How to Retain Your Best Sales Talents
One of the biggest growth challenges facing CEOs and sales leaders is hiring and retaining enough sales talent. According to our internal SBI benchmarking, most B2B sales organizations left December 2021 with a startling 10-15% open sales headcount. But the actual figure for “selling capacity at risk” is closer to 50-60% when taking into account the open headcount, expected attrition of sales professionals, declining levels of productivity due to a glut of new hires in recent months and growth hiring needed to meet higher needs. revenue goals. Even this figure underestimates the urgency of the challenge for many organizations.
Yet many CEOs and business leaders are trying to make the Great Resignation go away. Most CEOs I’ve spoken with believe that the surge in sales professional revenue seen through 2021 has “worked its way through the system.” The commonly cited challenge is that of hiring, not retaining and engaging, valuable sales talent (especially top performers). They believe that the sales professionals who were going to leave have already left. Those who were going to retire did so.
Further exacerbating this challenge: most CEOs and sales leaders are woefully underprepared to fill this growing gap in sales capability and support increased hiring in the face of anemic training and onboarding and enablement resources. , which were reduced in 2020 and 2021.
Challenge your instinct to hold back.
In a recent survey conducted from December 2021 to January 2022, SBI and Top Percentile Collective interviewed 650 sales professionals subject to quotas to understand how sales organizations can better engage and retain sales professionals in an unpredictable job market. . Although this search was indexed on technology and technology services companies, our sample covered nearly a dozen industries, and the implications are broadly applicable.
One of the key findings: job search behaviors among sales professionals persist and do so at remarkably unnoticed levels. Our research revealed that most sales professionals (56%) were actively looking for a new job. These job search behaviors included recently updating and circulating a resume, applying for a different position, talking to a recruiter, or committing to a deadline to leave your current position. These are active, deliberate behaviors, not passive thoughts. Top performing sales professionals, identified as having recently beaten their plan and qualifying for a top performance award (i.e., President’s Club or equivalent), have demonstrated just as much research into employment than the larger sample, with 57% reporting such behaviour.
Many leaders cite generational job search preferences as the cause of high turnover. They argue that the millennial and Gen Z workforce is more transient. But current job search behaviors are widely prevalent among generational cohorts, and more prevalent among older Gen Xers in the 45-55 age bracket (67% of this cohort actively exhibit job search behaviors). job search). 59% of sales professionals aged 25-34 are looking for a new role, as are 48% of sales professionals aged 35-44 and 45% of those over 55.
Even so, CEOs generally report higher employee engagement scores and satisfaction levels, citing this as evidence of the decline in the big quit. Unfortunately, satisfaction is a poor predictor of loyalty. Nearly half (41%) of sales professionals surveyed said they are happy with their role but are still looking for a new job, and 44% of satisfied high performers are actively looking.
Help build careers.
Our research came to a remarkably stark conclusion: compensation adjustments, work-life balance, immediate promotion opportunities, title adjustments, and the reaffirmation of a strong sales culture have little impact on the retention.
Compensation is by far the most frequently used lever to mitigate turnover, but it had a remarkably small impact in our analysis. Base salary adjustments are generally considered marginal for sales professionals, where highly leveraged variable plans are the norm. Sellers attribute much greater impact to providing a crystal-clear path to success in their territory. Indeed, salespeople value such a path to success three times more than compensation adjustments.
CEOs and sales managers also traditionally prioritize the sales process, sales technology, sales culture, and work-life balance. Unfortunately, these factors do not have a particular impact on retention either. What sales professionals really appreciate are companies that are committed to their short-term and long-term success. When it comes to stay or go, salespeople prioritize how the company will champion and help them succeed in the short term and grow in the long term as sales professionals. To do this, leaders must build salespeople’s confidence in their ability to provide short- and long-term career leverage, broad advocacy to leaders, and a path to near-term success.
Offer future employability on title bumps.
Organizations with less attrition and fewer salespeople looking for new opportunities prioritize building their sales force over buying it. They organically develop sales talent, pushing and encouraging salespeople to learn new business skills and abilities.
Unfortunately, most CEOs simply post a career path, promote a small number of salespeople to new titles, with a marginal increase in pay, and hope that keeps their best and brightest. Our data showed that such actions yield little benefit. Retention is not improved by creating new levels of meaningless headings. Savvy leaders realize that the productivity benefits of hiring a strong salesperson for six, 12, or 18 more months will significantly outweigh comparable efforts with new hires.
Organizations moving in this direction are quickly reinvesting in sales support, which many organizations effectively dismantled in the early days of the pandemic. Enablement in large organizations is loaded with true capacity building – and not simply relegated to onboarding and training on the chosen method of selling. Increasingly, we’re seeing leading sales support organizations become more like a product organization: actively developing and managing new capabilities, eliminating inefficient processes, and putting in place smart steps to better understand the sales efficiency. These organizations develop different enablement “products” for distinct segments of the team, including permanent salespeople, experienced and new front-line managers, as well as new and entry-level business roles. Salespeople can perceive significant development opportunities and they have the means to document, demonstrate and “feel” their personal progression, whatever their career stage. This is distinctly different from the brand of “experiential learning” that most organizations profess, which boils down to little more than occasional coaching and praise from managers.
The C-Suite must accompany the sellers.
Many CEOs – especially those with a product or finance background – are comfortable allowing their business organization to exist on its own island. The sales leader owns the sales culture, and a determined sales leader will protect that culture tooth and nail. However, our analysis has shown that sales promotion by cross-functional leadership teams – extending well beyond the sales organization – is another characteristic of companies with relatively lower sales attrition.
While a great sales leader certainly makes a big difference, the entire C-suite should engage with sellers, signal open-door policies, and show a keen interest and support for seller activity. The most influential drivers of this type of seller advocacy include the ability of strong frontline sellers to reach out to their leadership team with questions and feedback, effective sharing of information from the executive audience, and an inclusive culture that encourages sellers to speak up.
Demystify the salesperson’s path to success.
One of the hallmarks of the top companies we analyzed was their efforts to transparently quantify and detail the territory’s assumptions and expectations of sellers. The key is to help sellers envision a realistic, albeit challenging, path to outperformance – and ultimately their payout accelerators. We’ve seen other organizations extend this best practice by sharing territory quality analysis with new candidates, helping potential sellers envision a path to success in a new organization with a new territory, and ensuring that new talents will not receive a “reconstituted territory”. made up of castaways from other sellers. If sellers don’t believe they have the terrain to succeed, they will start looking for new opportunities.
Our analysis showed that most salespeople surveyed generate the bulk of their own pipeline, and only 15% of salespeople agreed that marketing generates a quality pipeline. CEOs with underperforming marketing teams should impose clearer mid- and bottom-of-funnel contribution goals and focus on improving lead qualification and development protocols at the top of the funnel. funnel. For organizations that identify the need to improve sales and marketing coordination, consider building unified teams or, at a minimum, creating shared goals and common KPIs.
Reinvigorate your retention strategy.
CEOs and sales managers can reduce the chances of salespeople starting to explore new opportunities by improving performance in the three areas we’ve explored in this article. However, the improvements that matter most to sellers are typically under-resourced today and require top-down change. These actions are not costly, but they have remarkably powerful economic consequences. Although retention bonuses and compensation bonuses can temporarily stem a disastrous turnover situation, they will not solve the problem. Re-energizing your strategy for short-term seller belief and longer-term career building is the smartest move.