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Managing for Salespeople Retention

salesperson retention - start talking and listening

Say you have a sales team of ten, and only two or three of them are bringing in the big numbers. How would it impact the company if one or more of those people left? Salespeople retention is often overlooked. Many companies will see that a salesperson is good and assume that since they are making good money, they should be happy, and they will stick around. That's dangerous thinking. What happens if that's not the case? How can you make sure your top salespeople will stay? Remember, there are probably recruiters that are calling your top people all the time trying to lure them away.

The Millennial Salesperson

Company loyalty has changed with Millennials and Gen Z's in the work field. About one in three or 35% are millennials, and 33% are Gen Z's. According to the article Attention, Employers: Millennials Have Made Their Demands written by The Atlantic these two groups don't plan to be with a company for the rest of their lives. Even if you don't have those people on your team now, you will at some point in the future.

There are several ways to make sure your top people remain with the company. It starts with a) determining who those top people are and what their impact is on your revenue and profitability and b) figuring out what is important to them in their future? Finding the answers to those questions will make creating a retention plan a lot easier for you.

Foremost you'll want to get proactive; look for:

Do They Believe They Have Enough Opportunities Now and in the Future?

Are there enough accounts, prospects, products to sell, to keep them engaged? A good salesperson will see that if there's a lot of opportunities that they can take advantage of, they are more likely to stay around. If there isn't enough opportunity or they see that the opportunity is shrinking, a salesperson will leave because a) they think someone else has all the good accounts, or b) there's not enough for them because their territory or account base is mature and there is no more to sell.

This happens a lot when you add more people to the team. That almost always means that you need to re-divide up territories or account bases, and everybody's piece of the pie just got smaller. Salespeople will believe that their earning potential just got sliced. If that is the perception, then they may go where the grass is greener.

Recommendation: be proactive and show them how they will earn their money. Show them how many opportunities they have in their territory or account base. Demonstrate how many accounts haven't been called or are not active that they could be calling on. Proving that there is still viable growth to be had, will go a long way with your salesperson.

When it makes sense, give them first crack at new territories or new sets of accounts to call on if they are available. Again, it's all about the salesperson's perception of their ability to make money. Help shape that perception.

Are They Seeking Career Advancement?

Do they want to move to the next level? Do they want to be a VP of sales? Do they want additional responsibility? This is super common because many salespeople assume it is the next step in their career.

For instance, if you're the sales leader and your salesperson comes to you saying they want to be the sales leader, but you have no plans to leave the company, that's a problem. If you tell them, "There is no place to promote you to," that feels like a dead-end, and they could again leave for greener pastures.

Recommendation: TALK TO THEM. Ask your salesperson what they want and be honest about their sales skillset vs. leadership skills. If they're going to be a sales leader even if the position isn't available right now, that doesn't mean you can't have a good conversation with them and start developing those leadership skills.

Give them someone to mentor, let them run a project, let them run some meetings, see how that person does in that particular role. Then have conversations with them about how they can develop those skills or determine if they even like that role. It all starts with understanding what they want. Remember, part of your role as a leader is to prepare your replacement. Don't waste this opportunity.

There are some salespeople who think they want to be a leader, and after a little taste, they say, "Nope, not for me, I'll stick to selling." However, unless you ask them, you'll never know this. The difference is letting them test the water vs. having them come to you and telling you they are leaving because they can be VP at a different company.

How Is Their Relationship With You?

Repeated research shows that the most significant reason people leave a company is that they have an issue with the person they report to. This is a far bigger reason that people leave because of money. If a salesperson doesn't like their leader, if they don't get value from them, if they are at odds with their leader, or if they aren't aligned on specific points, that's a sure-fire way to scare off your best people.

Recommendation: have an open discussion with them, ask them how's the relationship going? Ask if they are getting value or if there is something you can do for them to get more profit. If there is even a slight hint of a problem there, then start addressing it fast. Part of your job is to be on their side and help them achieve their goals.

That does not mean doing things for them, but coaching them, mentoring them, and adding value. Consider this – are you someone they want to come to because you teach them and they value your input or are you, someone, they talk to because they have to?

Are They Seeking More Money?

Money is hardly ever the top reason for a salesperson to leave a company. But, it's one of the first things a company will offer to make that salesperson stay. A study conducted by Gallup states, "50% of people don't leave because of the money." A salesperson has a good influence on how much money they are going to bring in through their own sales efforts, so money is often not a leading cause for quitting.

However, some will leave because they think that their base pay or benefits are not competitive. Many will research other companies and cherry-pick the high base salary from this company and the aggressive commission rate from that company and the super benefits from a third company. They will then present them to you as "this is what is fair."

Recommendation: Do your research to see if you are competitive in the market. Share your research with them. Don't let them cherry-pick. However, if someone earns it, give them a bump in their base pay. If they have been rockin' it in the field, a little raise to them can go a long way in retaining them.

Compare that raise to the loss in revenue that you could experience if they leave. This is a tight market and good salespeople are becoming harder and harder to replace. But don't hand them a blank check as they are walking out the door. This method of 'saving them' rarely works out in the long run.

In The End

To retain your salespeople and keep them locked in, the answer could be to give them additional responsibilities, let them mentor someone, reward them monetarily, or improve your relationship with them. But it all starts with talking and listening to what they want and have to say.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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