How Are You Engaging Your Sales Team?

Katie Davin, CHBA, Associate Professor, Johnson & Wales University College of Hospitality Management 

Companies with high levels of employee engagement have higher productivity and profitability and lower turnover and absenteeism, according to Gallup research. I asked the Sales Advisory Board how they keep their teams engaged. 

Hands-on learning 

The HSMAI Foundation’s special report on talent identified hands-on learning as a way to engage staff. The Board agreed and described examples.  

One SAB member described the practice of identifying Subject Matter Experts and having those experts teach classes to the team. This method can work across departments, too; for example,  the revenue strategist teaches strategy to the sales team. Another approach is to have someone who doesn’t know something teach a class, which compels that person to learn about the topic so that they can teach it. Another SAB member keeps it simple by rotating the leaders of the weekly sales meeting, providing each team member a regular opportunity for leadership. 

Several sales leaders described opportunities for staff to opt into leadership development programs. One in particular encourages participants to complete projects. When the director needs projects done, she sends details out to the people in the development program. They can choose a project, which helps them learn and demonstrates commitment and growth.  

Collecting feedback 

In his article “How to boost your team’s engagement,” Michael Papay said that collecting input from employees resulted in increased engagement and trust and an improved company culture. Several SAB members provided examples of successes with collecting feedback, adding that analysis and implementation of the results is as important as collecting the information. One member’s company forms focus groups based on employee survey results, and each focus group develops an action plan that the company must execute. Progress is checked quarterly, with mini-surveys – five questions that can be easily and quickly answered on the respondent’s phone. The board agreed that if employees have a stake in the solution, they will embrace it and want it to work. 


Training is essential for employee engagement, particularly for companies or groups going through change. However, “one-and-done” training is not particularly effective. Training cannot be a “to-do” list item to be checked off; spaced repetition to reinforce training is necessary. 

Self-assessment of skill levels can identify training needs. In order to truly identify such needs, leaders must encourage employees to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t know.” That sentence can be scary to say at work, but several SAB members explained that their companies have built a culture that supports such expression, even applauding colleagues who say “I don’t know” in meetings.  

Several sales leaders stressed the importance of team members’ willingness to learn. Some leaders take this philosophy to the hiring process, identifying and selecting applicants who express an interest in learning. 

Defining engagement 

Engagement does not mean all work, all the time. Engagement on the job can be improved by making sure that people have time away from it. Leaders must communicate that time off is essential; they should encourage their teams to use their vacation time, and model this behavior by taking vacations themselves.  

How workers define and demonstrate engagement can vary by generation. An SAB member summarized the philosophy of younger workers, that they “work to live, not live to work.” They can get their work done during work hours, then they leave work and have a life. They may not be interested in after-hours team-building activities, because their time outside of work is really their time. To older generations, that might look like disengagement, when in reality those employees are fully engaged when they are at work. 

Further reading: 

HSMAI Foundation (2024). HSMAI Foundation Special Report: The State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent 2023-2024 

Papay, M. (2021). How To Boost Your Team’s Engagement: Employee voice, a critical element of organizational success. HCM Sales, Marketing & Alliance Excellence, 20(2), 38–39. 

Categories: Sales
Insight Type: Articles