Years ago, when one of the authors was in graduate school a professor made the following statement. “There is no bottom line until there is a top line. The key to a top line is hiring and supporting great sales professionals.” It was a profound statement then and it’s still profound today. Great sales professionals are a company asset. They are akin to a rare jewel. So why is it that many organizations drive their best people away? Here are twelve reasons we have heard from the front line.

  1. Unrealistic Sales Quotas

Every sales professional knows that their sales quota will be higher in the ensuing year. There are, however, realistic goals, stretch goals and ridiculous goals and savvy sales professionals understand the difference. No one wants an unachievable sales goal. It’s demotivating, and it poses a significant financial threat to the sales professional if they fail to make their number.

Solution: Eliminate the ridiculous sales quotas. Conduct a detailed discussion on how the realistic or stretch quota was set, why it’s fair and then show the sales representative how they can make their number. Walk them through what’s in their funnel, their close rate and the length of the sales cycle. Discuss areas of potential customer churn. Explain how many new opportunities they need, review the length of the sales cycle and their close rate. Instill confidence and provide support.

  1. Lack of Confidence in Products

Product defects, products late to market, product shortages and inferior products all make it harder for a sales representative to make their number. Failure to make the number usually results in a loss of compensation.

Solution: The usual company response is “take one for the team. Your part of the company and problems sometimes occur. You can make up the lost compensation next year.” Baloney…the correct response is to not hold these issues against the sales representative for compensation. Most organizations give their sales representatives a low base salary and a high commission to encourage them to sell more. Representatives should not be penalized for product availability or performance issues.

  1. Concern About Company Stability

Let’s face it when an organization has major changes in senior leadership, resignations of key, long-tenured executives, layoffs and/or credit downgrades it demonstrates instability and elevates sellers concerns. Top sellers want security not insecurity. They don’t want to think about “who’s next”?

Solution: Ensure you best performers understand why the changes are occurring, why they benefit the company long-term and why they are key to the organizations future success. It’s about communication.

  1. Minimal Recognition of Performance

Rainmakers don’t need constant attention but they do need periodic recognition. Many of the most successful sales professionals receive little or no public or company recognition by senior management and especially the President.

Solution: Create a President’s Club breakfast at the annual meeting. Encourage senior executives seek out and have a personal conversation with the rainmakers. Send some periodic emails or notes or better yet just pick up the phone and thank them. Pull them aside at national meetings and have a conversation. Make them feel that they are value corporate assets.

  1. Lack of Confidence in Leadership

When senior leadership demonstrates poor leadership or unethical behavior its often the impetus for loosing top sales performers.

Solution: Have an open-door policy with HR. Identify an HR professional that interacts routinely with the sales team and one that is savvy enough to read the ‘tells”. Remember that top sellers usually leave their FLSM not the company.

  1. Retaining Poor Performers

Poor performers reflect on everyone in the sales organization. Rainmakers are intolerant of repeated poor performance from others. They resist being tainted by the failures of other team members. Every loss increases a competitor’s market share making top performers explain why there are losses or defections.

Solution: Set fair goals and train FLSMs to mentor and coach. Place under-performers on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).

  1. No Professional Development

The best sales professionals always want to get better and many want upward mobility. They are eager to learn and maintain their advantage in the market.

Solution: Develop a learning pathway to their next position. Provide educational opportunities for them such as seminars, books, executive coaching/forums or attendance at conferences. Challenge them with projects that require the development of new skills. Invest in top talent.

  1. Micro-Management

No one likes to be micro-managed–especially top sales performers. Micro-managers crave control often because they are insecure in their roles.

Solution: Set goals, agree on check-points and give them the freedom they need. They will ask for help when they need it.

  1. Poor Tools to Do the Job!

Thank goodness for sales enablement. Finally sales professionals are being given quality tools and content in a format that is easily accessible and that ties to the buyer’s journey.

Solution: If your organization hasn’t started this journey then identify an external resource that can help get the organization on track.

  1. Dysfunctional Company Culture

A poor company culture drives great sales professionals away quickly. Excellent customer service and strong client relationships are a great sales professionals middle name. They want support and they want it in a timely fashion. Bickering, in-fighting, negativity and a culture of “it’s not my job” will chase away top performers.

Solution: We like the advice of Olivier Riviere who wrote “Develop a culture that values individual and collective accountability, fosters collaboration and continuous improvement, and leverages coaching as a key management technique.”

  1. Compensation Plan Changes

Rarely is a compensation plan changed to make it easier for a sales professional to make more money. It’s a simple fact, if you want to sell less put your top performers at a financial disadvantage by reducing their commission.

Solution: Leave the compensation plan alone and make earnings uncapped. Rarely is a compensation plan changed to make it easier for a sales professional to make more money.

  1. Excessive Automation

Sales enablement has ushered in a host of tools designed to make a sales representative’s life easier.  There are tools for CRM, document management, social media, conference calling, document signatures and others.

Solution: Make the automation system easy to use via a smart phone, tablet or PC. Design the system to add value to the sales professional. Provide enough training to allow the sales professional to be proficient in the usage of the tools.

Parting Thoughts

Recognize, nurture and grow your top sales professionals. Remember the only thing worse than them leaving is learning they are going to your competitor. Prevention is easy. The first step is acknowledgement that it’s an important activity.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and input. Let’s start a discussion and elevate the sales profession with a thoughtful and informative discourse.

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©Strategic Dynamics Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2017

Authors: Thomas J. Williams and Thomas Saine

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