How To Survive The Great January Sales Talent Exodus

November 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Every year-end your top reps are thinking, “Should I stay here another year”?

Despite your best efforts, you will lose reps.  Departing “A” players feel like a brutal gut punch.  However, it’s the second body blow that can cripple you: the aggressive new quota from the CEO.  He doesn’t care about vacancies.  He just wants more revenue.  Now you've got to do more with less.

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If you’re lucky, you fill gaps with mediocre talent.  If you’re caught totally unprepared, the territories are vacant for months.  Don’t be the Sales VP who misses the number before the year begins. Download our  Talent Retention Checklist to start planning for your new year.

There are six total steps to handle talent exodus:

  1. Build Your Bench

  2. Identify Suspects That May Leave

  3. Proactively Address Concerns and Issues

  4. Calculate The Departure Estimate

  5. Invest in Aspiring “A” Talent

  6. Shift and Align Talent with Potential

Talent Retention Checklist

Here are the first three:

Build Your Bench: Start identifying possible candidates internally and externally to fill the vacancies. 

  1. Internal Candidates:  Find hidden talent at the company.  Poach from the top sales personnel in lesser roles.  Start training them two to three months prior to year end. Give them a small patch to work initially. Replant these seedlings in a ripe territory when necessary.  Also, identify “B” Players to step into critical regions that can’t suffer lag time.
  2. External Candidates:  Topgrade candidates to ensure they are “A” Players.   Look for consistency.  Check references.  When you need new hires to ramp quickly, look at your competition and customers.  Just know that you will pay a premium for their experience.

Identify Suspects for Departure: First gain an understanding of the competitive landscape. Remember the three main reasons top reps leave:

  1. No Room For Growth: Top reps are constantly pushing themselves to get better.  If they think their career has hit a plateau, they look elsewhere.  They want opportunities for professional advancement.
  2. They Hate Their Boss: Are you micro-managing your reps?  Stealing credit?  If your “A” Players leave in droves, look at management.  Most reps will never let you know.  They don’t want to burn a possible reference.
  3. Lack of Compensation: Great talent doesn’t give substantial effort in exchange for status quo pay.  If they feel underpaid for their efforts, they’ll look elsewhere.  If the industry pay is below average they’ll leave.  Also, beware the “A” Player asked to continually shoulder a higher quota increase. Eventually they’ll miss.  Then they’ll leave.                                 

Proactively Address Issues:  Most managers fail to proactively address retention issues.  This is a mistake. Here are three ways to accomplish this:

  1. Listen: Don’t always think you have to come up with corporate response for complaints.  Reps want to know that management understands their frustration.  Sometimes acknowledgement is more important than the solution.  (Note: This is what your wife means when she yells at you for “trying to solve her problems”.)
  2. Call Out The Elephant in the Room: If there was a bad product, or quotas were unrealistic, say it.  Reps want to know that management knows their struggle. Ask for solutions on how to fix it.  Follow up on their suggestions.  If you just give the reps lip service, eventually they keep quiet.
  3. Create a Plan to Solve It: If the problem can be mitigated, put together a plan to solve it. Show your commitment on a weekly basis. Follow through.  Your engagement will encourage the field.  

Not all vacancies can be prevented.  But managers should stop expecting the inevitable. Mitiage your losses. But plan and prepare for migration.  Download our six step checklist.  Make sure you come out of the gate strong.

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Topics: Talent Management, A Players, Top-Grading for Sales, Small Company Sales Leader Resources

Posted by Drew Zarges

Drew Zarges
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