Sales Team Turnover

Sales Team Turnover

Sales leaders spend a fair amount of time and effort reviewing issues related to the cost of sale. The issues can vary from travel policy and territory design to compensation structure and bonuses. An issue that is receiving increased attention is the cost of turnover.

For those who have not recently taken a serious look at the cost of turnover, let’s look at some estimates of the real cost associated with turnover and an idea or two that have good track records for reducing turnover.

Defining the turnover problem. Colletti and Fiss, national leaders in sales compensation, made the following observation about the financial importance of retaining sales talent – “Our research shows that when a sales rep leaves, 20% to 80% of the business is at risk. The cost associated with replacing one sales rep – particularly top performers – is 35% to 200% of annual total cash compensation.” The point being … at the high end, the cost is devastating.

From our own observation in markets such as high-end medical devices the customer, in this case the physician, may “go with” the sales rep if they leave for a competitor. Does it matter? HR Chally reports that salesperson effectiveness accounts for 39% of a customer’s choice of a vendor – more than price or quality. So, yes it matters.

Bottom line – turnover matters to the bottom line. Consequently, it is well worth the time to know more about your turnover figure and to estimate the cost for every salesperson that leaves – in terms the dollar value of the existing business at risk, the cost associated with finding, selecting and training a replacement, and the opportunity cost while the new sales rep is getting up to speed which in B2B sales is longer than ever. If you are experiencing a turnover rate near or higher than 20%, the costs are likely to be acceptably high.

Understanding why. If the number does prove sufficient to warrant action, what are some steps for getting it right? First, it is important to better understand the nature of the turnover – who is leaving and why. Second, correct the problem.

Regarding the first step, upgrade the exit interview process. In some cases exit interviews are not even conducted and in many others, nobody pays much attention to the results. You may need to change what you are doing and who is doing it.

A deeper approach for understanding the “why” is conducting a 360 assessment with your front-line sales managers. Front-line sales managers are the pivotal job for sales success – making sure they have as much insight as possible about what is going right and what isn’t can provide a critical data set for understanding the source of the turnover problem.

Correcting the problem. Obviously some of the specifics for addressing the sales team turnover problem will be driven from the work done to find out who is leaving and why. However one across the board intervention with a proven track record is training and development. Salespeople expect an investment in their development and it works for reducing turnover.

Regarding expectations, a recent leadership study by Bluteau DeVenney & Company reported that the one of the most important expectations of all employees is the opportunity to grow. As expressed by the employees who participated in the study – “we expect personal growth and development – if you don’t help us grow and learn, we’ll go elsewhere.”

Turning to the relationship between sales training and turnover reduction, a recent CSO study of over 2000 companies – The Business Case of Sales Training – reported that one of the reasons for investing in sales skills training was lower turnover rates. The results were particularly compelling in that among those companies where the sales teams reported the sales training exceeded expectations the average annual turnover rate was 10% lower than when the training was viewed as needing improvement.

Summary. Sales force turnover matters! High sales force turnover can have a devastating impact on bottom line revenue generation. The good news is – there are established interventions for addressing the problem. More attention to sales training and development is a great first step.

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