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5 + 1 Tips for Reducing Sales Team Churn

We all know how important it is to focus on hiring the right people when you’re building your company. But everybody seems to talk about the executive team, your investors and other leadership. Perhaps just as important as those people are the ones who help them meet their goals. The VP of Sales is going to have a lot of weight on her shoulders, and arming yourself with the right team is the only way to avoid setting yourself up for failure.

So now that you’ve hired your  team, how do you keep them? When it comes to salespeople, the topic of churn is one that is hotly debated. Not only is there risk of churn from not meeting goals, but salespeople by their very nature tend to chase the money. So if better opportunities come their way elsewhere, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle to keep the team whole.

Everybody loves to talk about preventing customer churn, but very few people ever pay attention to the churn that happens with those who help to earn new customers. Your sales team. When you consider how long it takes to onboard and recoup the cost of hiring a new salesperson, it’s easy to see why reducing sales team churn is an important point to mind.

Over the next few paragraphs we’re going to look at the important parts to bear in mind when it comes to reducing sales team churn. Some of them are likely candidates, but a few may just surprise you.

1. Start From the Top

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking to top salespeople from different companies and getting their input as to why they left (or why they stayed) in sales jobs across different markets. Almost without fail, the number one reason that was given for leaving was summed up perfectly by FullContact’s own API Sales Director Chris Conrey –

People don’t quit their company, they quit their management.

It’s amazing the amount of dedication that any employee can have to their job if their management makes it a place that they want to work. But equally as amazing is how quickly a management person or team can run off those employees.

The vast majority of managers aren’t in their position because of an innate skill. They’re managers because they’ve learned how to be one. Don’t be afraid to dedicate time and money to training yourself to be great. You need to make sure that you’re managing well, before you can hope to grow the company.

2. Be S.M.A.R.T. With Goals

One of the best bosses that I ever had was at a radio station when I was in my early 20s. Rusty James wasn’t the stereotypical great leader, but he was a great boss because you always knew what was expected of you. And what was expected of you was to meet goals that the two of you sat down and agreed upon together. We used a system called SMART goals, an acronym that helped to set goals that were actually pleasurable to work toward:

  • S – Specific. No generalized goals. If you had a general goal, you needed to have specific ones under it that would help you get there.
  • M – Measurable. “Close more deals” is a great starting point. “Close two new unlimited deals each month” is better specifically because it’s a marked start point and end point.
  • A – Attainable. There’s no room for pie in the sky goals in the SMART system, because they only lead to failure.
  • R – Reasonable. This deals with factors that are outside of your control. Setting any goal and not having the means to reach it is pure stupidity.
  • T – Timely. “I will meet _____ goal by March 31st of 2015.” Open-ended dates don’t make sense in an environment of sales (or anywhere else, for that matter).

Chances are good that you’re already using a few of these letters when you’re setting your quarterly sales goals. They’re likely specific, they’re definitely measurable, and they’d best be timely. But if you’re not also paying attention to make them attainable and reasonable then you’re asking for a nasty meeting with the board. Applying the SMART method to sales goals, as well as to the goals that your team will use to meet them, is just good business.

SMART goals have been around since 1981, when they were first penned by George T. Doran in an issue of Management Review. But they’re every bit as applicable and effective today. Even if your company uses another goals tracking system (we like OKRs at FullContact), the SMART system can easily be integrated for setting goals that are…well…smart.

3. Find Your Balance

When it comes to work/life balance, it’s incredibly easy to pigeon hole salespeople into the need to be “on” 24/7. The very nature of the sales cycle lends itself to constant work, and that’s even more true when you’re selling globally.

But that sort of schedule isn’t fair to your salespeople, and it’s not fair to your company.

It’s understandable that certain schedules need to be upheld, but offering flexibility when it’s possible is perhaps the greatest key to keeping a salesperson motivated. If you’re in a cold call situation and require that your reps dial 20 lines before lunch, you’re doing a major disservice to the person who works better by organizing themselves in the morning and then fishing in the afternoon. No matter how hard you push that person, they’re never going to live up to their potential.

We’re big on work-life balance here at FullContact, as evidenced by our Paid PAID vacation and Powder Day policies. We expect our sales team to go completely off the grid every bit as much as we expect our engineers, dev ops staff and everyone else. While not every company has an off the grid policy, it’s no secret that a relaxed and refreshed employee is going to perform better, so find ways to let it happen.

4. Sell To Your (Ideal) Customer

How much time is your team spending to close a $99 deal? Now how much time are they spending to close a $9900 deal? Chances are, exactly the same.

While both of those customers may be ideal candidates for your product, they’re certainly different when it comes to the bottom line. Those salespeople who have exhibited the ability to close big deals regularly don’t need to waste time on the small ones. Save those for the junior team members who are trying to work their way up. Yes, you’ll probably need a different commission schedule for the two groups, but in the end it gives a goal to the junior members while rewarding those who know how to land the whales.

Another alternative here is to build out a market response team that handles deals below a certain threshold. These don’t necessarily have to be junior team members, but rather people who work better in a “quantity” type sales environment. Quick, easy deals that add up over time are their holy grail, and they’ll stay happy seeing the more frequent closes.

5. Fix Your Damned Product

It seems to go without saying that selling something that’s broken is a bad idea. But as evidenced by the world around us, many companies don’t seem to understand this. When you’re paying someone a commission against a product, you’d best make damned sure that the product does what it says on the box. While there’s perhaps no easier new revenue than closing more deals that are already in the funnel, there’s no better revenue than the type that recurs.

Now how do you expect to get renewals from customers who are frustrated with your product?

Product, marketing, the exec team and sales all have their footsteps in an intricate dance. Dedicate your company to selling its product when the product is ready, rather than when the idea of more money just sounds good. Not only will you make happy customers, you’ll also keep lining the pockets of your sales team, reducing churn on both sides.

+1 – Fill The Sales Team Funnel

This last tip is not so much about churn prevention as it is about churn damage reduction. Remember back at the beginning when we talked about salespeople being opportunistic? That’s not negative talk, it’s just fact. We’ve looked at a number of steps to take toward reducing churn, but some level of it is inevitable. So you’d best be prepared.

Word gets around. So if you’re offering a great compensation package and an incredible work environment, you’re already going to have an influx of applicants. But it’s up to you as a sales manager (or other exec team member) to constantly be on the lookout for the next Captain Ahab. Keeping your funnel full matters not only on the qualified leads side of the equation, but also on the inbound applicants side.

Your white whale may be in the water, but you’ll never know it if you don’t have a team of fishermen casting their nets.

Image Credit: Beatnik Photos, Image Credit: PJ, Image Credit: Keith Cooper and Image Credit: Candie N via Flickr

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