Sales staff turnover is expensive. I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard many times before. The Center for Sales Strategy published an ebook on this subject last year, revealing for many just how many different line items—and how many hidden costs—are driven up every time a salesperson departs, whether on their own or at your behest.
So I’m not out of line to ask: If so many sales managers are so aware that turnover is a giant expense undermining effectiveness and profitability, why don’t they take more measures to reduce turnover? Here’s what a smart manager would do—and what his savvy boss would require—to reduce sales staff turnover and bring the velocity of that revolving door down to a crawl.
1. Hire the right people in the first place.
Seems so obvious it’s hardly worth mentioning. But on this very day, sales managers across the globe will make more bad hires than good hires. That same ebook offered several steps that can help companies reverse those crummy odds. Follow them! The result will be alignment—alignment between (a) the talents, habits, preferences, and inclinations of your salespeople and (b) what you need them to do in order to be successful in your organization. If you have employed such people in the past, you know how delightful it is that you don’t have to hound, bribe, or threaten them to take the right actions. Having such a person on staff need not be the rare exception. If you use a validated talent assessment interview to select your sellers, your staff could be composed largely of people who are in near-perfect alignment with your needs and expectations.
2. Hire the right managers for them.
Having the right talents for the role is just as important in your sales managers, of course. The wrong manager doesn’t just blow opportunities and miss budgets (although that’s bad enough!). He or she makes every salesperson on staff less effective…by holding inappropriate expectations, using the wrong kind of supervision, and failing to provide the specific support that person needs to excel. Whatever that salesperson might have become, whatever that salesperson might have produced, it's way less likely with the wrong leadership in place. The best salespeople figure it out and exit via that revolving door. The worst ones are thankful to have the job and they stick around (ouch!).
3. Let them do what they do best.
It’s not rocket science: What talented salespeople do best is sell. Most sales managers would be shocked if they knew how little time their salespeople actually spend selling. There are reasons aplenty why they have little time for selling, and all of them are in the sales manager's power to fix—too many meetings, too much paperwork, too many internal gauntlets to run, and too many expectations that have nothing to do with actual selling. But one stands above them all: Expecting salespeople to find their own leads and nurture them along. That’s largely a different set of talents. Lead generators are not usually great salespeople, and salespeople are usually not great lead generators. By providing a steady stream of sales-ready leads, you’re not coddling your sellers; you’re turbocharging them.
4. Ask them to use their strengths more often.
Most sales managers bring a remedial paradigm to their job. They think their role is to fix everything they find broken, to solve every problem, to rid the shop of every weakness. But that’s not the path to success in sales or any other endeavor. The world’s most acknowledged, most followed, management consultant, the late Peter Drucker, had perfect clarity when he said “Get your strengths together, and make your weaknesses irrelevant.” Some problems need to be resolved, yes, but there’s ten times more upside in leveraging your strengths than in trying to banish your weaknesses. And so it is with people. They all (we all) have weaknesses. Average managers focus on those weaknesses and try to turn them around; by zeroing in on weaknesses, they not only have chosen an ineffective strategy, but they alienate their people and chase them away. The best managers go right to their people’s strengths, asking them to keep getting better and to use their strengths more often. Those people grow. And stay.
5. Care about them, their success, and their career.
There’s an old expression that people join a company, but quit their boss. Interview some people who have just started a new job, or just left their job, and you’ll quickly see how true it is. At the beginning, they’re excited about the firm they’re working for (maybe they should have paid closer attention to the person they’d be working for), but at the end it’s all about getting as far away from that boss as they possibly can. And it’s usually not that the boss was aggressively obnoxious. Rather, employees report their number one reason for quitting was, “My boss didn’t care about me.” Sometimes they’ll add, “She didn’t even know what I was doing.” Don’t be that boss! Know what they’re producing and recognize it. Know what problems they’re having and offer guidance. Care about each individual on your team—care about them as a person, not just a cog in your revenue wheel; care about their life and their career, not just their numbers. Invest in the relationship.
There are situations where a pay raise helps retention. But for every scenario like that, there are ten where all the Oolong in Shanghai won’t keep that salesperson a week longer. Salespeople know that pay raises depend largely on their performance. What they want from their manager is respect, caring, support, individualization, and opportunities to grow. Managers that provide that kind of working environment have higher revenue and lower expenses, higher per-person productivity and lower staff turnover.