Keeping Your Top Salespeople

Working a plan to retain top salespeople is often something that gets overlooked.  People often love their top sales people, but don’t do a good job of making sure they love the company back.  Very few companies can afford to lose their rainmakers and in today’s very competitive demand for quality talent, losing a top salesperson can have a huge impact on any company.   Not only do you lose out on their sales production, but you lose a lot of opportunity during the time it takes to find, hire and bring a new salesperson up to speed.

So why would successful salespeople who are doing well in your company want to leave?   There are several reasons:

  • They got a call – yes, recruiters are calling your top people all the time and whispering sweet nothings about better opportunities all the time.  Your top people may not be proactively looking, but if someone calls them up and says they know of an awesome opportunity, many of them will listen.
  • They feel stuck – many feel they have been in the same role for a few years and want to expand – maybe move to management.  They may have the impression that there is no future opportunity to move up in the organization or get additional responsibilities, or that they only way they will get those opportunities is to go somewhere else.
  • Culture – it’s a word that gets used a lot in various ways, but it’s a real thing.   In short, if they don’t like coming to work because it is not fun, they don’t have friends there, they don’t feel appreciated, etc., then their risk of leaving goes way up.
  • Their boss – this is one of the biggest reasons that people leave.  They don’t like their boss, feel that he/she brings them any value, feels that/he or she doesn’t appreciate their effort, etc.
  • Money – this is listed last on purpose.  It is typically not the primary reason people leave unless they feel unfairly paid.  A good sales person who likes their job, feels appreciated, has opportunities to do more and likes their boss probably is not going to leave to make another $10,000 per year. They all know the “offer” of more money often is higher than what reality would bring.  Now they may bring this to you as leverage to get more money from you, but most will stay (even for less) if you are in the ballpark on pay and they are happy.

If I scared you with some of these possibilities – good!  You should be scared.   In today’s market, people are more apt to make a change.  So what can you do about it?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk to them – this may sound basic, but it gets missed a lot.  Sit down and talk to them about how they are doing.  What do they want to do longer term?  What do they want to get better at?   First, even having this conversation shows that you care about them.  That’s a plus.  But more importantly, you will learn a lot about how to keep them close.  This should just not be done in the “annual review.”  This should be done multiple times per year on an informal basis.  If you have 1 on 1 time with a top performer, ask these questions.  You could find that they are very happy and love what they’re doing.  That would be ideal.  Show appreciation and keep doing these check-ins.  Or, you could find that they are extremely frustrated.  This is not great, but at least now you can address it.
  • Recognize them – Most sales people like recognition.  It can be as simple as a thank you or as much as a “President’s Club” or recognition at a company event for the work they’ve done, but it is imperative that they feel valued for the job they do.
  • Develop them – they may be awesome at their job, but lots of people get stale or bored.  Find things that they can get better at.  Send them to advanced training in some areas they may not have been exposed to.  Pay for some education they are interested in.  Find a way to continually develop them.
  • Give them more – many want more responsibility.  I’ve heard many sales leaders say “they want MY job, and I’m not ready to leave it.”  That may be the case, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t groom them.  Start developing their management skills.  Let them run meetings.  Let them lead a projects.  Maybe give them some strategic accounts or a new product line to pilot.  There are lots of things you can give them without stepping aside yourself.
  • Pay them – DON’T WAIT until they get a better offer, than try to match it.  If they are truly a rock star, proactively boost their salary.  Think of how they would react if you said “We really appreciate the effort and results you have been able to achieve.  Here is a $10,000 per year raise to show our appreciation.  They would be blown away.  Or better yet, develop some deferred compensation where they get a deferred bonus on the success of the company over the next three years.  That’s hard to walk away from.   If you are shuddering at the thought of just giving away money, then stop and compare that to the loss of production and opportunity cost if they leave.

As leaders, we often get sucked into addressing the problems and underperformers in our organizations.  Don’t forget to take care of the stars.

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