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Article No.: 11-2

Article Title: Retaining Key Sales Talent

Author: Pam Beigh, Guest Columnist

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Do your best sales reps have one foot out the door?    Statistics show they do!  According to a national sales recruiting firm, over 80% of sales talent polled indicate they have plans to leave their current employer. 
 
The recent economic environment has felt like guerilla warfare for CEOs and leadership in all organizations.  Layoffs, poorly handled communications, cost cutting, and survival tactics have led to a decline in morale.  Communication gaps have developed between all levels in organizations.  As companies begin focusing more on top line growth in 2011, another stumbling block is waiting in the wings.  Recent surveys indicate that the exit of top sales talent is imminent.  A vast majority of sales professionals sampled have voiced a readiness to leave their current organizations when hiring resumes.  If you don’t have a sales talent strategy, you should be concerned. 
 
Consider implementing a three pronged approach that will not only address the current situation, but will also positively impact your long term sales results.
 
First Immediate Action - Improve Communication
 
Before you take any action, communicating in the appropriate tone to your sales team is critical.  The sales team is facing complexities they have never faced before, and the tone has been more negative than in times we can remember.  Some organizations have even communicated to the team they are lucky to have a job.  Whether due to lack of internal support, lack of business, or just a negative environment, the majority of sales people feel beat up, and this feeling will send the masses to the job market.   Your top performers will likely be among that group.
 
Get your team involved, let them know the role they play in the organization today, and how they fit into the long term plans.  Let them know you need their thoughts, ideas and efforts to realize the future plans of the organization.  During a recent conversation with a CEO, he expressed his surprise that the team didn’t know about current initiatives and strategic direction which he thought he had communicated.  Consequently, he has implemented a structure for communicating strategic direction, and the role each individual plays in the future.
 
According to Dr. Linda Gravett, an international human resources expert, “People want to know what their organization’s Mission is first, and a close second is how their role supports that Mission.”
 
Second Step -- Assess your current sales approach from both an external and internal perspective.
 
External View
 
The external view is all about “Know Thy Customer.”  As organizations have been diligently focused on driving cost management, a look at their external world has been neglected; hence their customer knowledge is out dated.   Many organizations have lost touch with what’s really going on in their customer and prospect base.  Consider these questions:
 
-What are your customers’ current obstacles and what are their needs, wants and challenges you can help them solve?  Understanding the customer’s challenges and business drivers provides your organization with a strong competitive edge.  Funny as this sounds, selling is no longer about selling, it’s about helping your customer buy.  Show them the way by helping them solve their customer’s problem. 
 
-Why do we win deals, and more importantly, why do we lose deals?  Price is not the reason and is not acceptable in explaining a loss.  The reasons are more likely your staff is not skilled in uncovering and articulating value or problem/solution propositions to your customers. 
 
Internal View
 
Once you have a better understanding of the external landscape, look at your internal sales staff and processes to determine if your staff has the right skill set to meet the needs of your customers.  Is your sales staff capable of having the types of conversations your customers need? If your customers and your product are very sophisticated, is your sales staff capable of talking their language and providing in- depth knowledge about the value proposition?  Or, is your sales staff still wasting time with the decision maker asking for information they should already know?  This more comprehensive approach requires different behaviors and capabilities.  Sales skills training just may not cut it to get your team where they need to go.    
 
Create a specific behavioral and competency based job description for the role.  This more detailed job description will assist in assessing your current team and their capabilities to execute to the level needed for more profitable sales.
 
Now, the hard part.   It may be time to release some individuals who are not performing for your organization.  As Peter Drucker says,  “Executives owe it to the organization and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs.”  Sales is an important job.  Dismissing those non performers will make a big impact on morale, and the bottom line.  (Linda, is this paragraph too much, or overkill, or too sensitive to bring up?)
 
Final Step – Fill the Gaps
 
You may have created gaps in your sales staff once you conduct your assessment of competencies.  If so, it’s time to recruit.  By utilizing the competency based job descriptions, begin your recruiting process to find “A” players for your organization. 
 
The challenge in hiring sales people is to weed out those who can from those who say they can!  Review your recruiting strategy to ensure:
 
- It is consistent across applicants.
-Your questions relate to the type of behavior and competencies needed for the job.
- Your internal staff is trained on utilizing behavioral interview techniques.
-Your decision making process is based on facts and only 10% on “gut” feel.
 
Lastly, remember to structure an onboarding process.  A very stringent 30, 60, and 90 day process which will not just let them know “where’s the bathroom”,  but will set up your expectations and reporting structure for their tenure at the company.
 
One Final Note – How to Keep Top Performers
 
Retaining your newly improved sales staff is important to maintaining consistency.    Consider how you can create a career path for sales staff, which may not necessarily mean sales management.  Career planning and development for great sales people can include internal coaching or special projects.  By maintaining productive communication with sales staff, you can discover what their goals and aspirations include.  Help individuals understand their path, then help develop them above and beyond just product training.
 
To implement a successful sales talent strategy, follow these three steps:

  1.  Improve communication
  2. Assess your current sales approach from both an external and internal perspective.
  3. Fill the Gaps with “A” Players

By taking these three steps, you can retain your best sales staff, improve sales, and, more importantly, increase profitability.   You can affect your topline sales today and, importantly, your bottom line for tomorrow.

Bio for Pam Beigh
Pam Beigh is not only the Founder of SALESCORE; she’s a problem solver and a growth advocate. Pam puts her passion for simplifying sales and her more than 20 years of sales experience to work every day helping small- to mid-sized businesses create customized strategies that ensure profitable sales.  Her strategic and measurable approach, a unique combination, is what drives her success.  It’s how she’s able to work with Presidents and Vice Presidents of Sales to remove the mystery and risk from any sales environment.  She assists organizations with some of today’s most common challenges like understanding why your sales staff is underperforming; which sales person is the right one to hire; or why a customer really didn’t buy.  Her motto, Sales. Simplified.  To contact Pam, email her at pbeigh@salescore.net or check out her company’s web site:  www.salescore.net.

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