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Combat the Seller Resignation Trend" with Kris Erickson

The Selling Excellence Podcast: Episode 10

On this episode of the podcast, Tim hosts Kris Erickson, an engagement data expert and business consultant from Workforce Science Associates (WSA). Kris talks about the WSA database of research that has found the key elements of motivating salespeople today in this fast-paced business environment. She will give you ways to drive high levels of engagement in your workforce.

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Episode Transcript

Tim Geisert (00:05):
Hey, welcome to The Selling Excellence Podcast for business executives. We all know B2B selling isn’t getting any easier. And what’s worse, it’s getting more expensive. Hello, I’m Tim Geisert, your host and partner at AuctusIQ, a selling excellence as a service company. Our goal today is to give you insights on how you can turn your sales force into a company asset. We hope you enjoy it.

The great resignation, that’s the topic of today’s podcast. And today we have one of the esteemed, I guess I’d say consultants, right Kris? You’re a consultant?

Kris Erickson (00:39):
I am a consultant.

Tim Geisert (00:40):
And about the great resignation, and why does this matter to the senior executives that we’re talking to today? Because, the great resignation is hitting hard in the middle of sales. Sales leadership, sellers of all kinds in any shape and form, B2B consumer, you name it, it has put pressure on it. Right Kris?

Kris Erickson (00:59):

Tim Geisert (01:00):
And so, Kris is here from a company called WSA. Kris, tell us a little bit about WSA. Let’s do a little character development here.

Kris Erickson (01:07):
All right. Well, Workforce Science Associates is an organization that is focused on making organizations better by focusing in on the employee experience. Because, if we can get that right then sales people are more productive. They’re happier with where they are and what they’re doing. They are the heart and soul of an organization. If they’re selling really well, then the organization’s going to continue to learn and grow.

Tim Geisert (01:32):
Yep. Creates vibrancy, doesn’t it?

Kris Erickson (01:34):

Tim Geisert (01:34):
Yeah, when they’re engaged, and you study that. WSA’s spent a lot of time. Here’s why Kris is here today. Ready, Kris? We were talking about this, and we’re talking about the anecdotal aspects of what we’re hearing with executives. This person’s left, or, I just had to pay somebody an enormous amount of money to steal them back from somebody that had stolen them.

Kris Erickson (01:56):

Tim Geisert (01:57):
And so we’re like, “We need some data.” So, we look around and who do we look for? We look for Kris. As a co-founder of WSA, she knows this stuff. And so you crunched some data, right?

Kris Erickson (02:08):
I did crunch some data. Right now at WSA, we sit and built on one of the largest databases of employee research in the world, and I think that’s important.

Tim Geisert (02:17):

Kris Erickson (02:17):
Whatever we’re going to talk about today is grounded and founded in science and data.

Tim Geisert (02:21):
You’re not making this up.

Kris Erickson (02:21):
Not making this shit up. And right now that database is a three year rolling database with 10 million respondents across 20 countries.

Tim Geisert (02:30):
The hell you say?

Kris Erickson (02:31):
And we’re just continuing to add data on day-to-day basis.

Tim Geisert (02:35):
So when we started this conversation, I don’t think we knew that fact. That’s an impressive fact. Way to go. All right, so this stuff’s believable.

Kris Erickson (02:42):
It is believable.

Tim Geisert (02:43):
So when you dove into this, how’d you go about it?

Kris Erickson (02:47):
At the heart of our company is running engagement surveys on an annual basis for organizations. And what engagement really means, Tim, is do people want to give their best work? Do they come in and give that extra 10%?

Tim Geisert (03:00):
The Discretionary.

Kris Erickson (03:02):
Or are they just phoning it in? And out of that, we can not only understand by industry, by level in an organization where engagement scores are, but we can also tell you if you want to make it better, here are the one or two things that you absolutely need to do to drive those levels of engagement in the workforce.

Tim Geisert (03:21):
Well, that’d be valuable and you’d do this for executives around the world. So, what’d you find?

Kris Erickson (03:27):
It’s interesting, before the pandemic, when we were looking at what was driving engagement overall, it was, people were pretty inwardly focused. The economy was booming, so this was all about growth and development, and how do I continue to grow my career? Well, when the pandemic hit, it all became about the senior most leadership in organizations.

Tim Geisert (03:48):

Kris Erickson (03:50):
Were they talking about here’s where we’re headed, here’s why it’s important, here’s what we know, here’s what we don’t know. And when they met that moment, employees began to say, “Wait a minute, you and I are going through the same kinds of experiences, and you don’t have all the answers.” And that really has been one of the biggest findings out of that refreshed database. That it has to be about senior leaders, and they have to be able to talk about a message that inspires people to risk their lives literally to come into work every day, and they have to have the confidence of their people.

Tim Geisert (04:25):
What you’re saying, just in this little point, and I think it’s a huge one, especially for our audience, what your senior executives within midsize and enterprise companies, leadership matters. It’s always mattered, right?

Kris Erickson (04:38):

Tim Geisert (04:38):
But when the pressure’s on, when stress is high, it became even a bigger deal.

Kris Erickson (04:43):
Mm-hmm. And even as you think about sales managers, here’s what we’re learning. That I just believe there are people that are brought into this world who are instinctively and intuitively, they just know how to lead people. And so you can change-

Tim Geisert (04:56):
Born with it, right?

Kris Erickson (04:57):
They’re born with it. You can change their circumstances, their teams, even what their role is in the organization, and they never miss a beat. They can continue to lead their people. What we’re also learning is that there are people that weren’t born to do this, and more than likely they were promoted beyond their abilities, and they were struggling before the pandemic hit. And now, they’re worse than they’ve ever been before. And so, when we think about what retention really means, that manager plays a critical component in terms of whether I’m looking, or whether I want to stay.

Tim Geisert (05:30):
Let me get this straight. All right, because you and I have worked together for many years, managers have always been key in any organization. But there’s something that happens in sales that is unique. You take a great rep, and you move them and promote them up. Colloquially, we call it battlefield promotions. Right?

Kris Erickson (05:50):

Tim Geisert (05:51):
All right, and that can work if the business is rocking and the economy’s rocking, but there became some big boulders rolling down the hill at them. Right?

Kris Erickson (05:59):

Tim Geisert (05:59):
And so, it put greater pressure on those people that weren’t naturally suited for that role.

Kris Erickson (06:03):

Tim Geisert (06:04):
Okay, so-

Kris Erickson (06:08):
We can go into that database, and this is what we did based upon our conversation. We can go in and isolate the sales function in our database for individual contributors, the people who are out there making the sale on a day to day basis, but also sales management and leadership. And one of the things that we discovered is that by nature, sales people, the sales function, they’re more engaged than the rest of the database. And it’s by a pretty significant margin.

Tim Geisert (06:37):
Really? How come that surprises me a little bit? Did it surprise you?

Kris Erickson (06:40):
Well, I think here’s what happens. In sales, you either make it or you don’t. And in most organizations you’re filtering out people who just aren’t going to cut it in that function.

Tim Geisert (06:51):
They’re kind of naturally engaged, a little more anyway, right?

Kris Erickson (06:53):

Tim Geisert (06:54):
Because they’re forced to, it’s a part of their job function.

Kris Erickson (06:55):

Tim Geisert (06:56):
Is that your point?

Kris Erickson (06:57):
That’s my point.

Tim Geisert (06:58):
I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Kris.

Kris Erickson (06:59):
Nope, you’re doing great. You’re doing great. But then, what we wanted to know… I told you a little bit about what was driving engagement, post pandemic for organizations overall, but now we wanted to see, is there a difference in what drives engagement within the sales function. And absolutely, the data revealed, there are different drivers of engagement for the sales function. And if you all are familiar with the Toby Keith song, “It’s not about you, it’s about me. Let’s talk about me.”

Tim Geisert (07:29):
One of my favorites.

Kris Erickson (07:30):
That’s nailing what we learned about the top drivers, right?

Tim Geisert (07:33):
I feel like line dancing right now.

Kris Erickson (07:35):
It was all about growth and development. Can my career goals be met here? Who has the most instrumental, really influence on making that happen? It’s my sales manager. Number two, it was about recognition. We all know that sales people love commissions, but they also love to know that they’re important. And sales leadership that can talk about here’s what we like about you, here’s what you’re doing right, here’s what you’re doing well. And then add to that, here’s where we see your growth plan moving forward. When they can get those two factors right, they have a much higher probability of keeping those sales people. And remember, at the end of the day, if I’m a CEO, I don’t want to know that you’re just coming into work every day, I want you doing even more than you’ve done before. And that’s really what engagement is. It’s that discretionary effort.

Tim Geisert (08:30):
What you’re saying here, and I’m going to probably ask you for a little bit of hard numbers here. Not that I don’t believe you, but, I think we’re in a numbers audience here. But if I understand what you’re saying, there’s not the big one, there’s not the big three, there’s the big two. The big two is development, helping them grow, get better, faster, stronger. That’s key.

Kris Erickson (08:54):

Tim Geisert (08:55):
And then, creating that recognition opportunity, and giving that, and feeding that drive and that success because it feeds on itself.

Kris Erickson (09:04):

Tim Geisert (09:06):
Those two things.

Kris Erickson (09:06):
Those two things. And if you can do that as a sales leader, you have a very high probability that you’re going to see quotas being attained, quotas being surpassed.

Tim Geisert (09:15):
Quotas are good.

Kris Erickson (09:16):
And then, I think that’s a huge opportunity. And by the way, with those items, salespeople are scoring much higher in the database than overall, in terms of the normative database. That tells me not only is it important to salespeople, but if you’re not scoring at a 76% favorable in those items, you’re behind as a sales leader, you’re behind as a sales organization.

Tim Geisert (09:43):
Give me some numbers. You’re numbers person, you’re smart as can be. What are those numbers telling you? I mean, just what are the specific facts behind that? That’s a big statement.

Kris Erickson (09:53):
It is a big statement. With growth and development, for example, the sales function, their score, as I said, is a 76%. In the overall WSA database, those items are sitting at a 67%. That is statistically huge. I mean, it’s nine real percentage points. And again, when you think about what drives engagement, that’s why we can so confidently say you need to pick two items, and these are the two items that are really the most impactful for sales forces.

Tim Geisert (10:26):
Wow, 76 versus 67.

Kris Erickson (10:27):

Tim Geisert (10:28):
Wow. Okay. Wow. What about recognition? Do you have any numbers on that?

Kris Erickson (10:32):
Recognition, it’s about seven percentage points higher. 75% overall recognition, and then you’ll just see what that means for the rest of the database.

Tim Geisert (10:42):
Wow. Explain to the audience here, when you’ve got that kind of percentage jump, how much difference is that? Just in relative terms. On a scale of one to 10, that’s like a nine as far as difference? Is it like a three versus difference? Just kind of dumb it down for those of us that aren’t the scientists that you are.

Kris Erickson (11:05):
Sure. If you want to put it on that simplistic one to 10 scale, it’s a nine. It is highly significant and it’s very, very different. And one of the things that I will say is, think about what happened in the pandemic. CEOs overnight had to say, “My workforce is going home.” And how do you recognize people when you can’t see them every day? How do you help them think about their career growth and development when you, again, don’t have a lot of those interactions?

Then secondly, what I would say to every sales leader. If you have onboarded salespeople, when you were working remotely, those two components become even more critical because I don’t get to interact with my team like I would have if we were all in person. And really getting to understand the individual, and what it is that’s important to them in those two critical components, I think is going to be really necessary. And I am concerned. We are in the midst of the great resignation. I think with people that have that two years or less of tenure, if they haven’t gotten what they need from their sales leadership in those critical areas, I do think you’re going to see even an even higher percentage of people who are just going to jump ship.

Tim Geisert (12:19):
Kris, I’m taken aback by really where this conversation started before we got on the air here. Of answering the question with data, what’s going on. But the thing that seems to be the most forgotten is how important that sales manager is. And you’ve just put data against how important it is to feed the seller with the right kind of strategy and effort from the sales manager.

Kris Erickson (12:48):

Tim Geisert (12:49):
That is something that many people don’t think about. We think about the head of sales, head of marketing, the seller themselves, but that sales manager. Years ago, you and I heard this guy speak, Captain Abrashoff. He took the worst ship in the U.S. Navy, to the best ship in the U.S. Navy, and he said, “It’s all about the master sergeants,” right?

Kris Erickson (13:10):

Tim Geisert (13:11):
Which, is the senior most enlisted person, and that person makes everything happen on a ship. And he said, “They run the U.S. Navy,” right?

Kris Erickson (13:20):

Tim Geisert (13:20):
To many parallels, this is the same thing.

Kris Erickson (13:23):
Absolutely. If we were to just tie it all together, let’s go back to when we were talking about the overall drivers of engagement, post pandemic. And we said, it’s all about the senior, most leadership in the organization. Again, if I were a CEO listening to this, I want to give you three questions that you absolutely have to be in lockstep with the rest of your senior leadership team on, and communicate it out to the organization. Where are we headed as an organization? Why is that important? And what does that mean for every single one of you in the organization?

And when leaders can do that, then we task those sales managers with taking that one step down with their sales forces and talking about, okay, if this is where we’re headed in the future, then for us in sales, why is that important? If we win, how does the company win? When the company wins, how do we win? And there is a power in getting that top down message dispersed through the organization, but then those sales managers taking on that mantle. And when we can get everybody working in lockstep, I promise you, the sales engine is going to be on fire and driving the heart and soul of the organization.

Tim Geisert (14:37):
Kris I’m fired up, and I got to tell you, this has just been fantastic. WSA. You’re co-founder, you head up all the consulting, it’s been great to have you here today. You’re a good friend, great guest. And if somebody didn’t learn something from this, then they just weren’t listening close enough. Thanks a lot for being here.

Kris Erickson (14:58):
Absolutely Tim.

Tim Geisert (15:00):
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Selling Excellence Podcast For Business Executives. I hope you’ve gained some insight on how to help turn your sales organization into a company asset, versus a pain in the asset. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Sales Excellence Podcast, wherever you get your podcast. And for more information about AuctusIQ or to schedule a discovery call, visit our website at auctusiq.com. Until next time, this is Tim Geisert, your host and partner at AuctusIQ, here to help you sell more and grow your company.

Announcer (15:32):
A Hurrdat Media production.

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