Harvard Business Review is out with a new article with an enticing title: How to Predict Turnover of Your Salesforce (July-August, 2017). As mentioned in previous posts, I am not a big fan of HBR because they often get it wrong. Indeed, that was the title of my March 2015post: Motivation: HBR Get It Wrong Again. https://www.tildensst.com/2015/03/30/motivation-hbr-gets-it-wrong-again/
Well, with this article they didn’t exactly get it wrong. But, the title is somewhat misleading because the salespeople they studied were selling consumer electronics in stores.In other words, the research sample was retail, or Business-to-Customer, and not the Business-to-Business salespeople I expected when I first read the title. Retail selling where customers walk in the door ready to whip out a credit card is a totally different kettle of fish than B-to-B selling which is major and complex. In the B-to-B world there are multiple decision influences, the process is typically months or years in duration, and the solutions would max-out even Warren Buffet’s credit card.
While much of my work today is training B-to-B salespeople and their managers, I do recall a brief stint I did in retail sales. While in college, I was hired by a department store to demonstrate new products to customers over the holiday season. When the time came, I went back to college. Would I have been counted in the attrition figures in this study? Probably.
To me, it is highly questionable to generalize the findings in this HBR article to B-to-B sales teams.
Over the years, I have led several projects seeking to reduce B-to-B sales force attrition. Sales force retention is vitally important because when a company turns-over a sales position it jeopardizes the interpersonal relationships that have been built. Wealth managers are often “poached” by competing banks because they typically bring their client base with them. This is true of most industries because, regardless of the solution, the trust a salesperson brings to the B-to-B buying equation is indispensable.
My approach to reducing sales force attrition goes a step beyond what is advocated in the HBR article where the authors encourage managers to “identify who is at risk of leaving”. We start at the beginning by studying the characteristics of salespeople who not only persist, but perform at a high level. We also look at what’s in common with those who under perform and leave either involuntarily or on their own.
We then train those in selection to focus on the characteristics of the high performers who persist. We also train them not to choose salespeople who will likely leave and under perform while employed. Our mantra is sales force retention begins with selection.
This approach works. Our clients have cut attrition in half from the mid-twenty percent to single digits. Upon request, I would be happy to share some of our high-level findings. All you have to do is put sales force retention begins with selection in the subject line of your email to [email protected].