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Sales People/Manager Churn Is Unacceptable!

by David Brock on February 5th, 2019

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of conversations with colleagues and sales execs. Inevitably, we touch on the sad state of affairs on sales talent.

The data on churn (voluntary and involuntary) is horrible! Depending on the market data, tenure for managers and sales people is anywhere between 15 and 22 months. We are completely turning our organizations–management and sales people roughly every 3 years!

This is craziness! With onboarding (for complex B2B sales) at roughly 10 months, and sales cycles often exceeding 6 months, it’s no wonder that sales performance continues it’s downward plummet. People simply aren’t on board long enough to recover the hiring/onboarding investments we make. They aren’t around long enough to build their experience/competency, to build pipelines, to drive the business. Any success they have is likely to be a result of the work of their predecessor than their own success. As you run the numbers, you quickly see we are on a death spiral.

But it gets worse, as I talk to executives about needing to develop skills in curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, project management, orchestration.

Often, the reaction is, “How can I afford to invest in developing these skills, if the sales person is going to leave in 15-22 months?

We have this paradox, we need to invest in very advanced skills in order to effectively engage customers in their buying journeys. But it we have this revolving door of sales people/managers. How can we make this investment?

We need to break out of this thinking that churn is unavoidable! Accepting 15-22 month turnover as inevitable has to be unacceptable—it certainly is irresponsible!

Talent will be the single most important issue facing sales execs in the coming 5-10 years. We have to invest in acquiring the right talent, investing in their development, and retaining them.

Churn is not a law of physics. We create churn by creating work places that don’t value talent. We create churn by not developing our people or creating challenging job opportunities and companies that people want to be a part of.

Some will say, “But they are millennials….,” suggesting it’s the people not the company or the management policies that cause the churn. This is simply an excuse for uninspired leadership.

People, of all generations, want to work in places where they are challenged, developed, respected, doing something they think is important. That’s not a generational problem, it’s an leadership problem.

Our customers face accelerating turbulence—rapid change, disruption, overload, overwhelm, increasing complexity, transformation, risk, and uncertainty. They are crying for help. It’s the perfect opportunity for sales people to engage the customer helping them solve their problems. But to do this requires great skill.

Leadership at all levels need to step up to their responsibilities and to the opportunity. The opportunity is too big and too important. We owe it to our customers, our companies, our people.

Perhaps, rather than giving lip service to the idea that “people are our most important asset,” we all would be better served by executing on that idea.

  1. Joel Lyles permalink

    Hi Dave,

    I remember at my last company, I was advised to seek out another job at my six-month point for not making any sales despite the average sales cycle for my product being nine months — and I got hired after the previous rep in my territory was fired for pretty much not doing any work his last year before retirement!

    Funnily enough the next week after the whole ‘we don’t think you’re a good fit for the job’ discussion I was able to break into a company that blacklisted us and made my yearly quota just off of that one sale. But I had already accepted a different job by the time they gave us that juicy PO! Now they’re going to have to start from scratch again in that territory (just when a lot of people are getting ready to replace their EoL machines) but they probably learned all of the wrong lessons.

    • Joel, I wish your story were unusual. Unfortunately I hear it too many times. It’s no wonder organizations struggle with sales.

  2. Randy Molnar permalink

    There’s a “ton” of talent squeezed out of the workforce who are ready, willing, able and competent in sales. The caveat is they’re not millennials. They’re evolving into entrepreneurs, business owners, and consultants for pragmatic reasons. The top 10% of all U.S. earners average $60k in retirement savings and are motivated to continue working.
    Hire a couple and mix them in with your millennials, they can coach or mentor others in ways leadership never will or can. Might solve some of your problems. First, have a conversation with HR about their screening techniques. These folks likely fall off the radar through AI preselection or worse, through age bias.

    • Great advice Randy!

    • Joel Lyles permalink

      Hi Randy,

      One of the best SDRs in our group was a 60-year old early retiree who got bored being out of the workforce. He never did sales or IT or even software before, but he was a contractor and small business owner during his working years. He’s killing it over in downloads. Imagine if a workplace was able to catch someone like him 10 or even 5 years ago.

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