Mission accomplished! You recruited and hired a terrific new salesperson for your sales team. You’ve got boatloads of confidence that with this latest hire, your team is finally complete and ready to take on the world. But days later, while just starting training for your new superstar, one of your trusted performers announces he is leaving. It hits you like a bolt of lightning and practically knocks you out of your wing tips. Frankly, the fact you didn’t see it coming is one of the many possible reasons it DID happen. And unless you devote as much (preferably more) attention on retaining key sales performers as you do on recruiting and hiring them, you’ll find yourself in a constant loop: recruit, hire, train, recruit, hire, train.
What can you do to avoid this vicious cycle and keep your top performers in your camp?
Understand Why Salespeople Leave in the First Place
It’s tempting to believe that salespeople only leave a company because they are lured away by a more attractive sales compensation package elsewhere. Sure, this happens, but it is, at best, just one reason in a sea of potential factors. The first thing to remember for sales personnel retention is that salespeople are, well, people! And because they are human, they have hopes, dreams and aspirations as well as baseline financial requirements. It pays to remember Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when attempting to understand what your salespeople want and need. Maslow’s theory suggests that humans need first a solid foundation of those things necessary for survival, including food, water, sleep, and so on. Upon that foundation, they need safety and security, including financial security. It is at this level that many Sales Managers and sales leaders focus nearly all their attention. And yet, on Maslow’s pyramid, this is only level 2 of 5.
Indeed, to be truly happy and satisfied in a sales organization, most ambitious sales performers need to feel fulfilled at levels 3 and above. They need to feel as if they belong. They need to feel respected. They need to feel complete and that they are reaching their potential. Create a sales organization that addresses these needs and you can be well on your way to retaining top talent.
Create a Sense of Belonging
The best teams are not always comprised of the best individual performers. Instead, they have the right interpersonal dynamics. Each salesperson complements the skills and talents of the others. Strengths and weaknesses are balanced. Remember that top sales teams are a culture within a culture. They are like a family, with strongly defined roles and a built-in support system. When a salesperson leaves an organization, it is likely that they are seeking a better organizational dynamic that is more supportive and with less conflict. To make sure you have the right culture within your sales organization, hire new salespeople with this team dynamic in mind. Consider personalities and seek to balance perceived weaknesses with new strengths.
Create an Environment of Respect
It’s been said that a salesperson doesn’t really leave a company; they quit their Sales Manager. One reason for this might be that the sales performer doesn’t feel respected. They don’t feel that their input matters, that their ideas count, that their efforts are appreciated. They don’t feel valued. In this absence of respect, a top salesperson will almost always seek greener pastures. The correction for this situation is simple enough, but it does take your attention and effort: Listen, recognize, praise privately and publicly, and provide ample compensation and other rewards.
Help Them Reach Their Potential
At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is “self-actualization.” Even if all the supporting needs are met by your sales organization, a top performer might still leave if he or she doesn’t feel as if they are truly reaching their potential. To help them do this, recognize their talents and skills, bolster areas of weakness, and provide ongoing training and personal and professional development. Work together to create a career optimization path. Remember that just because your top performer leads the other salespeople on your team doesn’t mean that they are necessarily at the top of their game. Help them get there and stay there and you will be more likely to keep them on your team.
The Bottom Line:
An attractive sales compensation plan is not going to keep your top salespeople on your team if they do not feel fulfilled and rewarded in other ways. To retain key sales personnel, you’ll need to understand why they leave; and then create a culture that is supportive and balanced – one built on respect, communication and opportunities for growth. If you can build an environment like that, you will end up spending far less time filling vacancies on your team, and more time enjoying sales success.