5 Steps to Reducing Sales Turnover


Employee turnover is a normal part of every business.  People leave companies for a variety of reasons that are either voluntary or involuntary –  a better opportunity elsewhere, a bad boss, poor performance, or compensation issues.  In the Sales profession there are other elements that impact turnover including disagreement on goals or quotas, not enough leads, poor quality of leads, no brand awareness or credibility, and few if any sales tools and resources.  High turnover within Sales can typically be linked to why a company failed.  Recent data suggest that an average sales force experiences somewhere between 20 – 40% turnover each year.  But of course that begs the question…what is average?  And should you care what average is?  Are you really striving for average?  If you are the Sales Leader, will the law of averages protect you and your team from involuntary turnover issues?  In most companies the answer is, average doesn’t matter.

To improve turnover you must first understand what’s driving it in the first place.  This requires thick skin, an open mind, and a willingness to recognize and confront reality.  Diving into a turnover study for most people is scary.  What will I find?  Will I be able to change it?  What if I am the reason for the turnover?  Too often these questions prevent sales leaders from digging in, and taking action, to understand why their sales force is leaving on a all too frequent basis.  However, if you want your company to grow, you need to take a deep breath and begin to assess.  Here are 5 steps to help identify and reduce your sales turnover:

  1. Get in the field.  Every sales leader, up to and including the head of the Sales team, should be in the field…or on the phone if it is an Inside Sales team.  Being in the field allows the leader to see first-hand what the prospect is experiencing.  It also provides critical insights into the sales representatives behaviors.  How well prepared was the rep before making the call?  Did they know their product inside and out?  Do they have the level of business acumen that is required to establish trust and build rapport?  How was their energy level?  Did you feel their passion or were they running through the motions?  Spending time in the field is the perhaps the most important first step you can take to get a handle on your turnover.
  2. Know your numbers.  I’m often amazed at how many sales leaders don’t know their numbers off the top of their head.  Knowing your numbers should be as important as knowing how much gas is in your car.  If you get in your car without checking your fuel gauge you risk running out of gas.  Likewise if you’re not constantly checking your sales numbers you will likely experience a dry pipeline and poor performance results.  Determine what numbers are important to your specific selling process.  Establish definitions for a lead, prospect, or suspect.  Develop sales stages that identify how close a prospect is to committing to a purchase.  Track and record the number of calls made, presentations made, and sales.  Create ratios:  Call-to-Presentation, Presentation-to-Sale, etc.  Ratios are a great way to provide visibility into the effectiveness of your team.
  3. Ask for help.  This is perhaps the most difficult step for a sales leader to take.  There is risk associated with this step depending upon the type of culture that exists in your workplace.  Asking for help can be perceived in one of two ways:  a strength or a weakness.  Having built and led several large sales organizations I find strength in sales leaders that have come to me to ask for help.  Understand there is a difference in engaging someone for their thoughts and ideas as opposed to expecting them to solve your problem.  While I am very willing to offer insights, perspectives and ideas, the sales leader reporting to me still owns fixing the problem.  Think of it as a fitness trainer.  The trainer provides the workout and diet but you still own lifting the weights, running the miles, and eating the right food.  It’s your problem but you have the assistance and guidance of the trainer to make the improvements needed.  If you find yourself in a workplace where asking for help is equivalent to signing your death sentence then you need to decide if that’s the right place for you to be.  One person does not hold all the answers.  That’s why there are executive teams, and board members, because most companies realize and understand that the power of success and growth is dependent upon the combined intelligence and drive of the team…not just one person.
  4. Evaluate your compensation plan.  This can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining effort.  Much has been written about the correlation between sales results and the compensation plan in place for the sales team.  Is it filled with too many carrots?  Is it too much stick?  Is it balanced in a way that provides a win for all stakeholders?  Determining whether or not you have the correct compensation plan in place depends on your company, your product, your margins and a variety of other variable inputs.  However, at its core, a sales compensation plan should provide the sales representative with stronger earning potential the more he or she sells.  If you feel you’re not in a position to complete a thorough assessment of your compensation plan you may want to consider bringing in an outside compensation consultant who specializes in variable compensation plans.
  5. Improve your training.  The age-old debate is what to train first…product or sales.  My belief is that product training must come first.  Without an intimate knowledge of the product or service being sold it is nearly impossible to teach someone how to sell it.  I have seen many companies spend large amounts of money on sales training in the absence of product training resulting in poor sales results and, extreme disappointment.  A well-trained sales professional exudes confidence.  That confidence will ultimately translate into stronger sales results as they will have a better handle on their offering and the value it provides to the buyer.  So before you spend a dollar on pure sales training, look at what exists for product training first.  If nothing, start there and begin to develop product briefs for the sales team.

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