In the sales world (and HR) we all know how difficult it can be to attract top talent. It’s often even harder to keep top-performing sales reps happy in their roles. In fact, a Glassdoor survey found almost 70% of sales professionals plan to look for a new job in the next year, and only about 20% have no plans to look for a new job. Little surprise, given the average sales rep tenure is 14-30 months – with a cost of $115,000 to replace a vacancy according to DePaul University. It all adds up to a tough task of retaining reps, but there’s ways we as sales leaders can beat the average in hanging on to our best talent.
1. Offer competitive compensation and benefits.
In the same research, Glassdoor’s data noted that over 70% of sales reps’ primary motivating factor in changing jobs was salary and compensation package, and that for over 90% of sales reps, the base salary was the biggest component. In another study, Xactly discovered companies that pay at the 75th percentile or higher have 50% less turnover. Without question, cold cash does a lot of talking and can be the differentiator. But it’s by no means the only one, which is great news for those companies without the financial resources to compete with the large firms.
2. Professional development and a clear career pathway are critical.
From strong onboarding to promotional road maps, a well-defined and supported career arc plays a major role in retaining talent. Remember that 11-12 month average to quota? To shorten that time and accelerate rep development, the onboarding process needs to be more than a quick training and off to the races. There needs to be sustained training and, most importantly, coaching and development from managers and other leaders along the way. As Xactly notes, over 80% of companies realize the importance of professional development, yet just 42% of those same firms reported being effective at training and coaching sales staff. That’s a major disconnect, and an avenue for less muscular sales organizations to make inroads – provide a detailed, ongoing onboarding process with continued training, reinforcement of that training through check-ins, diagnostic assessments, and coaching, and cultivate a culture of coaching as the top priority. Instead of ABC – Always Be Closing, strive for ABL – Always Be Learning.
On the other end of the spectrum, 70% of sales reps who change employers due to lack of promotion were top performers. That points out a necessity for companies to craft a career map that allows for advancement of the best reps, or risk losing them due to an unbreakable ceiling and/or boredom (the latter is a particular danger point in sales – after a while, reps, especially top-performers, need new challenges to keep their interest and motivation up).
3. Develop and promote your sales team internally.
As a corollary, one of the most effective ways of keeping the cost of turnover down is to develop and promote internally, rather than look outside to replace departed talent. Not only does this address the pathway issue, lower replacement costs, and shorten the time to quota, it creates greater employee loyalty and retention in the lower levels. Also, as word of mouth spreads of your internal development and promotion policy, you’ll be able to attract higher potential talent when openings occur at the lower rungs – as is the case with Axiom Global and Enterprise Rent-A-Car – the latter of whom draws praise from employees for the excellent mentorship opportunities and clear internal promotion guidelines. As an example, one area manager who started with Enterprise in an entry level position was promoted 11 times in 7 years.
4. Cultivate a close-knit team.
OfficeVibe observed 70% of employees said having friends at work is the most important element to a happy working environment. Sales is also no longer the old world of the lone wolf sales rep venturing out across the landscape. Inside sales is close to equality with outside sales and expected to reach equilibrium within the next few years. And even for field reps, collaboration with the office team, marketing, etc. is more critical than ever to sales success. Iceland proved this year what a team built on esprit de corps and camaraderie dedicated to a single vision can achieve when they qualified for the World Cup despite having a population of a little over 330,00 people – about the size of Santa Ana, California. Creating a cohesive, unified team bolstered by friendships can have the same electrifying effect not only on your revenues, but in your retention of top talent.
As the numbers illustrate, keeping your best sales reps is a tough ask under any situation. But utilizing the strategies above will give you the best chance at long-term retention, or at least having the bench players to step up when your stars do go.