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What About Sales Person Retention?

by David Brock on May 11th, 2017

Retention is a hot topic–customer retention that is.

We’ve all seen data around customer acquisition costs.  Basically, the cost of acquiring new customers is several time higher than the cost of retaining and growing existing customers.  The whole subscription model, on which all SaaS and XaaS companies are built has customer retention as a fundamental to the success of the business model.  All the discussion around ABM/ABS/ABE is focused on retaining and growing our most important accounts.

Makes sense!

But how come we don’t see similar focus on Sales Person Retention?

A recent study from Glassdoor, shows on average, an employee changes jobs every 15 months.  Granted, this study covered all employees, not just sales.  Other, slightly older data, shows 15-22 months for sales and sales management.

I think it’s fair to say, people are changing jobs with much greater frequency.

Layer onto this revolving door many see in their organizations, the onboarding time–that is the time it takes to ramp sales people to full productivity.  (Note, I’ve defined onboarding differently, it’s not the time we spend in training them, it’s the time it takes for their productivity run rate to reach full productivity.)  For complex B2B sales, data shows average onboarding at 10 months.  With many of our clients, it’s far longer.

Hmmmmm….. let me do some mental math, 10 months onboarding, 15 months before the change jobs……….

Looks like we have them for a good solid 5 months!!!

Before we start celebrating (tongue firmly planted in cheek), let’s add in sales cycles.  If we have a long sales cycles, very often, these people aren’t on board long enough to close their own deals!  Perhaps the deals they are closing are those started by their predecessors.  And their successors (the newbies) are taking up the deals of their predecessors.

Perhaps, now we start to see at least one of the root causes to poor sales quota performance.  Sales people aren’t around long enough to produce sustainable results.  With each churn of a sales person in 15 months, we have potential revenue exposures of millions of $’s.

One would think a reasonable solution might be, “Can we figure out how to retain our sales people?”  Yet in the past year, the number of times I’ve been involved in that conversation could be counted on one hand (until I might have initiated the discussion.).

After all, if we have the right people on board; if we are training, coaching, developing them for success; if we are creating work places that challenge them and recognize their success; if we treat them as valuable contributors; we know they will consistently produce good results.

But too often, we have quite the opposite of a retention/growth mentality.  We churn and burn people.  We don’t equip them for success, we don’t recognize that success, we don’t provide a rewarding work environment.  We expand and contract our sales resources based on the state of the business.

Sales people play a part in this as well, if they don’t see an environment where they are appreciated, where they can learn and grow, where they are recognized and appreciated, where they can be successful; they are going to run to the next opportunity.

Retention is important–customer and employee retention.  Retention problems cost big $’s and have huge impacts on business results.

I believe the onus is on sales management to break this vicious cycle.  We have to recruit the right people in the first place.  We have to train, develop, coach them.  We have to give them the tools, systems, programs, training to be successful.  We have to create a work environment where they are both challenged and appreciated.

How important is retention in your organization?  What are you doing to make it a top priority?

 

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