3 ways to bridge the sales gap in hospitality

Many people in sales are “accidental salespeople” and did not grow up saying they wanted a career in sales.

This was the case for me. Growing up, I wanted to be a social worker or in a similar line of work where I could help people. Hospitality and travel was a second choice. After completing a co-op in high school at a crisis shelter, I decided this was something I could do on a volunteer basis but was too heart-wrenching to choose as a career.

So off to college I went, where I pursued a three-year program in hospitality and event management. I wanted to be a meeting planner (or so I thought); however, the first job I interviewed for out of college was as a corporate sales manager with Hilton. I couldn’t believe I got the job! I was very excited but thought to myself: “What does that even mean? What does a corporate sales manager do?”

I became an accidental salesperson and 27 years later, I am so grateful that I stumbled into this profession. It has allowed me to grow in incredible ways, work with amazing clients and colleagues, and best of all, I get to help people.

So how do we get more people to choose sales as a career by choice and not by accident?

In David Priemer’s book “Sell the Way You Buy,” the former VP of Salesforce sums it up perfectly: “Everyone is in sales and they don’t teach it.”

According to Priemer, there are approximately 4,000 colleges in the United States and fewer than 100 of them offer sales programs or sales courses. And of the 170,000 MBA graduates in the U.S. each year, only a small fraction learn about sales.

No wonder we all end up becoming accidental salespeople.

And yet, no business has ever succeeded without a sale. A few years ago, The Globe and Mail did an article on the labor shortage and what keeps CEOs up at night. Finding sales talent was in the top five.

So, what is the solution? It is not a quick or easy fix because in addition to lack of awareness and not being taught in schools, there is also a stigma attached to salespeople. As Priemer writes in his book, “When was the last time you enjoyed talking with a salesperson?”

The solution is a three-pronged approach: attract, recruit and retain.

1. Attract: Teach sales in grade schools, high schools and colleges and universities. Do not just teach sales process or sales fundamentals but showcase sales careers in various organizations and have established sales professionals speak at career fairs and classes.

2. Recruit: Polish the unsavory reputation that is attached to the sales profession. Sales associations such as the Canadian Professional Sales Association, the National Association of Sales Professionals, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International and the American Hotel & Lodging Association should develop a public relations and recruitment campaign demonstrating the benefits and rewards of a career in sales. 

If the Chartered Professional Accountants can make the accounting profession sexy, this should be a successful campaign.

3. Retain: Create standards and certifications for all salespeople to take. Many other professions have industry requirements in place to weed out the unqualified. Organizations need to have proper onboarding programs and coaching to develop their salespeople so they do not “wing” it and create inconsistent experiences for customers.

I feel lucky that I stumbled across a career in sales over two decades ago and often wonder how many people are missing out on such a rewarding career because they do not know what it entails. Until colleges and universities, along with professional associations and organizations, come together to attract, recruit and retain sales talent, this issue will continue to keep CEOs up at night.

Tammy Gillis is CEO and founder of Gillis Sales.