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Sales Team Running for the Door? Here's What to Do About it

If your best rep just walked out the door or worse it’s a great resignation on the sales side, it’s time to implement some damage control and fast!

As a sales-focused recruiter, I spend my days talking to reps, asking them why they are interested in new opportunities and the answers generally boil down to one of these three issues: compensation plans, leadership/management, or product problems.

In this article, I will discuss the three common issues CEO/Founders face when retaining sales talent as well as ways to improve each of these three potential red flags.

Compensation Plans

How could I start an article without mentioning the issue that motivates salespeople and keeps them up at night - money! Unlike most other positions, it’s all about the money for those in sales.

It’s how I've managed to recruit top performers from Fortune500 SaaS organizations to tech startups. I’ve spoken to otherwise happy reps working for a big name brand, but who are also willing to leave due to their frustrations around commission.

Another issue we hear from those working in smaller organizations is the frequent changing of territories or quotas. Anything to do with commission or bonus structure shuffles will be a massive red flag. Then there’s the issue of reps capping or hitting their variable limiting the percentage of what they can actually overachieve.

Solutions:

Most AEs want uncapped earning potential, stability in quotas/territories, and easy-to-understand compensation plans and payout schedules. Sounds simple in theory but is often an area of struggle for Founders. 

If your company is facing challenges around sales compensation and retaining top sales reps, perhaps this is time to think about onboarding the right software to automate the process and eliminate the problem.

Working with an Incentive Compensation Management solution that can automate sales compensation, reduce repetition and predict comp spend, can help Founders create more streamlined commission plans and in turn help them retain their top sales talent.

Changes to quotas and territories often happen to those in Seed and Series A. The key is managing this effectively is adequate ramp up/downtime and of course to not be shuffling this around too often.

If salespeople are given enough time to ramp up while also ramping down those deals about to close, they will be a lot more understanding of the situation than those who feel thrust back to square one with zero support.

This brings me to my next point, make sure you have the right support. Will there be a BDR who can help with prospecting? Are the proper sales enablement materials ready? Etc. Setting your salespeople up for success in their new vertical/territory is key to making them feel supported and driven to succeed versus driven to find success elsewhere.

While an uncapped commission structure would be a big seller it’s not always feasible. So what can you do? A really good equity plan or options also creates a drive to perform and increases stickiness within your organization. The same can be said for creative benefits like educational credits, WFH credits, more comprehensive benefits, flex hours, 4 day work weeks, succession planning - the list goes on.

In this great resignation, your compensation package needs to not only be competitive financially but also well-rounded.

Leadership

People don't leave jobs, they leave managers. If you have uncapped potential, great commission structures, well-rounded benefits, and your high-earning superstars are still leaving, it’s either a management or product issue (more on that later).

The world of tech startups is fast and sometimes chaotic but it’s often those reps overwhelmed by an organization’s chaos who look for solace somewhere else. Often, hires come to a company because they were recruited by their old boss or peer, but then six months later that person leaves or there’s a string of leadership churning through the organization and instability creeps in.

Lots of churn creates instability and distrust. Employees will lose trust in leadership and the company. A revolving door makes it easy for employees to question their ability to have a future and build tenure.

Solutions:

Take a look at why that's happening; are people not hitting their numbers? Is there departmental infighting? Are new org charts being shuffled around every quarter? What does the frequency and quality of communication look like between leadership and their team members? It’s important to self diagnose then address the issue.

Transparency and preparation build respect and trust. Whatever the leadership issue, salespeople are smart enough to figure it out on their own so you might as well address it head-on.

If it is a specific manager issue, work with their team to uncover the problem and work with the manager to upskill their area(s) of weakness. If the churn is deeper rooted, it’s often a result of poor c-suite decisions and it’s time to look in the mirror.

Startups shuffle around, but often to their detriment. I recently spoke with an AE who had been placed on a customer success team and wasn't able to have as much opportunity to sell the product as they did originally. That is a ticking registration timebomb. As a Founder, you have the power to limit the amount of employee movement; unless, of course, it’s an earned step-up in the ranks.

Being in a remote-first world, it’s extremely important for leaders to be engaged with their teams and make the extra effort to build strong communication. What are your leaders doing to maintain close relationships with their team members?

Every new leadership hire should be introduced with tact and transparency. Leaders are there to build, foster a growth environment and create relationships with their teams. If that is not what you’re seeing as a Founder, it’s time to step in.

Undeveloped Product

Product issues are a common reason why those in Seed, Series A, and even sometimes Series B companies lose valuable employees. Salespeople want to push on their customers' pain points and sell products that are hot, new to market, and most importantly ready for use! They also want to sell something that's a need to have, not a nice to have - there's a big difference.

Nothing will churn your salespeople out faster than a rushed product that doesn't have a solid product-market fit. It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe works and aren't passionate about. If your reps don't see the value, your customers probably won't either.

Solutions:

Before hiring salespeople, make sure the product is actually ready to be sold and implemented into a customer’s process. If you’ve already done the hiring, then it’s time to re-examine the product before one more rep walks.

Be confident in what your team will be walking into and what they are going to need from you in order to be successful. Understand how your product fits into the space and know the total addressable market (TAM).

Evaluate how you can reposition your product in the market and lean on the remaining salespeople to help diagnose issues. Another solution is to pivot to a more PLG focused approach. Create a product with the proper product-market-fit to sell itself then onboard AE’s to scale.

As a sales recruiter, I speak with reps of all levels every day yet the complaints I hear are pretty consistent. While some churn is inevitable, if it’s starting to become a trend in your sales team it’s time to take a step back, assess and implement some damage control policies.

Looking to make your sales opportunity more appealing to top reps? Here are the top 5 things top Sales Executives look for and how to best position your organization to land them.