Sales turnover is a major expense. Replacing a single rep costs an average of 1.5-2X their base salary, and that’s without factoring in lost revenue from reduced sales capacity while you recruit, onboard, and ramp new hires (source). This issue isn’t going away, either. In fact, the average annual turnover rate in B2B sales is now 35% (source).
If you’re not worried, you should be. Uncertainty in the market requires organizations to be agile and prepared to pivot and adapt quickly. That’s almost impossible when you’re scrambling to backfill roles on your sales team. If you want to future-proof your organization so it can withstand everything from The Great Resignation to a recession, you have to retain your sales reps. Period.
Now, we’ve talked about sales turnover before— specifically, why it happens and how to calculate the costs. But is there anything you can do to actually prevent it in the first place? That all depends on the root of the problem— 89% of sales turnover is caused by issues with compensation, but poor leadership, lackluster training, and product concerns can also drive your reps out the door (source).
Whatever the reason behind rep turnover, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for potential issues on your sales team. This can help you avoid being blindsided and address sources of contention faster. Here are some important red flags to watch out for that may be an indication that a rep is halfway out the door:
1. Changes in a sales rep’s attitude
When a sales rep decides to leave, their commitment to the organization and to their team suddenly doesn’t have the same meaning. Therefore, if a sales rep is planning to leave, you may spot shifts in their attitude and behavior including things like:
- Missing internal calls or not actively participating how they typically would
- A sudden decrease in a rep’s willingness to help other reps
- Withdrawing from team activities and social events when normally they’d participate
- Waning enthusiasm for the product or company in general
Although normal fluctuations happen and everyone has a bad day, week, or month, the important thing to keep an eye out for is change. If a rep normally behaves one way, but suddenly has a completely different mindset, it’s important to check in with them.
Quick tip: Don’t wait for the rep to resign to ask for honest feedback. Speak to them directly with an informal pulse check if you suspect they’re no longer happy at work. After all, you can’t address challenges if you don’t know what they are. Ask: “How are you doing? I might be off here but I’ve gotten the sense you’re not feeling totally yourself lately. Is there anything I can help with or talk through with you?” ”
Although a rep might not reveal what’s going on immediately, they may give you more information to work with. Maybe something is going on at home or maybe they’re feeling burnt out. Even if the rep isn’t thinking about leaving, you’ll be able to offer additional support and prevent that from happening in the future.
2. A sales rep is suddenly giving less effort
In fast-paced sales roles, success depends on acting quickly and planning for the future. Reps who are about to resign may focus on low-hanging fruit— like pushing harder than normal to win existing opportunities and focusing on upsells rather than on new business.
Think about it, the average B2B sales cycle, from lead to close it’s 102 days on average (source). If a rep is already planning to be gone by then, there’s no incentive to dive into time-intensive sales activities. Therefore, a decrease in effort may be evident in a rep’s daily tasks and long-term initiatives, including:
- Less time on calls with customers or prospects
- Missing details from CRM entries
- Minimal QBR preparation
- Low outreach numbers
- Not following up with leads or following up slowly
- Neglecting future pipeline generating efforts
Quick tip: If you notice a high-performing rep is suddenly less invested in future business or pipeline, talk to them. Be honest, without sounding ominous. One way to frame it: “You’re one of our strongest reps, and I’m concerned you’ve been checking out lately. I want to emphasize that this is not about your performance, since you’ve always done a great job. I just wanted to check in and see if there’s anything I can do to make sure you’re happy here.”
3. A sales rep has a lot of questions and disputes
Constant questions and disputes don’t always mean a rep is confused or frustrated to the point of quitting. New hires especially need time to learn the ropes, get familiar with the product, and understand how their comp plan works. However, if this occurs beyond the initial onboarding period, it could signal that a rep doesn’t have the sales resources they need or is tying up loose ends on their way out the door.
Keep an eye out for an increasing volume of questions or disputes over:
- Job title and responsibilities
- Sales commission and pay
- Deal splits
- KPIs and sales activities
- Territories and account ownership
- Other miscellaneous administrative issues
Quick tip: An uptick in disputes from your best rep should be addressed immediately. One example talking point could be: “I’ve noticed you’ve been flagging more admin issues than normal. I know these things can happen, but I also wanted to touch base and see if there’s anything we can do to prevent some of these disputes and make sure you’re still happy here.”
4. Radio silence from previously engaged reps
An onslaught of questions or disputes usually isn’t a good sign. But you should also be weary of radio silence— especially in instances where you would expect your team to ask questions. Examples of this include:
- Rolling out a new comp plan
- Making significant territory changes
- Updating or implementing new rules around deal splits
- Modifying benefit packages
Quick tip: If a rep stops speaking up on topics they normally care about, check in with them. One way to phrase it could be: “Is everything okay with you? I know you’re invested in the company and are usually the first one to ask questions. But, you’ve been pretty quiet lately— I’m happy to talk through anything you might have going on.”
5. You notice a flurry of unusual LinkedIn activity
Sales is currently the second most in-demand job in the world (source), which means you can safely assume your reps have a pulse on all the exciting opportunities swirling around their network. If a rep is regularly modifying their LinkedIn profile or suddenly more active on the platform, that could be another sign that they’re looking for something new.
Quick tip: Don’t creep out your rep by flagging their increased LinkedIn activity. Instead, tell them something like: “I really value your contributions here, and it’s important to me that you’re happy in your role. Is there anything you feel is missing, that the company, your team or I could do better to support you?”
6. You’ve had multiple reps leave in a short period of time
Resignations can trigger a domino effect, and if multiple reps leave in close succession, this could be a sign that something is seriously wrong within your sales organization.
We recommend checking in with individual reps who have a close friendship with any rep who decides to leave. Friends leaving can cause a major hit to team morale and also means the remaining rep is now at risk of being recruited by their former colleague.
Another action to take in this situation is to pay close attention to exit interviews and coordinate with your HR team to make sure any issues reps raise on their way out are documented and addressed appropriately.
Quick tip: If more than one rep gives their notice within a relatively short time frame, be sure to address the elephant in the room with the remainder of your sales team: “I know there have been a lot of changes around here lately, and I wanted to give everyone the chance to ask questions or bring up any concerns. I will do my best to answer for you, and if you don’t feel comfortable sharing on the group call, please ping me privately. I’m always available to talk and want to make this transition period as easy as possible for you.”
Ultimately, there’s no standardized approach to retaining your sales team, since it all depends on the individual and what incentivizes them to stay (or alternatively drives them out of the door). However, an effective sales leader proactively checks in to ensure they know their reps well enough to identify changes in behavior, effort, and engagement and then course correct— before it’s too late.
Interested in learning more about improving sales performance and leading a high quality sales team, check out these articles:
- The Ultimate Sales Performance Checklist
- Communicating Compensation Changes to Your Team: A Guide for Management
- Motivating Your Employees During Tough Times
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