Recruit and retain good sales people now. Here’s how.

Recruiting and retaining good sales people is no walk in the park. It’s a challenge that many organizations face, and it requires careful consideration and strategic planning to overcome. This may surprise many nascent business owners but is something seasoned ones learned the hard way. The budding ones naively imagine, “I’ll just focus on building, developing and even marketing my product to generate leads. Then I’ll get sales people who can sell or, easier still, just convert those leads.” (And by the way, businesses exist that sell pre-trained sales people. But does it work? in my experience, no. New sales people need an incubation period.)

Anyway, as I was saying, the innocent business owner’s thinking makes perfect sense, at par value. Until the rubber meets the road and the smell of the burning from the friction has the entrepreneur wrinkling his nose and pulling out his hair in frustration.

Good Sales Managers are a difficult hire too

“Why can’t they just be like coders or accountants that hit the ground running? Why can’t sales people just do their job from GO?” The budding entrepreneur laments. Meanwhile, experienced business owners roll with the punches. They are involved not detached. They learnt after much lamentation and experimenting, that the rough and tumble of Sales means the profession is unlike a desk job and should never be compared to it. So, they are continually developing their sales people and teams, pruning bushes’ here and severing tumours there. You see, drivers, coders, accountants, even managers can hit the ground running. But not sales people and not Sales Managers. Yes, even recruiting and retaining effective sales managers is an uphill task.  

Reasons and solutions to challenge of recruitment and retention of sales people

The foundational reason for the recruitment and retention of sales people not being easy, is the (misguided) comparison of selling to a desk job. This assumes that the experiment in the lab will play out flawlessly in the field; or worse, that the caged animal in the zoo is the same as the one in the wild. Sales people are not caged animals. In the jungle, there are no set feeding times, vets on site and protected and confined spaces to roam. Further, with desk jobs work comes to you; in selling you look for it. Besides this, there are other reasons why recruitment and retention of effective sales people is not easy. But all of them stem from this difference. So, here they are and ways to overcome them.

Unique Skills and Expertise

To begin with, sales roles demand a unique set of skills, including communication, persuasion, negotiation, and resilience. Identifying candidates with the right blend of expertise and experience is a daunting task. Furthermore, the ideal salesperson must possess a deep understanding of the product or service they are selling, as well as the ability to empathize with customers and address their pain points effectively. Finding individuals who possess this skill set can be time-consuming and challenging. And when you do, it’s no guarantee they will be a right fit for your institution. In any case, talented ones tend tp have a quirk about them. For example, there is a well sought-after bank corporate relationship manager in Kenya, who simply cannot keep time.

Recruitment and retention of sales people

Sales employee turnover is high

Turnover in any institution tends to be highest in the sales force. High employee turnover is a persistent issue in the sales domain. Salespeople often face intense pressure to meet targets, and not everyone can cope with this level of stress in the long term. Frequent rejections and setbacks can lead to burnout. As for talented salespeople they are walking bill boards for potential employers to poach. And they do. Employee turnover not only disrupts sales operations but also incurs recruitment and training costs, impacting the company’s bottom line.

Why not just poach to ease recruitment and retention of sales people challenge?

How I wish poaching was the silver bullet. “If I poach, I’ll accelerate my sales”, the business owner reasons. No, you won’t. Not necessarily, anyway. You will likely end up with the internationally recognized professional football star who is hardly heard beyond a whimper when playing for his home team. And that’s because it is the former’s team dynamics (different from the local one) that unleash his shine. A local business owner and client, let’s call him Aziz, sells pharmaceuticals. About a year into operations, Aziz poached a top med rep from a leading multinational pharma company. He reasoned: “Yes, I know I’ll be paying him three times what I pay my med reps but it will be worth it. I anticipate I should have recouped this extra cost and more with the accounts he will bring.” That was in theory. In practice Aziz fired him after the quarter.

Aziz explains: “I had to. He just was not delivering. He didn’t bring a single account. And his expectations were the 5-star multinational treatment he was getting from his former employer. It didn’t help that my budget was busting at the seams from his salary, and the motivation of the other med reps, from being paid three times less, was dampened.” Now seasoned Aziz has learnt that you can’t get a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant. Some things will take as long as they must.

Attractive Compensation Packages

Further, to attract and retain top sales talent, companies need to offer competitive compensation packages. These packages often include a combination of a base salary, commission or bonuses, and other incentives. Striking the right balance between fixed and variable pay can be tricky, as companies must ensure that salespeople remain motivated to perform consistently while also meeting their financial needs. Otherwise, you could easily find yourself in a position of not paying commissions you genuinely promised. Further, to overcome the recruitment ad retention challenge realise that money is not the silver bullet to motivating for sales people.  

(Read for predictable revenue set clear sales targets)

Training and Development

Now then. You can never train your sales people enough. Both on product knowledge and effective selling skills. And this is not limited to hiring external trainers. Far from it. Effective sales teams have weekly scheduled in-person internal trainings, continued coaching by sales managers and in-field training and monitoring. It’s never ending.  Salespeople need continuous training and development to stay at the top of their game. The sales landscape evolves rapidly, with new technologies and selling methodologies emerging regularly. Providing ongoing training is essential to equip sales teams with the necessary skills and knowledge to adapt to these changes effectively. Failing to invest in their development could lead to skill stagnation and a decline in sales performance. And exit.

Company Culture and Leadership

Even if the pay is good and the product easy to sell, a toxic organizational culture will see your sales people fly. Away from you. Believe it or not, many organizations treat their sales people like children of a lesser God. And yet, a positive company culture and effective leadership play a crucial role in retaining salespeople. And it starts with having a structured on-boarding process. That is, making the sales person feel welcome and comfortable. This in itself can go a long way to increasing retention.

A supportive and motivating work environment fosters employee loyalty and commitment. Sales people can stay because of this even if the grass is slightly greener on the other side.  Sales managers, business owners, and leaders should be capable of inspiring their teams, recognizing achievements, and providing constructive feedback when necessary. A toxic or unsupportive work culture can drive away even the most talented salespeople.

See: To transform their organizations CEOs must sell too

Conclusion: Recruitment and retention of sales people is not easy

In conclusion, recruiting and retaining good salespeople is an uphill battle that requires a multifaceted approach. Business owners must invest in robust recruitment processes, provide attractive compensation packages, allow an incubation period, offer continual training and development, foster a positive work culture, and cultivate effective leadership. By prioritizing the needs and aspirations of their sales teams, organizations can rise above the challenge and build a high-performing sales force that drives sustained success in today’s competitive business landscape.

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