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[Message to Management]: Why Your Top Sales Rep Will Leave You Soon

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woman-walking-out-door-365js040809Stop ignoring your rainmakers.

Max had just given notice, and Melissa was beyond furious. Max was her top sales rep—the one with the best customer relationships, the most closed business, and the largest pipeline. Melissa couldn’t afford to lose him, but she’d missed plenty of opportunities to keep him.

Max was a bit of a loner, but he always produced. So, Melissa had just left him alone to work his magic. She did her best to smooth the way through internal politics, and she supported him on executive sales calls if he asked. She was always there to answer questions or provide coaching … if he asked.

And therein lies the problem: She only supported Max “if he asked.” Otherwise she ignored him. Maybe she didn’t know how to coach such a stellar sales rep. Maybe she felt her time was better spent developing team members who were struggling. Either way, by leaving him to find his own path to success, she set him up to walk away.

In this month’s No More Cold Calling guest post, sales effectiveness expert Richard Ruff discusses the real risks of not investing time in top performers. Want to avoid Melissa’s predicament? Check out Richard’s advice for sales leadership:

“Sales managers have a tendency not to focus on their top performers. There are many reasons: Top sales performers don’t demand as much from their sales managers, and sales managers believe their superstars can handle whatever on their own. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Interestingly, when we talk with sales managers about which members of their teams they invest time in, more often than not we hear some version of this conundrum: ‘I know I should spend time with my top performers, but they seem to prefer doing their own thing, and I don’t want to upset the boat’ or ‘I’m sure they’d like more developmental attention—and would benefit from it—but I’m not sure how big a bang for the buck I would get from working with them, versus working with my middle performers and those not meeting quota.’

Then we ask those same sales managers, ‘What’s your reaction when you find out that one of your superstars is moving on?’

The typical responses: ’My heart sinks,’ ‘I just get sick,’ or ‘I mentally figure out by how much we’ll miss our numbers.’

When top salespeople move on, it’s not just a business hit; it’s also a personal one. According to Susan Cramm, sales managers feel that salespeople leaving is painful, both professionally and personally. And high-potential salespeople have lots of opportunities to move on. According to a study by Corporate Executive Board (CEB), as many as 25 percent of high-potential employees plan to leave their jobs within a year. This is certainly a statistic that all sales managers should ponder.

How can you increase your odds of keeping your most talented employees? The CEB study shared these techniques:

  • Ensure that work is stimulating and meaningful
  • Challenge them with projects that require acquiring new skills
  • Recognize their performance beyond their compensation plan
  • Help your top sales performers feel connected to the team and the people with whom they work
  • Give them chances to grow professionally and personally

According to CEB, when these conditions aren’t present, it’s more likely that your top sales performers will leave.

If you are a VP of sales, I suggest asking yourself these questions:

  • How much revenue are we likely to lose over the next 12 months if 25 percent of our top performers leave?
  • What is the long-term impact on repeat business if 25 percent of our top performers leave?
  • If they leave, what will the impact be on the remaining top performers?
  • How much time and money will it take to recruit, hire, and train replacements for the top performers we lose?

This is an easy math problem to solve: If you don’t invest in your top sales performers, they will eventually leave, and the associated costs will be staggering.”

{Note: This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Publisher.)

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

drruffAbout the Author

Dr. Ruff has spent the last 25 years designing and managing large-scale sales effectiveness projects for Fortune 1000 companies. These projects have varied in scope from sales training efforts with startup companies to international sales performance engagements with organizations like UPS. The diversity of clients ranges from consulting firms such as McKinsey and Booz & Allen, to medical devices companies such as Boston Scientific and Smith and Nephew, to conglomerates like Textron. Richard has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored several books. Learn more at SalesMomentum.com.

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