The statistics are daunting: Turnover for sales jobs, on average, is 25 to 30 percent per year. Extrapolated, that means you’re replacing your entire sales team every three to four years. Of course, your salespeople are not statistics, they’re individuals with goals, motivation, and a need for personal fulfillment. As a marketing executive, I’ve worked with both BtoB and BtoC sales teams. I’ve seen a high correlation between the company’s commitment to supporting and developing each individual and the loyalty they get in return.
Salespeople are known to follow the money; chasing higher compensation even if it means frequent job-hopping. This reputation causes management to focus on replacement hiring rather than retention; investing in competition-beating pay structures over job satisfaction.
Retaining the best salespeople starts with hiring the best fit. This means being clear on the traits that make someone successful in your company and defining those traits in the job posting. Look for people with experience and results, but also assess personality fit and the soft skills that will your new hire integrate with the team.
Training and onboarding is also vital. Perhaps more important than product and process knowledge is immersion in brand image, company values, and your customer service philosophy. Be clear about what makes your company unique so salespeople can sell not only the product but the brand. Development that’s ongoing sends the message that the company cares about the growth of each team member. Training that’s aligned with company values helps tie each employee with the brand.
Successful salespeople are confident and independent. It’s these traits that motivate them to build relationships with customers and persistently pursue new business leads. I’ve also seen that these traits can lead to a “free agent” mentality; building a personal brand that’s not synchronous with the company brand. There’s a practical aspect to this, of course. If the company isn’t loyal to its employees, the employee can pack up their brand and ply their trade elsewhere with very little transition time.
A salesperson who believes their manager is dedicated to their success is more likely to make a long-term commitment to the job. But there’s no easy way to say this; some salespeople don’t trust their managers. Companies that elevate high-producers into the manager role, while having them maintain their book of business, are setting up a structure in which salespeople are competing with the person they depend on for support and development. Consider carefully the personal dynamics that are influenced by the structure of the sales team.
Support staff is also an important component in demonstrating to the sales team that the company is making a commitment to their success. If support staff can’t be trusted to provide accurate follow-up and thorough post-sale service, salespeople will resist trusting them with their clients. The salesperson will spend more and more of their efforts on account maintenance activities. This leads to resentment and takes time away from the pursuit of new business.
Support also comes in the form of consistent, usable marketing and sales pieces. Materials used in the sales process are like the clothing worn on a sales call. It must be appropriate, high quality, and enhance the image of what’s being presented. I’ve seen more than a few salespeople who reject the materials they’re provided and decide to create their own, even resort to “borrowing” content from competitors.
The revolving door will never completely stop, but you can put practical measures in place to retain a productive and loyal sales team. It starts with hiring and involves every aspect of the job, including onboarding, training, and support.