If you lead a sales team, here are some proven and simple ways you can make your top performing sales reps leave for another employer. I am not quite sure why anyone would want their top reps to leave, but I have witnessed all of these things happen first hand, so I thought I would compile a list for easy reference:
1. Regularly change the compensation plan
Changing the rules of the game is a fast way to frustrate your best sales reps and is a top point of failure for compensation plans. This is particularly true when it occurs in the middle of a sales cycle and reps find that their maturing leads will result in lower payout commission than they expected. In addition, compensation plans can be difficult to understand. Reps won’t enjoy wrapping their heads around yet another one, especially if they need to significantly pivot their selling tasks and behaviors to meet performance standards.
Limit changes to compensation plans. If an adjustment is necessary, provide ample notice and communicate the ways that it can benefit both the rep and the business overall.
2. Reduce the commission rate if reps start producing big sales and big commission checks
High-performing sales organizations have been found to consistently reward their talent with compensation packages that are above market, which is one reason we strongly recommend against commission caps. They remove incentive for the best performers to grow, and top talent will soon look to other companies that can offer them uncapped earnings. They also remove an employer’s control over performance once the cap is activated.
What’s more, there is very rarely an economic downside for a company to pay large commissions if the sales compensation plan is structured to be profitable at any level.
“I was recently eating lunch with a telecom sales rep at a big company. We were talking about the comp plan and he mentioned that their pay stub showed a ‘commission deduction line.’ It shows the amount of commission earned and then a deduction for earning above the limit for the pay period. Let me repeat this. This company actually shows reps how they are being screwed (ahem, sorry, ‘capped’) as a line item on their pay stub. I can’t imagine anything more de-motivating.” — Steve Richard, CRO of Vorsight BP
3. Penalize the sales team for poor post-sales delivery
Companies should keep reps focused on delivering sales results by rewarding consistently excellent performance. But penalizing the team for post sales delivery is a distraction from those results that really matter.
Salespeople generally have varying approaches to post-sales relationships with clients. According to Steve W. Martin’s research, 36% of salespeople report that they feel personally responsible and dedicated to a customer’s success. 17% develop close friendships with them, while 26% report cordial but less personal relationships, citing busyness on both ends. 22% take a hands-off approach and just stay up to date on the client’s experience post sale.
The customer and company certainly both benefit from an excellent post-sales experience. But penalizing it detracts from what’s most important: selling activities.
4. Refuse to comp sales reps on certain types of sales that generate desirable profits for the company
Another common mistake in compensation plans is the tendency to pay commissions only on the sales of certain products and not others, even if they generate profit for the company. This doesn’t align rep goals with business goals. Instead, companies should pay the highest commissions for the sales that generate the highest profits, regardless of type of sale or type of product.
5. Fail to support reps with proactive product management, strong product development, professional delivery and effective support
Great reps want and need to sell great product offerings, not “me too” solutions. This is why it’s absolutely critical for product leaders to support sales and marketing by creating products that solve big problems for customers and disrupt the marketplace. They must also position the product well against the competition and find a price point that resonates with the market.
Product teams can listen to what customers truly want to purchase by tapping into the sales channel, support channels, market research, and user experience research, then use this information to develop a product roadmap that meets current customer demands and innovates to differentiate the product in the future. Meanwhile, companies can invest in a smooth product delivery process or infrastructure and create a robust support function to ensure customer success and loyalty after a sale.
6. Invest nothing in marketing and brand recognition
A 16-year quantitative study from the Harvard Business Review investigated the notion of “brand equity” and concluded that “billions of dollars are locked up in B2B brands, yet managers consistently skimp on brand building.” That’s an expensive mistake.
It found that corporate brand is responsible for 7% of stock performance, on average, for top public companies. What’s more, the best 40 brands outperform stock index MSCI world index by 73%.
A strong brand affects every business function, and sales is no exception. When a company is recognizable, a rep can enter a prospect relationship with a base level of familiarity and trust, saving time and effort.
There are many ways to invest in brand, such as:
- Brand development: Mission, vision, and values; persuasive, articulate, on-brand sales collateral; and a modern website
- Presence and brand recognition: Thought leadership content, community management, events, online marketing, and social media
7. Make them spend a lot of time completing reports and doing other non-selling activities
Mike Weinberg puts it well: “If the consequences for your reps not updating the CRM are harsher than they are for poor results and weak pipeline then it’s time for you to take a sabbatical and rethink your leadership priorities.”
Focus is critical to help your rep achieve sales results. Reprioritize activities like updating CRMs, pulling reports, and creating sales enablement materials like case studies by hand. You can cap time spent on these activities, and don’t penalize reps for being behind.
8. Hire sub-par sales reps and keep poor performers on board
If hiring strong salespeople sounds expensive, speak to any business leader who has built a team of mediocre salespeople. Underperforming sales reps drain financial resources, put pressure on managerial resources, hurt brand reputation in the marketplace, and damage the morale of the rest of the team.
If it’s tempting to fill an open seat quickly, resist the urge. (See our quick calculation of the cost of a bad sales hire and 4 types of salespeople you don’t want on your team.)
It’s equally important to fire poor performers quickly. Research shows that high-performing sales organizations are quicker to terminate: 18% of them fire after just one quarter, compared to 5% of underperforming organizations.
9. Step in to take over accounts reps have worked hard to acquire and develop
“Ownership is the most powerful motivator in business,” writes Chuck Blakeman, business advisor and founder. Reps who maintain ownership of a prospect from nurture stage onward will stay motivated to close them, and will be able celebrate in earnest once they do.
If a manager steps in to take over a rep’s account, however, that ownership is disrupted.
Managers should instead leave the selling to their talented reps. Companies with a well-developed sales process will be able to trust the rep’s ability to follow protocol, and managers can use weekly one-on-one time to stay updated on the status of projects (and get involved when appropriate).
10. Focus on hours and activities instead of your rep’s results
Excellent reps thrive in an environment where measurable business objectives are aligned with performance goals and where evaluations are based on those objectives.
It can feel frustratingly irrelevant when a company places too much attention on a rep’s hours, busywork activities, and physical time spent “in the seat.”
Results are what matter. To keep top sales talent, set clear expectations for success and keep performance measurements focused on those results. Rather than asking whether they were at their desk on Monday, ask them what matters: what accounts closed, deal size, and leading indicators like size of pipeline.
11. Forget to be a cheerleader that distracts everyone from the daily rejections
Rejections rack up on a daily basis in sales, yet a team’s success depends on their ability to soldier forward in the face of this reality. This is why it’s so important for a manager to support their reps by acknowledging and celebrating progress.
So track daily and weekly wins. Keep a pulse on small positive metrics like leading indicators. Publicly acknowledge progress and remind your team of its overarching mission on a regular basis.
12. Require reps to make cheap travel arrangements which waste valuable selling time
Time is your salespeople’s most valuable and scarce resource, yet we see companies skimp on travel budget. Cheap travel arrangements can take a long time, chip away from selling time, and don’t deliver reps in their best possible condition.
Research* shows that every $1 strategically invested in business travel is correlated with an increase in $20 of additional gross profit, according to an analysis of 900 public companies over an 11-year period.
13. Fail to provide best practices and resources such as objection handling scripts and reference material
Even the best salesperson’s performance hurts in the absence of a well-structured sales process, best practices, and resources. Research shows that high performance companies are two times more likely to have structured sales process, and businesses that want to help their sales reps reach full potential need to support them in this way.
Talented reps don’t want to spend their time developing resources and reinventing the wheel. Support them with high quality reference materials, sales enablement collateral, objection scripts, value proposition talking points, and more.
14. Ask reps to lie to customers and prospects in order to close more business
Top sales talent values integrity. A survey of high-performing salespeople overwhelmingly shows a preference for the truth, with 36% reporting “nothing but the whole truth is acceptable,” and 34% reporting “you don’t have to point out every blemish of your product.”
Reps stay intrinsically motivated when they believe in their mission and ability to match prospects with a truly good-fit solution. So lying to customers is a lose-lose proposition. Customers will lose trust in the company and churn, while a rep loses their most basic and powerful motivation engine. And managers that require a rep to lie will simply alienate their top talent and lose their respect.
15. Avoid coaching and constructively helping the reps be bigger producerd
Coaching is one of the most important activities a manager can do to develop their reps.
Not only does it benefit the company’s revenue, it is a retention tool that is directly linked to job satisfaction. A Bridge Group survey of over 2,000 sales professionals found that reps who received more coaching than others (over 3 hours per month) were twice as likely to recommend their role at their company to a friend. In other words, they were twice as likely to be “promoters,” using the standard satisfaction measure of NPS (Net Promoter Score).
There is room for improvement for managers to provide this support to their teams. We see a disconnect between how much coaching a rep feels they receive and what a manager thinks they provide. Managers from the Bridge Group survey reported that they provide an average of 3.9 coaching hours per rep per months, while reps reported receiving 2.2 hours. That’s a 40% discrepancy.
16. Refuse to leave your office and visit customers
Managers can’t lead from an ivory tower. For one, a disconnect can develop between a manager’s and a team’s appraisal of what their customers need and want if managers are not in touch with the reality of their customer base. Either the sales leadership and strategy start missing the mark, or reps need to spend time educating their managers on what they see in daily interactions, which draws away from selling time.
Secondly, reps need to see managers “in the pit” with them, modeling behaviors and attitudes. There’s nothing more frustrating than taking direction from a leader who is out of touch with the realities of the team.
17. Pay commissions late
Rewards reinforce behavior, and to keep your salespeople loyal and productive, make sure they can see an immediate connection between their positive activities and their commissions. It can be demotivating for a top rep to deliver a great sale and not receive commission when it’s due.
“When salespeople succeed, they should see it reflected in their paychecks immediately. When they fail, they should feel the pain in their paychecks immediately,” said Mark Roberge, who built the sales team at HubSpot. “Any delay between good (or bad) behavior and the related financial outcome will decrease the impact of the plan.”
18. Take credit for closing deals reps close
There is no faster way to alienate your team than to take credit for their work.
And it’s throwing away an opportunity to reinforce excellent work, keep the rep engaged with the company, and motivate them to close the next deal. Indeed, a study of top salespeople found that receiving acknowledgment for a job well done is key: “…they are also motivated by status and recognition. A staggering 84% of top sales professionals indicated that being respected and recognized as one of the best by peers at their company is very important to them.”
Never take credit for a rep’s closed deals. Instead, celebrate their work and highlight their accomplishments at all-hands meetings, smaller team calls, and in front of company executives.
19. Suggest or imply that selling is the easy part of a company`s success
Sales reps are the driving force of a company’s growth. It’s critical that managers tie their team’s role into the bigger picture and validate the many ways they influence the company.
The revenue impact is an important one that is easy to show quantitatively. Looking at sales results quarter over quarter one can see the direct financial impact a rep has on a company. This revenue translates into the ability to grow the company into new markets, further pursue its mission, pay salaries, and benefit investors and shareholders.
There are also less tangible ways that talented reps influence the company as a whole. Reps have a direct line to customers, who are the people that matter the most. Sales represents the brand. They connect the dots to solve people’s problems. They listen to customer needs and communicate them up through the company. There is no doubt that they are a key frontline component, and to suggest anything less is a big mistake.
If you find yourself doing anything on the list above, stop yourself immediately or else risking the loss of sales people you worked hard to find and develop!
**Note that the research mentioned in point #12 is from the Global Business Travel Association and the business travel division of American Express. Even if this study is aggressively pro-travel, we do agree that business travel expenses are worth the investment for top sales reps.
Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.
He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.
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