One of the most common complaints of frontline sales managers is employee turnover. After pouring loads of time and effort into onboarding, coaching, and engaging sellers on their team, frontline managers feel defeated when they hear “I’m leaving.” It stings that much more when the individual is a top performer whose experience fell short of their expectations.
According to a 2016 study by Radford, “[sales] employee turnover is once again at five-year highs across most of the technology and life sciences sectors. The only industry where turnover fell, and just slightly, is hardware.” Today’s work environment makes seller retention even more challenging as Millennial, Gen X, and Baby Boomer sellers have very different expectations of their job, their managers, and their organization overall.
In 2015 Millennials represented roughly 35 percent of the workforce, with Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation representing 43, 20, and 2 percent respectively. In less than 10 years, Millennials will represent almost 50 perent of the workforce. This reality impacts the way Sales Managers should approach building and engaging their sales teams, but it is not so easy to put this into practice.
As a 29 year-old sales professional, I can identify with many perceptions of the Millennial generation. With that said, more often I find myself frustrated when I see a new article about how Millennials are lazy or entitled. From my point of view, Sales managers struggle with seller retention because they rely on tricks founded on generational myths instead of considering each sales person’s place in life and the unique value they can bring to the organization.
In 2016 Symmetrics Group conducted research to find out, among other things, what is critically important when it comes to considering a new sales role – what attracts someone to join an organization? And alternatively, what drives them to leave their current sales roles? Based on our research, we have outlined the top five reasons why your sellers may choose to leave your organization.
1. Offered a better compensation package.
All sellers, regardless of generation, said that being “offered a better compensation package” is the #1 reason they’d leave their current job.
Tip: During annual performance review conversations ask your sellers if they think their compensation is commensurate with their performance. While you may not always be able to pay them what they think they should be paid, mark sellers who are visibly unhappy with their compensation as “at risk of attrition.” It is better to be prepared, rather than naïve. Consider this a performance improvement plan, not for the individual but for the organization, and determine what you can do to engage and motivate these individuals beyond compensation.
2. No opportunities to get promoted.
After compensation packages, Millennial and Gen X sellers told us that the #2 reason they would leave is because of “no opportunities to get promoted” within their organization.
Tip: Discuss career opportunities with your sellers on a regular basis – formally during performance reviews but also informally over lunch or at happy hour. Sellers appreciate knowing that their managers are thinking about their futures – and will be more open to voice their frustration about career limitations if there is already an open dialogue.
3. Bad Leadership.
Baby Boomers and Gen X sellers ranked “Bad Leadership” as the #2 and #3 reasons, respectively, for why they’d leave their current jobs.
Tip: While frontline sales managers have less ability to improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of their senior leadership team, but it is still important that they provide feedback if leadership decisions are not well-received in the field. While senior leadership (hopefully) works on making adjustments, seek out opportunities to give your more tenured Baby Boomer and Gen X sellers opportunities to position themselves as leaders within your team or among their peers. This will show them that you heard their feedback and you are looking for ways to improve the leadership culture, with their help!
4. Offered a better title.
Baby Boomer and Gen X sellers ranked “Offered a better title” as the #3 and #4 reasons, respectively, for why they’d leave their current jobs.
Tip: Title is a symbol of status and does not always reflect what sellers actually do on a day to day basis. If you sense that your sellers are frustrated with their titles, you should have a discussion with them about the root-cause of their frustration. Is it perception of their status within their company or outside of the company? If your sellers are truly concerned about the experience they are getting, have a conversation about what other development opportunities they need and want to focus on in order to achieve their long-term career goals.
5. Lack of flexibility.
Millennials said the #3 reason for leaving their current job is “Lack of Flexibility.”
Tip: Flexibility is not black and white – there are many ways to provide “flexibility” to sellers. Make a list of the different ways you can be more flexible with your team – within the bounds of HR policy and your organization’s culture, of course. Some ideas include: offering early “summer Friday” departures, allowing sales professionals to attend an exercise class over lunch, or letting them work from home on days that they have a doctors appointment. Bonus tip: Run a surprise competition within your team to “win” one of your flexibility benefits, for example: “The seller with the most new leads, or outbound calls, or deals closed can work from home this Friday!”
Erica Abt is an experienced sales and account management professional who grows her client relationships through high-touch service and prescriptive selling techniques. As a consultant with Symmetrics Group, she plays an integral role in driving end-to-end client projects, as well as contributing to internal company initiatives.
Read the full report on Sales Attraction and Attrition Drivers by Generation.