Why Your Inside Sales Reps Don't Last

November 28, 2012 at 7:00 AM

“I just don’t know how to motivate them”, the head of Account Management complained.  “They seem totally demoralized.  A third of them leave every year. They move to another firm down the street for the same position. And here’s the kicker,” he frowned, looking out his window, “the comp is lower.  I can’t figure it out.”

The top reasons reps voluntarily leave a company (in order) are:

  1. Conflicts with Management (or management style)
  2. Compensation
  3. Personal Growth and Fulfillment

This manager mistook #2 as his reps’ top priority.  This was a mistake.  Throughout our history with the company, we performed multiple projects- Sales Process, Sales Structure, and Channel Management.  However, every attempt we made to talk about Talent Management received the Heisman.  It was seen as HR fluff.   Hiring evaluations were a gut feel.  Coaching consisted of corrections and pats on the back.  Download a copy of our Inside Sales talent management scorecard to see how Inside Sales Reps should be evaluated.

Inside Sales Talent Management Scorecard resized 600

The previous 2 days I had sat with eight of this manager’s reps.  Dilbert cartoons hung within their cubicles mocking executives.  On mini-calendars, holidays were circled three months in advance.  Most of the reps were in their mid-twenties.  I can’t believe I went to college to do this. They said. This place is a sweatshop. Morale was at rock bottom.

This manager’s main goal was to keep reps in line.  Numbers and metrics trumped everything.  Dials and talk time were emphasized in excruciating detail.  Reps were expected to have 150 minutes of talk time on the phone.  60 phone calls minimum per day, no excuses.  New recruits underwent a two day boot camp, and were thrown on the phones. 

“What about your existing reps?” I asked, “how do you develop and groom them?”

“They’re not dogs.” The manager insisted, “If they want to learn, that’s on their time.  I need them to hit the phones.  We have a one hour training session every week. We listen to recorded calls and make adjustments.  Besides that, they need to engage.  I need to make my number.”  Reps dreaded getting their calls pulled for the “adjustments” meeting.  Praise was evasive. 

A true Talent Management program emphasizes personal growth. Reinforcement should act as a balance.  His competitor down the street knew this.  The top rep of the eight I sat with mentioned jumping ship.  The competition had contacted him.  They allowed Account Managers to help customize marketing materials.  They let them out into the field to help understand their customers’ top needs. They underwent extensive product training and sales skills reinforcement.  Many moved up within the organization after 12-18 months.

Here, out of twenty-one territories, four were empty (19%). Vacant territories, accounting for inbound requests, generated 50% revenues of a staffed territory. Using rough math (50%*19%) this was a 10% sacrifice in sales alone. Although the manager focused on metrics, he’d overlooked simple statistics.

Customers were also upset at the turnover, “Every time I call it’s somebody new”.  Reps had to put in considerable time just to win back customers who felt neglected.   This high rep turnover contributed to lower customer satisfaction.  Any gain in productivity was lost in churned accounts.

At the competition, the Account Manager position was a pipeline for other opportunities within the company.  Here it was a revolving door.  How did they do it? Instead of 95% capacity, they demanded 80%.  This reduced phone time was reinvested in personal growth. During this time they pursued their career interests. They presented their efforts on this 20% for 15 minutes every quarter.  Management and their peers attended and learned. This fostered a culture of shared best practices and knowledge. 

And the manager wondered why they left. The lowest denominator of management is enforcing metrics compliance.  Managers who elevate to the top continually coach and inspire their reps for two reasons.

  1. It helps improve reps' effectiveness (and hit their number).
  2. It gives reps a sense of personal growth and fulfillment (and improves retention).

If Inside Sales Reps dread going into coaching sessions, your talent management program needs revision. Identify your reps strengths and praise them.  Tackle “weaknesses” as opportunities.  If your rep isn’t pumped to get back out and engage customers, you’re doing it wrong.  Great managers love coaching. Reps love great managers.  Gain an idea of your reps’ strengths and opportunities.  Download our Inside Sales talent management scorecard after this event and identify where you can help your reps.

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Topics: Talent Management, sales coaching, Small Company Sales Leader Resources, Inside Sales

Posted by Drew Zarges

Drew Zarges
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