Retaining Sales Reps Using These Strategies

Draft talent, develop talent, and then put that talent to the test when it’s ready for the spotlight. Really, your job as a sales leader is much like that of a sports franchise general manager.

But as any fanatic knows, it’s a hard pill to swallow when a cultivated prospect turned star player leaves your team voluntarily in the midst of their prominence.

Hiring a sales rep is a challenge, but what about retaining sales reps?

When a prized rep jumps ship on their own, it’s a similar feeling.

All of that time and resources devoted to onboarding, now gone. Morale and optimism around heading into a new quarter with an all-star team, also gone. Most obvious of all, a chunk of future sales and revenue, poof, gone—just walking out the door.

Hate to say it, but it gets worse.

It’s not just that top talent and subsequent quarters’ closed deals have left your organization, but it’s the fact that all of that goodness has been replaced with a demanding need to start from square one with a new rep—forget finding a great replacement, but securing a suitable one at the very least is difficult. All while you’re forced to watch deals pass you by in the process.

It hurts in more ways than one, and you need to be working to stop the bleeding.

The obvious question is, how? Which can’t even be answered until you answer the “why?” as in, why are reps leaving? Especially the good ones? What is it that first triggers top performers to even entertain the idea of departure?

Here’s the trick for retaining sales reps:

Keep any thought of just how greener the grass might be from ever creeping into one’s mind in the first place.

It’s easier said than done, of course, as even the slightest crack in the door can tempt a rep to peer through, and eventually open it to leave altogether.

To help keep that exit closed and locked, the peep hole taped up and out of commission, here are some things to consider—and pitfalls to avoid when it comes to retaining your reps.

Don’t draft talent just to fill gaps, and treat every hire like a superstar in the making.

When a rep leaves, there is often misplaced comfort placed in a conclusion like “oh well, they just weren’t right for the role.” It’s like “poor fit” is a get out of jail free card. It wasn’t anything with their role, the compensation you were offering, or the culture you created. They just didn’t fit, and oh well.

That shouldn’t be the case.

The people you hire are just as much of a controllable factor as any of the other buckets presented below.

It’s a vicious cycle, though. Rep leaves, so you scramble to replace them, and hurriedly, you hire the wrong person—or maybe even the right person, but fail to inadequately onboard them. They soon leave, too, and off you go once again.

Simply, put as much work and effort into hiring the right sales reps as you do in keeping them around.

Adapt the mindset that you aren’t just looking for someone to fill a vacancy, or a stop-gap—you’re looking for your next superstar.

No new hire, no matter how skilled, is immune from improvement.

Whoever you think is the best quarterback to have ever played the game of football would have failed miserably had he never been taught how to properly handle the team’s playbook. And the best actor? Nothing without months of preparation for their roles.

Catch my drift?

No matter how talented your reps are, they need proper onboarding. In fact, it’s the number one reason reps leave their jobs voluntarily, according to our research—inadequate professional development, including coaching and training. Not salary; not bonuses. Development.

One third of employees reported having left a job within six months of commencement, according to a survey led by BambooHR. And worse, between 16-17% of respondents did so between the first week and third month at their new companies.

Thus, there isn’t time to waste.

Your goal should be to get reps to quota-bearing status quickly, but thoughtfully, and then coach them to success.

Ensure you’re buttoned up; all the way up—with crystal clear product messaging, a full and complete competitor landscape, and a bulletproof sales process. And most importantly, that you’re doing all you can to pass that info along quickly, yet thoroughly.

It’s not so much the incentive you dangle but the ability to hold up your end of the bargain.

A dangled carrot loses its appeal if it’s delivered stale, half-eaten, or not even given at all. Meaning, while incentives drive behavior, if they are not adhered to, or not paid accurately or even on time, rep satisfaction is sure to decrease.

A 3-8% error rate. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? When it comes to compensation, it’s far too much. Gartner estimates that comp plan administration carries a 3-8% error rate.

Automation, though, leads to faster payouts and greatly improves that figure, while also providing access to what-if scenarios regarding potential payouts, and real-time visibility for increased motivation.

In the end, you can dangle whatever you want, but poor execution is de-motivating and difficult to come back from once even one mistake has been made.

Compensation needs to be motivating, but it must also be complemented.

Money, or lack of it, is the second top contributor to retaining sales reps. Not quite a shocker, right?

What should grab your attention, though, is this:

Companies that pay the 75th percentile or higher see 50% less turnover, according to Xactly Insights’ aggregated, anonymous pay and performance data.

There needs to be balance, and this point is twofold.

“Balance” needs to be found between the base and variable pay being offered, meaning if your variable piece is lacking, the overall pay mix might not be motivating enough.

But balance here also means it isn’t always about the money (per the point above), and you need to steady your attack of retaining reps by figuring out financial compensation AND providing the opportunity for reps to grow professionally in a positive working environment.

Again, we all know these things are important, but unfortunately, knowing isn’t even half the battle:

Eight in ten firms identify professional development and organizational culture as areas of importance. But, of those same companies, only 42% recognize themselves as effective in the training and coaching that is put in place to foster such development.

Stats aside, “people leave managers, not companies” as mentioned here on Forbes. Employees simply can’t progress in their careers if their managers don’t make sufficient training and coaching top priorities.

Answer questions and calm fears before they can even be conjured.

Consider this scenario:

You’re a rep with an incentive plan, and you know payments are coming. In your mind, you rationalize that you should have a check by the end of the week, and in the amount of $10K.

Well, the target date passes, and no check. Where does your mind go? Probably a million different directions, naturally.

Then, the check finally comes, but only for $5K. Now, what are you thinking? Again, a million different things. You just can’t help doing so.

Point is, it’s human nature to assume the worst at times. If you present your reps with unknowns around when their checks are coming and if the amounts are correct, you’re inviting them to think in negative “what ifs,” which can run a mile long.

The only way to curb questions, doubts, and confusion is to embrace transparency with your plans. Informing reps on what’s coming down the pike in terms of payment, and when increases reps’ motivation, driving higher performance.

To do so, systems must be accessible—giving reps, managers, and finance the ability to easily view compensation wherever and whenever they want.

Competition isn’t competition without a winner; and a winner is meaningless if not praised.

Sales reps are determined and competitive. They drive hard to the hoop and have thick skin. Thus If you don’t praise or recognize their performance, they’ll just brush it off, right?

So wrong.

It’s for all those reasons that they will in fact care, and tremendously at that. Anyone of competitive spirit wants their victories known and broadcasted. They work hard for achievement, but they also want that achievement recognized just as bad.

But before a rep can win a contest or outrank their peers, they need to be given the opportunity. Contests, SPIFs, and gamification in any fashion all provide the chance for reps to feed their competitive spirits, and then, be praised for their results.

With all of the above points, even a small misstep can have consequences, which is why we did some research.

A recent survey by the Sales Management Association, sponsored by Xactly, highlights the absolute need for businesses to increase their sales coaching, training, and development in order to decrease rep turnover.

With the findings, we’ve released an infographic summarizing the detriment and root of sales turnover, which can be found below:

retaining sales reps

Take it all in, and take it to heart. The stakes are high.

How are you currently retaining sales reps that you actually want to keep? Let us know in the comments below.