Taking Care of Your Sales Team: Managing the Great Resignation

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It’s been coined the Great Resignation—a title that reflects both the action and the attitude of the 25 million employees who left their jobs in the second half of 2021 alone. The New York Times has an even darker term for the surprising and troubling phenomenon, naming ours The Age of Anti-Ambition, a period when exhaustion, disconnectedness, feeling under-appreciated and a host of more mysterious emotional factors have driven workers in every industry to say, as the song goes, “take this job and shove it” at a rate not seen since we first started tracking such statistics.

Why should that worry you as a business leader? The reasons are financial, of course, but also cultural. Attrition begets attrition, compounding the costs of losing a single employee, which Gallup “conservatively” estimates at between half and 2x the departing employee’s salary. When one employee follows another out the door, sometimes even to the same company—networking remains the most common way people find jobs—the expenses associated with attrition can be crippling, especially to a small or startup organization.

The price of voluntary employee attrition comes down to three main factors: It costs money to terminate an employee, regardless of whose choice it is to sever the relationship; your HR team will still have to spend time on exit interviewing, compliance issues and settling financial accounts; and there’s the vacancy cost, which you can figure by multiplying the number of days until you backfill the position by the contribution your former employee made. 

Try as they might—or, worst-case scenario, might not try at all—your staff is unlikely to be able to pick up the slack when other team members exit. Productivity is bound to suffer some. Recruiting is time-consuming and expensive—making the wrong hire has its own costs, of course. Then, once you’ve brought your new employee on board, he or she will need time to reach top productivity. New employees need training and, above all, support. They’re not alone in that respect, of course.  


Attrition disproportionally affects sales organizations

If you lead a sales team, you should worry about attrition even more. When it comes to retention, sales teams—how can we say this kindly?—have typically been more fluid than employees in supply chain management, manufacturing operations, accounting and other business functions. 

Sales team turnover is currently estimated at 35 percent, which is 13 percent higher than for other teams. And statistics from the pandemic bear that out. A survey by Xactly found that 58 percent of respondents reported that, over the past 12 months, sales employees chose to depart their companies at a higher-than-normal rate. 

Consider, too, that attrition has a long-lasting domino effect. It’s demoralizing for sales teams when they splinter. Team members who are “left behind” are often expected to pick up the slack, working longer and harder for the same reward. Often companies don’t amend their sales goals when a team member departs, piling more pressure on those that remain. If you’re experiencing high turnover, don’t ignore, but rather pay closer attention to the salespeople who are still plugging away. 

Corey Jacobson, a veteran sales leader in the housewares industry with experience marketing both mass market and premium kitchen brands like Calphalon, All Clad and Krups, is represented in that statistic. Without naming names, he spoke of one employer that promptly undertook what would best be described as a “pay grab” when the coronavirus crisis emerged. “While retail channels suffered due to brick-and-mortar stores closing, this company’s online sales skyrocketed. And yet, salespeople were hit with pay cuts. The business grew, but employees suffered,” Jacobson reports. “When a few employees leave, more follow. Sales figures dip and team morale declines as a result,” he noted.

Now Jacobson serves as VP of sales for Mon Chateau, an up-and-coming housewares company whose goods are sold through upscale outlets like Sur La Table and mass-market retailers like Costco. “We’re working closely with social media influencers. And we’re undertaking a full website audit. In other words, we’re investing in supporting our sales team, not limiting their income opportunities,” he said. Among the morale-boosting tactics the company is using? Virtual happy hours, with employees enjoying their favorite cocktails shipped straight to their doors. “It’s a small gesture, but it helps our remote workers feel connected to one another.” 


The changing face of sales support

Forget about big entertainment budgets. Like the rest of us, customers aren’t going out for many fancy dinners right now. They’re not anxious to fly to Phoenix or the Carolinas for prime tee times either. What matters more to salespeople is the right information to power not only their prospecting, but relationship-building when face-to-face meetings aren’t an option.

For decades, sales organizations have relied on CRM tools like Salesforce and, for smaller businesses, freemium platforms like HubSpot. But according to Jon Perera, chief marketing officer at Highspot, CRMs provide only half of the support your sales team needs. 

“CRMs provide only half of the support your sales team needs in the modern sales world. CRM software enables you to manage leads, the sales pipeline and information about your company’s interactions with prospects and customers,” he eplains. “Sales enablement and sales intelligence software complement your CRM by connecting systems of record to end-user engagement. Sales enablement and intelligence platforms help you equip, train and coach your salespeople to successfully engage with buyers.”

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Demand for sales enablement technology is increasing, with 77 percent of companies with sales teams larger than 500 people now using dedicated sales enablement technology. Perera believes that sales enablement has become a universal need for businesses of all sizes, in every industry, across geographies—from startups to Fortune 100 companies.

Content related to world events that concern customers—from the looming energy crisis to the volatility of cryptocurrency investing—can help salespeople connect with customers around issues that affect them emotionally, not just financially. 

Sales enablement technology also arms your go-to-market strategy with insight. Many platforms feature built-in analytics that can tell you precisely how your customers are interacting with your content. That data can help you hone and optimize your content, teams and strategy to drive revenue. 

Turning back to attrition for a moment, one of the most frequently cited reasons employees have for quitting their jobs is the absence of guidance and training. Sales enablement technology platforms can be customized to automate and reduce the cost of training and incentivize your sales team to take advantage of the rich resources content libraries contain, while simultaneously boosting sales team engagement and satisfaction. It also gives them the tools they need to create a more rewarding customer experience. Happy employees, happy customers—it’s a win-win proposition.


The primacy of customer experience

Customer experience remains a leading driver of brand loyalty, and customers are more often willing to pay a premium for it. Delivering a terrific customer experience is complicated, of course, but the little things matter, too. Consistent quality of customer experience is vital: 60 percent of all consumers said they’d stop doing business with a brand if the service they received was not friendly. From customer reps to accounts receivable, all members of your team—especially your sales force—would be wise to remember a slogan adopted by myriad businesses in some form or another over the years: Service with a smile. That takes us back to caring for your employees. Satisfied employees are more likely to deliver on that promise.

In many cases, customers are happy to help themselves. They embrace technology, so long as it provides a tangible benefit, such as speed, convenience or information that’s critical to decision-making.

They may not understand it very well, but customers are also feeling better about AI-driven technology. About two-thirds are open to sellers using it, so long as it leads to a better experience. 

But no matter how advanced technology may become, customers will still expect human interaction with the brands and businesses they patronize. And the better informed your employees are with an individual customer, the better. Empowering your sales team with personal customer data—their purchase and customer service history or what drives them to purchase, for example, further humanizes their interactions with your brand. Customers want you to know them—to a point, of course. Collecting too much data can backfire and seem downright creepy, driving customers away instead of into your brand circle.   


Evaluate your strategy: Acquisition versus retention 

It’s common for businesses to focus on finding new customers. Mining fresh leads is often Chapter 1 of a company’s sales playbook. But the time, cost and uncertainty of winning new customers underscores why customer retention is a more effective strategy for increasing your bottom line. It costs 5x more to attract a new customer as it does to keep an existing one coming back for more. 

The likelihood of closing a sale with a new customer is estimated to be between 5 percent and 20 percent. That likelihood increases to 60 percent to 70 percent when selling to an existing customer. What’s more, existing customers are more likely to purchase new products. Think of them as the funding force behind new product development. These figures underscore the financial importance of using all of the tools at your disposal, both human and technological, to foster brand loyalty. 


Maximizing brand trust 

Selling to new customers is akin to blind dating. It’s harder to trust a stranger than it is a friend of a friend. Honing their referral strategies should be a top goal in 2022 for businesses of all kinds. You’re 30 percent more likely to convert a referred lead than you are a lead from other channels. The most direct approach to getting more referrals is to simply ask for them. You can use social media to mine for an existing customer’s contacts, as well.

Customer review sites abound and you should actively pursue reviews from satisfied customers. Once again, the most direct approach is to request reviews and make it easy for customers to write them. Post a link to your G2 profile on your website, for example. 

According to Trustpilot, nine out of 10 consumers read product reviews before making an online purchase. Reading reviews became more prevalent during the pandemic. Trustpilot also reports it takes reading at least 10 reviews before companies really begin to earn customers’ confidence. 

Gen X, Gen Y and millennial customers are even more likely to rely on reviews to inform their decisions. As many as 93 percent of millennials read customer reviews before purchasing. They trust other customers more than they trust your company. Making user-generated content a part of your overall content strategy is critical to sales success. And the more reviews you garner the better—they needn’t all be five-star. Customers want to feel they’re reading a fair evaluation of your brand.


Polishing your reputation

Make no mistake—your customers are using social media to evaluate you. Most customers research the products they’re considering independently and comprehensively before they’ll even consider contacting you. That’s why monitoring your online reputation and maintaining a strong, active social presence are so important. Contribute content to discussions your customers are likely to be reading. 

While LinkedIn comes to mind as a leading social outlet, don’t underestimate the power of Meta (Facebook). It’s the largest social media outlet: there’s power in those numbers. And by some estimates, nearly half of B2B customers research their purchases on the platform. They’re equally as likely to check up on you on Facebook or Instagram as they are to Google your official company website. In addition to optimizing your own Facebook page, you may find it useful to join Facebook groups that relate to your business and contribute regularly to the chatter. Customers, it seems, appreciate casual conversations.


Get on the phone

Just try to find a customer—or friend or family member, for that matter—whose phone isn’t always at the ready.  Mobile devices enjoy a 56 percent market share, followed by desktop computers, with a 41 percent share. Tablets bring up the rear with just 2.4 percent of the pie. Mobile searches make up about 60 percent of all search volume. In 2022, consistently offering a high-quality mobile experience is the price of admission into your market. According to one study, 50 percent of customers will stop visiting your website if it isn’t optimized for mobile.

Make sure that mobile optimization is also part of your email strategy. Briefer messages, smaller images, links to your proprietary mobile app, and other mobile-optimized sites make email a faster, friendlier medium. Using micro-segmentation, personalization and user-generated content can also inspire greater customer engagement. 

As you refine your email marketing strategy, adjust your metrics to track your new tactics. It’s all well and good to follow advice, but your customer base is unique. Figure out what’s working and what’s not by consulting real data, not just your gut. 


Don’t just do it. Talk about it.

We know. That’s not what you’re used to hearing. But if you’re putting together a pitch deck, investors need to know what you’re doing to support your business strategy and differentiate your business from your competitors. 

Whether it’s empowering your sales staff through sales enablement technology, solidifying your online reputation, or otherwise building brand loyalty, highlight your knowledge of sales and marketing trends, and demonstrate precisely how you’re addressing them to keep investors engaged and, perhaps, even teaching them a thing or two.

Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and principal at Branddoktor. Her contribution comes to us courtesy of Money.com. Follow Susan on Twitter @branddoktor.

  • Originally published March 25, 2022