Selling Excellence - Sales Compensation Plan

Retaining Your Top Sellers in the Great Resignation

AuctusIQ Partner and sales consultant Tim Geisert shares some surprising data and smart strategies to keep your sales team engaged, performing, and happy.

Even as COVID-19 fades into the rearview mirror, one topic simply refuses to go away: The Great Resignation. Every week, I hear CEOs share stories about the top seller who just walked out the door or the enormous amount of money they paid to hire one of their superstars back from a competitor. Why is this still happening, and what can you do about it?

I’ve heard the anecdotes, but I wanted hard data. So, I sat down with Kris Erickson, a longtime friend, colleague, and cofounder of Workforce Science Associates. WSA makes organizations better by being laser-focused on the employee experience. They’ve built one of the world’s largest repositories of employee data (their current three-year rolling database includes research on 10 million employees across 20 countries) and they’re adding to it daily.

The backbone of WSA’s research is the annual employee engagement surveys they conduct for clients worldwide. Engagement data gives you a clear picture of several things:

  • Are your people invested to put in extra, discretionary effort, or are they just phoning it in?
  • Is their engagement trending up or down? Why?
  • What’s driving engagement throughout the overall workforce, and in your industry?
  • How do you stack up against your competitors?

Perhaps most important, studying your engagement scores can reveal the one or two things you need to do to energize and inspire your team. Here’s what I took away from my conversation with Kris:

Leadership still matters – maybe more than ever

WSA data show that before the pandemic, employees were very focused on themselves: How can I keep growing my career? What else can my employer do for me? But when uncertainty set in, they started thinking about senior leadership: What’s your plan for getting us through this? Will you take care of me? What can you say to inspire my confidence in you? This is always important, but when the pressure is on, it becomes a much bigger deal. Suddenly, it’s urgent and essential for CEOs to answer two questions:

  1. Where are we headed as an organization?
  2. What does that mean for every single one of us in the organization?

CEOs must be in lockstep with the rest of the senior leadership team, then the front-line managers, and communicate this message out to every person in the organization. When they can do this, they’re equipping sales managers to help their teams work through the situation, provide them with individualized communication, and convey a sense of genuine appreciation.

Managers are the soul of your selling operation

I say this often, but once again, we see that front-line sales managers are usually the most important and overlooked link in the selling chain. The top brass must provide the vision and inspire employee confidence, but it’s the front-line managers who make individual salespeople feel invested and connected to that vision. That may be the single biggest driver of whether your people choose to stay.

The pandemic created new pressure and revealed a lot of weak links. Suddenly, CEOs and managers had to say, “My workforce is going home.” How do you recognize people when you can’t see them every day? How do you help them think about career growth and development when you lose those interactions? Salespeople onboarded during the pandemic likely never had a chance to forge that relationship and trust with their direct managers.

And that’s not all. We’ve all known stellar sales reps who received a “battlefield promotion” to become managers. Too often, they were promoted outside of their abilities. In the best of times, this means trading an elite seller for a mediocre manager. In tougher times, it means disaster.

It’s time to take a good, long look at your sales managers. Are they in the right roles? Do they have what they need to engage, inspire, and develop your individual salespeople?

Salespeople aren’t like everybody else

You already know this from experience, but now WSA has the numbers to prove it. When the sales function in their normative database is isolated from data on other professions, something interesting becomes clear – salespeople, by nature, tend to be more engaged than people in other professions. Not only that, but the specific factors that drive their engagement are different as well.

With factors related to Growth & Development, for example, the overall database shows an average engagement score of 67%. When you parse out data on sales professionals, that number leaps to 76%. Differences this large are rare. The other big gap is in numbers related to Recognition, where the overall database scores 68%. As a group, salespeople average 75%.

This is invaluable information. It tells us what really motivates all those salespeople in our organizations, especially when compared with people in other professions. And that shows you what kind of inspiration and encouragement your sales managers need to provide. Specifically:

  1. It’s all about growth and development. Can my career goals be met here? Who has the most influence on making that happen? Answer: The sales manager.
  2. Recognition is key. We all know that salespeople love commissions, but they also love to know that they’re important. Who can spend the time, give the feedback, and show that they see what someone is doing well? That’s right: The sales manager.

The Great Resignation isn’t over yet, but like most things, it won’t affect everyone equally. The CEO who can provide a vision, and the sales manager who can satisfy the desire for growth, development, and recognition, will come out on top. Not only will engagement lead to more retention, but it will also lead to deals closed and quotas met. And what’s more engaging than that?

Want to hear Tim and Kris talk more about the seller resignation trend? Listen to our corresponding podcast episode here.

Tim Geisert is the executive on the leadership team that crafts the vision, shapes the product strategy, and inspires teams to grow the business. That, and more than 30 years of experience growing companies through marketing and sales, is what Geisert brings to AuctusIQ.

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