Scaling is an exciting time for startups. But while you bring on new talent, you want to retain the talented sales representatives who’ve helped you get to this stage.
Attrition is a major issue with sales teams. On average, 26% of sales representatives leave their positions annually. And this problem is accentuated with startups in high-growth mode. According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of startups encounter a dip in employee happiness during years three and four. Attrition oftentimes follows.
Researchers attribute this phenomenon to a cultural chasm that emerges during the growth stage. The company isn’t in the same place as it was in the early days, but it has not yet found a new normal. The faster a company grows, the deeper the chasm can become.
However, this problem isn’t insurmountable. By proactively taking steps to retain the best sales talent, startups can stave off the threat. Here are the experts’ recommendations:
1) Retain a culture of transparency.
When your company is small, it’s easy to keep everyone up to date on major developments. Once your company passes the 30-employee mark, you can no longer rely on the same methods. But your employees still have the same need to understand what’s going on.
As you grow, you’ll need to put in more effort to maintain transparency. Establish two-way channels of communication between leadership and employees. What counts as major news will shift as your company grows, but you still should be giving employees major updates on developments that concern them.
Some growing companies have had success with implementing “ask me anything” sessions. Employees anonymously submit questions beforehand. Then, founders and other leaders answer questions during an open session. You may need to hold multiple sessions to accommodate a large workforce.
2) Cultivate a sales culture that remains strong while you scale.
Whether you have 10 employees or 100, a strong sales culture remains your strongest weapon against attrition. Remember that Harvard Business Review study? Researchers discovered that founders who ranked the importance of company culture as less than a 10 on a 10-point scale were 70% more likely to have high employee turnover.
Your culture will change along with the company, so it’s best to prepare early stage employees for the shift. Ask them to provide input on how to help the culture adapt to a new stage of growth. Maybe you won’t always be able to make major decisions over a game of pool. But you can institute monthly pool nights.
Measuring the effectiveness of sales culture should take on a more quantitative bent once you’re a larger company. Start using metrics such as employee satisfaction surveys as soon as founders can no longer keep tabs on individual employees.
3) Offer your best performers a career path within the company.
The best sales representatives are proactive about advancing their career, and they are rarely content to just let new opportunities fall into their laps. If you’re not offering them real opportunities for career growth, they will seek those opportunities elsewhere.
Make sure that you’re promoting your best performers. There will be plenty of openings come up while your company grows. If you keep bringing on outside people to fill them, you’re sending the wrong message.
Think creatively about how you’re using your best talent. At a startup, employees don’t necessarily have to follow the standard career path—junior SDR to senior SDR to sales manager. Assess your employees’ strengths and find roles that are suitable for your best performers.
4) Continue to provide coaching and ongoing education.
Top-performing sales reps always want to get better. Help satisfy their need for knowledge by offering them plenty of opportunities to learn more. Coaching should be a regular part of life for your sales team members.
In addition to ongoing coaching sessions with managers, consider bringing in prominent outside speakers and sponsoring your representatives’ trips to sales conferences. This gives representatives the opportunity to learn and receive motivation from a wide range of people.
5) Support middle managers during the scaling process.
Being a manager at a small startup is a different job than managing a larger team. If managers are involved in hiring, their workloads will increase even more while the company scales. Founders and high-level executives must make sure that middle managers feel supported.
Check in with managers regularly to answer their questions and make sure they’re not overloaded. They’re closer to the ground, so they may be able to identify potential cultural problems. When managers are happy, that trickles down.
6) Be generous with perks and benefits that show your team you appreciate them.
There are all sorts of rewards you can give your team members: bonuses, extra vacation time, fun activities, etc. Even something small like Ice Cream Fridays can go a long way towards maintaining good will among your team members.
Plus, these benefits are great for keeping your culture fresh and fun. Many people who love working at startups feel boxed in if the culture starts to feel too corporate and cookie-cutter. Fun activities remind employees why they like working with you.
7) Remind your team of the company’s core mission.
When your team is small, everyone pretty much knows the company mission. But that becomes harder to remember once you start to grow. As you become a bigger company, that mission may need to be spelled out a little more explicitly so that everyone remains motivated.
8) Don’t try to scale too quickly.
If your company has enjoyed success, you want to scale. But be wary of scaling too much, too quickly. This can adversely impact company culture and alienate your best performers. If scaling quickly causes a mass exodus of more experienced sales representatives, it’s actually counterproductive.
Talk to your managers to gauge whether you’re scaling too quickly. If they’re overwhelmed with training too many new reps, it’s probably time to put on the brakes.
Your company is going to change during the scaling process. But by taking these steps retain top sales talent, you don’t have to lose your best people.