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Retention is a Problem That Won’t Go Away

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By John Boe

What are the critical factors that contribute to the retention of top producing salespeople? Why are some sales managers able to consistently recruit and retain quality salespeople, while other managers have a revolving door? Excessive personnel turnover is not only unhealthy for the morale of a sales force, but it is also costly in terms of time and money. Perhaps less obvious, but just as detrimental, is the negative impact excessive turnover has on eroding customer confidence and loyalty.

A career in sales can be extremely lucrative for the person who is able to prospect effectively and willing to work hard. However, surveys indicate that compensation is just one piece in the career satisfaction puzzle. Salespeople make their decision to leave or stay with a company for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Retaining successful salespeople is not a secret recipe, but a formula that includes factors such as leadership, recruitment, training, and professional growth opportunities.

Salespeople Don’t Quit Companies, They Leave Managers
While the skills required to be an effective salesperson are fundamentally important, they are not always a reliable indicator of leadership potential. Companies need to select the right people for management positions and offer them development opportunities to ensure that they continue to enhance their leadership and communications skills.

A sales manager’s career and income potential is inescapably intertwined with their ability to recruit, develop, and retain a top producing sales force. The most effective sales managers acknowledge the reality of personnel turnover and prudently plan for replacements. Only naive or inexperienced managers are oblivious to their critical role in the equation of agent retention. Job exit surveys consistently indicate that job satisfaction is directly linked to the quality of the relationship they have with their sales manager. Award winning managers intuitively understand this important fact and as a result, treat their salespeople more as business partners than employees.

Progressive leaders choose to inspire and empower rather than direct and control their sales force. Recognizing that a strong relationship is indeed the key to their success, they lead by example, praise achievement, and strive to maintain open communications. Those managers who adopt and practice the principals of enlightened leadership find that their people understand what is expected of them and deliver.

Both Success and Failure Leave a Trail
The retention of quality salespeople is not accidental and begins up front in the recruiting and selection process. Due to the high rejection and demanding nature of a sales career, it is fundamentally important to administer a temperament suitability evaluation early on. While there is no testing instrument that can guarantee you will hire the right person every time, a temperament evaluation will provide valuable insight into a candidate’s career suitability and potential success as a salesperson. Sales managers who utilize temperament evaluations find that they are better prepared to interview in a more in-depth manner.

During the selection process, it is imperative to check references and look for a history of job stability. In my opinion, there are two mandatory qualities any new hire should possess. The first quality I look for is loyalty. If a person is not loyal to their company, they are more likely to violate company policies and procedures. Disloyal employees are also the first to leave when the going gets tough. The second quality I look for is dependability. It makes absolutely no sense to invest huge amounts of emotional and financial capital training someone you can’t depend on.

Training
There is absolutely no substitute for a well-trained and highly motivated sales force! Training is critically important for both the new and seasoned agent alike and is a key ingredient for agent retention. Experienced sales managers place a high premium on training and purposefully design their programs to be timely, relevant, realistic, and reoccurring.

In his best selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey makes a strong case for the fundamental importance of training, or as he calls it, “sharpening the saw.” Salespeople are often reluctant to take time away from their busy schedule for training and as a result, over time, become less productive. While established salespeople might not always ask for assistance, they frequently need help game planning appointments and appreciate their sales manager’s involvement.

Growth Opportunities
In an effort to retain solid performers, progressive companies offer a clear career path and proactively support the leadership development of their top salespeople. People want to grow personally and professionally and wise managers encourage and accommodate this need by providing a wide range of opportunities. Access to ongoing training and personal development is important and often provides a strong incentive to stay with a company.

Recognition and Rewards
Traditionally, sales managers have relied primarily on commission to motivate their sales force. A compensation structure based solely on commission does not address separate motivational factors and therefore, commission alone will not adequately motivate nor retain a sales force. To be effective, a sales incentive program should not only appeal to top producers, but it must also excite average to below average salespeople as well. Once a salesperson stretches to a new level of personal production, their self-confidence and expectations skyrocket.

The key to staying one step ahead in these competitive times is recognizing that people are by far a company’s most important asset.

John Boe is a nationally recognized sales trainer and business motivational speaker.

For more information, visit www.johnboe.com.

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