know at any time where they are to achieving their goals and their bonus payout potential.

Generally, a bonus plan that pays out frequently is the best incentive. A monthly payout is ideal, but generally quarterly payouts with an annual addition is typical. The annual payout also assists with turnover, but if your salesperson is intent on seeking another role, they just stay put until the end of the year. A typical bonus potential that is competitive is 25% of salary. In my previous sales leadership roles, we have had an uncapped bonus that rewarded handsomely our highest performing salespeople. We retained our best people and while they were targets for our competitors, they knew that their earning ability was best in their current role.

As a Hospitality Recruiter, when I am recruiting salespeople for my clients, I seek to understand the candidate's current bonus plan and payout potential to get an overview of their annual compensation. I often hear "I'm not really sure how it works", or "it's so complicated I'm not really sure what I will be receiving" or worse, "it changes all the time, so I don't know what my bonus will be this year". These gray areas about your bonus plan make your team vulnerable to changing roles.

It is also important to have a sales leader that knows how to give each individual member of their team meaningful recognition. None financial rewards are also critical. Do your team leaders express regular verbal appreciation for a job well done? Are successes celebrated with the team? Do your Director's give a public shout out to an individual when a great piece of business is secured? Don't be lulled into the sense that your team is well compensated, with solid bonus plans, so they don't also need verbal appreciation for doing a great job.

Creating a Culture Built on Trust Will Maintain a Stable and Productive Sales Team.

How your sales leaders manage their team is critical. Each member, at every level of seniority, needs to be supervised in a way that works for their work style and personality.

The best salespeople treat their markets as their own business. They develop their territory business plans, cultivate client relationships, prospect for new business and always know where they are to their revenue targets. They plan sales trips, entertain where appropriate, give gifts to their best clients and keep their databases current.

The best leaders nurture, mentor and guide junior salespeople to plan and make good decisions. They check in with their more senior team members on a regular basis, but trust them and give them the autonomy to do what is required to cultivate their markets. They have weekly one on ones with each salesperson on their team. They review call plans and prospecting results with the junior members and have a briefer higher overview with the more senior salespeople. This is also the right time to address a performance issue right away, not to be kept for an annual discussion.

Annual reviews (along with frequent one on ones), are important and while the tendency is to put them off, you should have a culture of timely and planned reviews. Your sales leaders should be guided on how to have a productive discussion. This is not the right time to address a performance issue that occurred months back. Saving up an infraction for an annual review is not only is a poor way to coach and counsel, but it creates an air of mistrust. The employee never knows what other performance issues are being saved up for a later time. It is a two way conversation and your team members should not dread the time with their leader, but see it as a positive opportunity to spend productive time with their boss.

Over managing a seasoned sales professional is de-motivating for the employee. If you don't trust them then they are not the right person. If your sales leader feels the need to set up too many rules for a senior sales manager, then adjusting your leader's management style is important, before you experience high turnover in your best people. Salespeople Take Pride and Have Confidence In Their Hotel, Brand And Customer Experience.
When salespeople are passionate about their property and proud of their brand, they speak with confidence to their clients and new customers.

Your most effective salesperson personally identifies with their product. They are likely to move to an opportunity that they can believe in and present with pride to their customers, if they lose confidence in what they are selling. There's nothing more frustrating for a salesperson when they constantly need to make service excuses or apologies for a less than excellent guest experience. As a sales leader or manager, it is critical to constantly invite customer feedback from your sales organization and immediately act on areas that need improvement. If your sales team do not feel listened to or worse spend valuable sales time ensuring their commitments are executed by the operation, they will leave.

Of course, it is important that your sales organization is integrated in your operation and stay connected with the operating departments, however, if they feel the need to ensure VIP gifts reach rooms, or room allocations are correct, it will cause frustration and turnover.

The best salespeople have a close working relationship with the operating teams that execute their business. They pitch in and help, keep visible within the operation, give feedback to their operating colleagues about client appreciation and inspect where necessary. Your sales organization should not sit in an "ivory tower" from your organization. Conversely too much servicing takes away from revenue producing sales activities.

An Uncertain Future About the Company and/or Confidence in Leadership Can Potentially Empty Out Your Sales Team

We have seen several mergers and integrations of hospitality companies recently. Uncertainty of how an integration or takeover is going to affect future employment, will cause turnover, whether it is a change of property ownership or a major brand merger.

When organizations undergo significant structural changes, how the changes are communicated is critical to your sales organization. Why the change is happening and how it is going to affect their ability to perform must be transparent to your team, otherwise, mistrust and uneasiness can occur and they will explore new opportunities. Before making a major organizational change, sales leaders need to think carefully about who the specific changes include and how they will impact them. It is important to create a plan of action for a smooth implementation and transition.

Every brand and individual property desire a high performing sales organization that is engaged, productive and stable. When turnover starts to occur, it can be expensive, not just the impact it has on immediate revenue, training and recruitment, but clients can lose confidence in your brand and leave with your salesperson to join the competition. As a Sales Leader, you must ensure your team have a clear development path, provide competitive compensation, build a culture of trust, have consistent service and brand standards and communicate major organizational changes. Management and sales leaders need to identify issues within these key areas to discourage sales team turnover and keep top performers.

Suzanne McIntosh is President of McIntosh Human Capital Management (MHCM), a Hospitality Executive Recruitment firm, based in New York City. MHCM recruits and helps build high performing teams for hospitality focused businesses. Ms. McIntosh’s search specialties are Sales and Operations professionals including Vice Presidents of Sales, Directors of Sales and Marketing, Directors of Revenue Management, Group, Leisure and Business Travel Sales Managers, Global Sales Directors, General Managers, Hotel Managers, Directors of Finance and Human Resources and Vice Presidents of Operations. Prior to forming McIntosh Human Capital Management, Ms. McIntosh had extensive experience with prestigious hotels including Four Seasons, Fairmont and Morgans Hotel Group. Washington, D.C. Ms. McIntosh can be contacted at 917-767-2971 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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