Help wanted… desperately. But, sales organizations need the right help.

In our 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study, attrition (combined voluntary and involuntary) was reported as 15% cross-industry and geography. This is one of the lowest figures we’ve seen in years and a continuing trend in decline. (Of course, some industries, such as SaaS tech, remain notably high).

At the same time that these numbers are dropping, the concerns over getting the right talent into the organization have increased. We rarely have a conversation about trends with senior sales leaders without the subject of talent coming up.

If most have a stable sales force, then why are they so worried?

Attrition is still costly. Low attrition in your company may well mean it is low in the places where you recruit, reducing the pool and increasing the asking price of available talent. Organizations also told us that the average time to onboard a new seller to productivity was six months. That is a huge expense on top of recruiting costs and other people costs. In addition, you can expect a drop in territory revenues until a new seller gets up to speed. And since attrition is nominally lower than in the past, most organizations aren’t being proactive enough to look into its root causes. They’ve been lulled into complacency around this expense. Less than half (42%) of survey respondents said that, “when we lose a salesperson, we consistently determined the reasons why.”

You may be losing the wrong people. This same study showed that the top 20% of the sales force is responsible for over half (54%) of total revenues. Losing one or more of your best can destroy a business. Unfortunately, while most sales organizations know who this 20% is, they rarely know why. Only 38% of respondents to our survey said that they “continually assess why our top performers are successful.” Without knowing what is driving success it will be impossible to replicate it in others (incumbent and new hires). As a result, you are at risk.

You may be keeping the wrong people. Macroeconomic trends, the fruition of AI, innovations in products/services and changes in buying behaviors are altering the very definition of what it means to sell. No one is sure exactly what the successful salesperson of the future will look like. However, most are seeing a move towards competencies such as analytical skills, problem solving, systems thinking and learning agility versus traditional hiring attributes of customer-orientation and the like. The sales force of the future may be closer than you think.

I once worked with a professional services firm to create a new hiring profile. We used a predictive assessment to identify the traits and competencies that differentiated high performers from low performers. What we uncovered was that the highest performers demonstrated a problematic attribute: working outside the system. This caused us to look closely at how we identified “high performers.”

We had used purely revenues. However, on further reflection, we found that these sellers sold a lot of low-profit deals, had inherited a lot of accounts from previous sellers, constantly created customer recovery issues due to working outside of policy and reported declining revenues versus previous years. In short, the business was passing them by. We actually did not want to replicate the behaviors of these salespeople. So instead we used the data to identify the traits unique to those salespeople who were becoming more successful and were doing a better job adapting to critical market changes.

Hiring is an opportunity to build the critical mass to affect change on a large scale. In addition to the 15% of salespeople lost to attrition, 60% of organizations stated that they would be growing the size of their sales force. For a sales force of 100 looking to grow its size 10%, this means changing the composition of almost a quarter their sales force in one year. (Fifteen attrition replacements plus 10 to expand the sales force means 25, or 23% of the new sales team, will be new.)

Make the right choices on who to hire and you can very quickly build your sales team into one capable of new and transformative things.

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