Keep your churn rates high and your employee satisfaction rates low.
Why put in the effort to keep your top reps happy when you could alienate and push them to work for the competition? Why work to maintain a healthy sales force when you could sabotage them at every turn?
If you’ve run out of ways to push your top sellers out the door, here are 21 tongue-in-cheek ways to make sure they bolt:
1. Cap commission.
High-performing sales organizations consistently attract and retain top sales talent by rewarding them with compensation packages that beat market. One way they do that is uncap earnings. In fact, 79% of sales managers with no compensation cap meet and exceed quota.
Commission caps are the easiest and fastest way to cripple a sales force. It removes the incentive for reps to stay motivated and keep selling once they’ve reached quota.
Steve Richard, CRO of ExecVision, met with a sales rep when the subject of compensation arose:
“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 demotivating. ”
Rarely is there an economic downside for a company to pay large commissions if the sales compensation plan is structured to be profitable at any level. Companies sell more when they eliminate barriers that hinder salespeople’s incentives.
2. Frequent changes to the compensation plan.
Changing the rules of the game is the fastest way to frustrate players.
Over the next two years, 60% of companies will make a change to their compensation plans. This is particularly frustrating for reps when it occurs in the middle of a sales cycle. Finding out that their maturing leads and opportunities will result in lower payout than expected demoralizes a team.
If an adjustment is necessary, provide ample notice and communicate the ways that it benefits both the rep and the business.
3. Refuse to compensate reps on certain types of sales.
If a rep makes a sale that generates desirable profit for the company, compensate them.
Paying commissions only on the sales of certain products and not others, despite both types of sales generating profit for the company pushes your best people out the door.
The best sales organizations pay the highest commissions for the sales that generate the highest profits, regardless of type of sale or type of product.
Rewarding a rep for every sale that benefits the business aligns them with your corporate purpose.
4. Require reps to book the cheapest travel arrangements.
Time is your salespeople’s most valuable and scarce resource. Cheap travel arrangements can take a long time to find, which not only chips away from important selling time, and but leaves reps in poor selling condition.
Every dollar strategically invested in business travel correlates with an increase in $20 of additional gross profit, according to an analysis of 900 public companies over an 11-year period. When reps aren’t focused on saving money when they travel, they can focus on making money when they arrive.
5. Penalize the sales team for poor post-sales delivery.
Penalizing the team for post-sales delivery is a distraction from making sales. The best companies keep reps focused on delivering sales results by rewarding consistently excellent performance.
Not all reps have the same post-delivery style: 36% of salespeople report that they feel personally responsible and dedicated to a customer’s success and 26% report cordial but less personal relationships, citing busyness on both ends. Only 22% take a hands-off approach.
Salespeople have varying approaches to post-sales relationships with clients. As long as reps are making sales and maintaining healthy post-delivery relationships, however involved, the desired result is achieved.
6. Fail to provide innovative product and service offerings.
Excellent reps need to sell excellent solutions. They are not satisfied selling ‘me too’ offerings. Top performing sales organizations need to provide products that solve big problems for customers. Otherwise, they risk losing their reps to competitors who develop truly innovative products.
7. Keep poor performers on board.
If hiring strong salespeople sounds expensive, speak to any business leader who has ever built a team of mediocre salespeople. Underperforming sales reps drain financial resources, strain managerial resources, and damage brand reputation in the marketplace. It can be tempting to fill an open seat quickly. Resist the urge.
Take charge of your company’s future and don’t tolerate consistently missed quotas. Fire poor performers quickly.
In fact, high-performing sales organizations are quicker to terminate — 18% of them fire mediocre reps after just one quarter, compared to 5% of under-performing organizations. Within the span of a year, 78% of high-performing sales organizations will fire under-performers. That number drops to 52% for under-performing sales organizations.
If someone is not a good fit, give them the opportunity to find somewhere where they will thrive. Don’t needlessly cause your team to suffer.
8. Refuse to leave your office.
Managers can’t lead from an ivory tower. Successful managers are fully engaged with customers to discover their needs and are connected with their team. Reps need to see managers on the sales floor with them, modeling the right behaviors and attitudes. This removes the opportunity for reps to harness resentment.
There’s nothing more frustrating than taking direction from a leader who is out of touch with the realities of the team. The best sales leaders leave the office and invest time developing relationships with customers and employees because it builds trust.
9. Prioritize non-selling activities.
If the consequences for not updating the CRM are heavier than they are for underperforming, your leadership priorities are mixed up. Refocus on the basics of sales. Don’t weigh down your reps with paperwork.
Mike Weinberg, best-selling author, writes in New Sales Simplified:
“There are too many salespeople who are more proficient at entering tasks into Salesforce.com than they are at executing the basics, like telephoning a prospect to secure a meeting. Unfortunately, much of the blame rests with sales managers who are more concerned that their people keep the CRM system updated than they are with whether they can effectively sell.”
Focus is critical for your reps to achieve results. Transfer activities like updating CRMs, pulling reports, and creating sales enablement materials to sales support. Your sales reps are best qualified to be generating profit, not doing paperwork.
10. Take credit for your rep’s success.
Taking credit for a rep’s work is one of the fastest ways a sales leader can frustrate their team. Sales managers succeed when they lead their team to victory, using wins as opportunity to reinforce excellent selling behaviors and activities.
Top sales people are motivated by recognition. Celebrate their work and highlight their accomplishments at all-hands meetings, smaller team calls, and in front of company executives.
11. Step in to take over accounts reps have worked hard to acquire and develop.
Allow your reps to be responsible for their own work. Chuck Blakeman, business advisor and founder, writes:
“Ownership is the most powerful motivator in business and the ability to make decisions is at the core of ownership. Stop solving and deciding for others[…] You, your company, and everyone who works there will all be better off if you do.”
Reps who maintain ownership of a prospect from nurture stage onward stay motivated to close them.
If a manager steps in to take over a rep’s account, however, that ownership is disrupted. This gradually erodes the rep’s confidence and threatens to weaken their ability to sell longterm.
Managers should leave the selling to their reps. Companies with a well-developed sales process are able to trust their reps to be accountable. Managers can use weekly one-on-one time to stay updated on the status of projects, only getting involved when appropriate. The best sales talent will not stay at a company to be hand-held.
12. Focus on hours instead of results.
Results are what matter. Excellent reps thrive in an environment their performance is evaluated based on measurable business objectives. It can feel frustratingly irrelevant when a sales leader places too much attention on a rep’s hours, busywork, and physical time spent “in the seat.”
Micromanaging your team removes their drive to perform. To keep top sales talent, set clear expectations for success and keep performance measurements focused on those results.
13. Undervalue corporate culture.
The pressure sales reps face can be disheartening at times. A healthy corporate culture reduces pressure, and instead recycles and plays to rep’s competitive intrinsic motivators. When reps amicably compete against one another, they are motivated to sell more and close bigger deals.
Top performing sales organizations know that they are built on corporate culture. They handle challenges with integrity and treat them as an opportunity to grow. This breeds transparent leadership and allows reps to have a realistic view of their organisation, promoting an all-around strong sales culture that top reps are happy to be a part of.
14. Focus on the negative.
Rejections rack up on a daily basis in sales. But a team’s success depends on its ability to soldier forward in the face of this reality. Sales leaders need to consistently encourage their reps by acknowledging and celebrating progress.
The key is in the small wins. Every victory has a strong positive effect on a worker’s motivation and their ability to tackle difficult work challenges. Sales leaders must celebrate their small successes to keep the team motivated. Zig Ziglar said,
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing—that’s why we recommend it daily.”
So be the cheerleader that distracts them from their daily rejections and help keep the office a positive place to be. 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 to stave off the negativity that will send top reps running for the hills.
15. Avoid coaching opportunities.
Not only does coaching benefit the company’s revenue, it is a retention tool that is directly linked to job satisfaction.
A survey of over 2,000 sales professionals found that reps who received more coaching than others were twice as likely to recommend their role at their company to a friend. In other words, they were “promoters,” using the standard satisfaction measure of NPS (Net Promoter Score).
An important note is that there is a disconnect between how much coaching a rep feels they receive and what a manager thinks they provide. Managers 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.
Bear this in mind as you coach your reps.
Excellent sellers want to grow and improve and therefore, need leaders to build into them. Managers must provide this support to their teams if they want to keep their top sales talent.
16. Fail to invest in marketing and brand building programs.
Billions of dollars are spent on B2B brand equity. Problematically, despite the immense budget, it found that managers are not focusing enough effort internally on active brand building.
That is an expensive mistake. Top reps want to work for companies who are mindful of their brand positioning and manage their reputations well. Corporate branding is responsible for 7% of stock performance and the best forty brands outperform stock index MSCI world index by 73%.
There are two primary ways to invest in brand. They are internal branding and brand recognition. Internal branding sells your brand to your employees so that they will become promoters to their networks. Market your brand to your employees internally by having:
- a mission statement,
- an ambitious, long-term vision,
- a clear set of action values, and
- persuasive, on-brand collateral.
When your employees buy in to your brand, they become brand ambassadors to their networks.
Take full advantage of these methods to connect with your audience online and offline to spread brand awareness or risk losing your top selling reps.
17. Pay commissions late.
Ensuring reps can see an immediate connection between their positive activities and their commissions is the best way to reinforce the right selling behaviors and keep them loyal and productive.
It can be demotivating for a top rep to deliver a great sale and not receive commission when it’s due. According to Mark Roberge, who built the sales team at HubSpot, the rewards must be immediate.
“When salespeople succeed, they should see it reflected in their paychecks immediately. When they fail, they should feel the pain in their paychecks immediately. Any delay between good (or bad) behavior and the related financial outcome will decrease the impact of the plan.”
When direct return or loss can be felt instantly, the motivating effect is potent. Capitalize on this to drive your reps to succeed.
18. Fail to equip them with best practices and resources.
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, value proposition talking points, and anything else that will make them sell better faster.
Even the best salesperson’s performance dips in the absence of a well-structured sales process. Equip them with best practices, training, and resources. Research shows that high performance companies are twice as 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.
The time they spend creating resources is time they are not on the phone booking meetings and closing deals.
19. Ask reps to lie to customers to close more business.
Top sales talent values integrity. The best sellers believe that trustworthiness, professionalism, follow-through, product knowledge, and enthusiasm are what customers value most about them. A survey of high-performing salespeople overwhelmingly shows a preference for the truth with 70% of reps preferring to be honest rather than embellish.
Reps stay intrinsically motivated when they believe in their mission and ability to match prospects with a truly good-fit solution. Lying to customers is a lose-lose proposition.
Customers will lose trust in the company and churn. Reps lose their most basic and powerful reason to sell which is faith in the product. On top of this, managers that compel a rep to lie will simply alienate their team and lose top talent.
20. Force reps to attend too many internal meetings.
Time spent in meetings is time that reps could be selling. Before inviting your sales team to a meeting, seriously consider whether or not it’s essential to have them there.
If it’s not essential, don’t have them sit in. If you absolutely must include them, make sure that you have a clear and specific agenda. Move through it quickly and systematically. The best thing you can do for your reps if they must absolutely be in the meeting is provide the maximum amount of information in the minimum amount of time. Get them in and out as fast as possible.
Instead, begin each meeting with an agenda. It is critical to stick to the agenda once it has been set. Weinberg has outlined a list of possible agenda items:
- personal updates
- company vision
- results review
- product training
- success stories
- deal strategy
- sales training/ coaching
- business plan presentation
- sales wish list
- marching orders
These items provide a springboard for discussion while keeping the focus on business and are a starting point for anyone who wants to make their meetings less painfully unproductive.
21. 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. Suggesting that sales is the easy part of a company’s success undermines your reps desire to succeed. Poor managers fail to validate the many positive ways they influence the company:
- They drive revenue. This revenue translates into the ability to grow the company into new markets, further pursue its mission, pay salaries, and benefit investors and shareholders.
- They face rejection daily. The best ones get back up and continue selling. It can be easy for managers to lose sight of the challenge that is being a salesperson.
- 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. Underappreciating the sales team is not only detrimental to growth and success at a team level but could be fatal at a company level.
These mistakes could cost you your top selling reps.
If you find yourself doing anything on the list above, stop yourself immediately. None of these items are worth risking the resignation of salespeople you have developed.
The investment you make in your sales team is too valuable to lose.
Like what you’ve read? To learn more about hiring strategies to build a top performing sales team, click here.
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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