Focus on World-Class, Part 5: Why do we lose salespeople?

In this 12-part series, each post examines one of the 12 best practices identified in the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report. Today’s best practice: “When we lose a salesperson (voluntary/involuntary) we consistently determine the reasons why.”

You’ll hear CEOs say, “Our people are our most important/valuable asset.” But salespeople read reviews on Glassdoor, search for their company on “The Top 100 Companies to Work For,” and even ask themselves, “Does our senior management believe my peers and I are the most important thing around here?” And not all of them are buying what their CEO is selling.

A skill that sales managers have consistently scored poorly on is their ability to hire salespeople who will be successful at that company. When this ability is lacking or not a strength, we find ourselves at the other end of the continuum, asking the practice question above. 95% of World-Class performers answer they agree/strongly agree that they exhibit this behavior, better than twice the rate (42%) of All respondents (which includes World-Class).

There is a business maxim that bears directly on today’s topic: People join companies but quit managers. Consistently through years of surveying, Gallup has reported the number one reason people quit is their relationship with their immediate supervisor. When we combine this maxim with this week’s Top 12 practice, the real question becomes whether we learn from salesperson departures and, if so, what do we learn?

In sales, conventional wisdom holds that not making your number is the quickest/surest path to the exit. But sub-par performance is typically tolerated – or worse, ignored – far longer than anyone would imagine. In all the years we’ve been working with sales organizations, we have yet to hear a manager lament, “You know, I’m not sure I gave that rep enough time to be successful.” Why the disconnect between the belief and the reality?

At the root of it may be the best practice we’re discussing today: consistently determining why a salesperson leaves, and determining a course correction. We see in the chart below that World-Class-performers experience less than half the turnover of all firms. This represents an enormous competitive advantage.

Lower turnover means lower costs: less energy/resources expended on recruiting, hiring and onboarding. New-hire ramp-up periods to full productivity are now longer than six months for two-thirds of companies, and that results in reduced revenue generation. Since few companies discharge over-performing salespeople, the involuntary turnover likely followed some period of time, often extended, as noted above, of under-performance. And when experienced sales professionals voluntarily depart, especially high-performing ones, not only is revenue lost, but also product/industry experience, established relationships, and higher levels of account access.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are sales representative departures truly seen as a breakdown in the rep/sales manager relationship?
  • Do you investigate to determine whether a pattern exists in this breakdown, and take corrective action?
  • Are early departures (less than two years) viewed as a lack of manager ability to hire successfully?
  • Do you demonstrate that salesperson retention and development protects your most important asset?
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