There will always be turnover in sales. Salespeople are entrepreneurial, constantly seeking better opportunities. They know how to parlay experience into the next step and are able to move from mid-level to enterprise with ease. Sometimes, turnover happens because people simply lack the skills necessary to excel in sales. In total, The Bridge Group found an average 34 percent turnover, combined voluntary and involuntary, across sales departments each year.
As has been written about countless times, sales has a low barrier to entry. If the position is entry-level and the candidate interviews well, he or she has a great shot at landing the gig. But no matter how good your vetting process is, onboarding is where you’ll start to see who has what it takes and who is just not a fit (despite his or her stellar interviewing skills). There’s a reason that onboarding a new member of the sales team takes nine months or longer at one-third of companies.
Why should you be concerned? To start with, this level of training and investment is expensive. Turnover costs you money. It’s thought that replacing an employee can cost your team as much as 1.5 to 2 times that employee’s salary. That’s tens of thousands of dollars. Software collaboration company Wrike found that American teams pay $160 billion each year to handle employee turnover. And if you’re the one training people who keep leaving, you’re going to get frustrated. It’s no wonder employee retention is a priority for 87 percent of companies.
If your team struggles with retention, you’re not alone — but you don’t have to keep operating like this. Take the following steps to help reduce the turnover in your sales department:
1. Start with culture.
In a poor-quality sales culture, salespeople make their quotas the end-all, be-all goal. But in a successful sales culture, quotas are the baseline, and 80 percent of your team shouldn’t even know what they are. As a sales manager, it’s your job to set that tone. If you’re talking about a quota as your team’s main goal, team members will treat it as such. It’s critical that you and your employees are on the same page: One study found that employees who were a good fit were more satisfied with their jobs, were likelier to stay, and were better performers.
On the other hand, you have to avoid cultivating a culture where people fight all the time — nobody wants to work in Jerry Maguire’s world full of backstabbing. My team has found that the more we systematize sharing of information, rehearsal, and speed of transfer of best practices, the more each member of our team succeeds. Culture is caring about your work, your industry, and your products. Culture is what happens when the boss isn’t around. Make sure you’re setting a good example.
2. Set expectations from the start.
Embody the phrase, “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” A slow hiring process allows you to communicate more about what’s expected and be very clear numerically. If you’re used to people making 35 calls a day, that needs to be communicated from the get-go. If it’s 20 calls an hour? They’d better hear that number three times before training starts. If the guy you’re replacing didn’t make it six months, it’s on you to let prospective hires know why. Good salespeople embrace challenges.
As you set expectations, transparency is crucial. People often talk about recruiting salespeople with a wink and a nod — don’t do that. Set your team up for success by giving them the road map they need to get there. Let them talk to other people on the sales floor, even in the interview process. From a management perspective, the best thing that can happen is the team validating what you’re communicating. Because any veteran salesperson has had the exact opposite experience.
3. Constantly strive for improvement.
Tony Robbins calls it CANI: constant and never-ending improvement. You should offer your team nonstop training. That doesn’t have to involve bringing in keynote speakers who charge $50,000 per appearance every quarter, of course. But salespeople’s fervent desire for continual improvement should be baked into your culture.
A lot of sales teams have clear-cut incentives: The trick is to put out carrots that somebody — but not everybody — gets. People like incentives, even small ones, that give them something to work for. If everybody (or nobody) is hitting yours, you don’t have a good incentive program. People are wise to that; they know when a perceived perk is merely smoke and mirrors.
4. Never assume your stars are loyal.
My last tip is this: Never assume you have the buy-in of your superstars. As salespeople get better and better, some become know-it-alls. They have to: Sales is a confidence game. They have to believe in themselves or they won’t be successful. The problem is, once they become a star, they’re likely to become critical about your company. And an “us vs. them” mentality only ends one way.
If somebody has already so far gone that he’s criticizing the home office, he’s already out. He got recruited or he’s ready to go somewhere else. And it’s not uncommon for stars to bring people with them. This type of move is always an ugly situation because it always results in, “If only we’d have known their discontent.” It’s always better to let somebody go too early than to keep somebody too long. It’s a tough choice to make — but it’s your responsibility to make it.
Turnover happens, especially among sales teams. But it doesn’t have to take you by surprise or pile onto your team’s costs. By building a strong team with the right expectations, you can make a solid investment in your salespeople, even if they might leave you someday.
Mike Monroe started working at Vector Marketing in 2000 as a student at Boston College. He wanted to stick out from the crowd and develop himself professionally. Nearly two decades later, that goal hasn’t changed. Learn more at TheVectorImpact.com.