Half of the American workforce today is under 40 years old. Ernst & Young and Accenture have already reported this segment makes up over two thirds of their own employee base and they are expected to change jobs far more often than ever before.
So, what are we doing as sales leaders to retain talent in this group and to help them reach their highest potential to drive success for our business?
We first need to understand the changing role of the salesforce and what it takes to win.
For some time now, we have understood salespeople must not just be better at selling, rather they need to sell differently. The reasons are many: relentless and increasing competition, deepening customer knowledge and technical awareness, instant access to information, and more choices than ever before. Despite all of this, the goal remains the same: to move clients to select our value proposition over the competition.
Selling differently can look like:
- Demonstrating thought leadership to proactively create business value
- Differentiating on “how you sell” rather than “what you sell”
- Understanding your client’s political landscape
- Taking the risk to continuously develop new relationships with key decision makers
The great news is the newer crop of salespeople are ideally suited to this new world. We can enable their best performance by understanding the current landscape.
Think of it this way: There is an “old school” mindset for selling (that works for some) but today’s type of sellers tends not to embrace this style. Instead, recognition, feeling valued, motivation… and then compensation… are their priorities. Flexibility in working environments and workplace quality are also important, and speed to promotion is paramount.
Furthermore, today’s sellers can be expected to change jobs every one to three years and are looking for a promotion just one year into a job or are likely to move on.
The sudden loss of a talented sales professional today compounds the challenge for sales leaders, costing the business up to three years in lost performance! This includes:
- Three to six months to advertise and recruit a replacement
- Six to twelve months to ramp up the new recruit’s performance to 60%-70% contribution of target
- A third year to get them delivering 100% of target
A growing number of leaders today are also under 40, but their leadership examples are from the past. They are part of “today’s seller” group. There is a difference between “then and now,” and the more we recognize it and work with it, all the better for the future.
So, how best can we embrace this change and take advantage of the new talents and values that come with this type of seller?
Previous groups of salespeople are accustomed to being given a sales target at the beginning of the year, a pat on the back, and told to get on with it. At the year’s end, target achievement led to a positive annual review, maybe a pay increase, “club” for the super-stars (definitely an increase in target), and off we go again. Failure led to the exit.
No more. Today’s sales talent calls for far greater and more regular attention, care, motivation, and purpose.
Gone are annual reviews. Implementing quarterly reviews ensures a much closer connection between sales leaders and sales teams. This gives us an opportunity to provide regular positive feedback, which surveys have shown to be up to 80% more important than money or promotion for this group.
Try introducing a 3/3/3 system, where once a quarter every salesperson spends time with their manager to discuss three things the salesperson should continue to do, three they need to start doing, and three things they need to stop.
You can also introduce a merit based, stepped career path from SMB sales through corporate sales and on to enterprise sales roles. Then incrementally promote, again based on merit, from entry-level roles through to senior, then up to principle sales levels. This way salespeople can achieve the promotion, incremental salary, and bonus steps they desire far more regularly than before.
Benefits of this approach are two-fold:
- First, it creates a safe, secure, and positive environment for salespeople to achieve their best, as they receive regular constructive and positive feedback from their managers, making them feel valued.
- Implementing this approach has been shown to significantly reduce instances of salespeople leaving a company suddenly due to feeling they have “no future.” This in turn avoids the impact of a sudden departure and the three-year recovery to performance cycle described above.
Of course, there is another factor that should be considered. As the workforce increasingly is made up of the under 40 group, then so is our client base…
Having both salespeople and clients of the same group can create new opportunity. Much the same that an “old school” seller might have an advantage with an “old school” buyer.
So, as we return slowly to a more normal way of working following varying degrees of lockdown, perhaps it’s time to examine how we are doing as sales leaders so far as attracting, motivating and, most importantly, retaining our best sales talent from today’s sellers.
Take a look at the way you conduct reviews with your sales team. Perhaps there is an opportunity to break from the old ways and introduce new structures, roles, and quarterly merit- based reviews.