How to Make Your Top Salesperson Quit

Article by:
Adam Robinson, EO Chicago
Adam Robinson
EO Chicago

When it comes to work, sales can be tricky— it’s a stressful part of the business equation that can make or break companies. Believe it or not, most companies tend to drive their top-producing salespeople out of the organization and into the welcoming arms of the competition. After all the time and effort they expend to locate, hire and train top producers, why do most of them do things that make their top salespeople quit?

In my years of experience working in sales, this question can be summed up in one statement: Most companies don’t pay attention to the basic drivers/motivators for top producers. As a once top-producing software sales executive and now CEO of a firm that recruits top producers for its clients, I can tell you with certainty that if your company has a hard time holding on to salespeople it’s probably for one of the following reasons:

  • You’ve changed their compensation structure, and not for the better. The number one cause of a disgruntled top producer is negative modifications to their compensation structure. With salespeople, the comp plan is a sacred covenant— everyone agrees that these are the rules. Top producers inevitably knock the ball out of the park, and management says, “Oh no! These guys are making too much money,” so they change the comp plan. The usual suspects are caps on commissions, reducing overall commission pay-outs (which kills trust faster than anything) and taking away clients to give to other salespeople. A lot of times this scenario happens because the business owner is undercharging for their product or service and they realize—after the sale—that paying out high sales commissions causes them to lose money

  • They have an unhealthy relationship with their manager. This usually happens when the top producer’s previous boss gets promoted and is replaced by a boss who feels like they have to prove their worth by tinkering with everything that was working. I call this the “New Boss Syndrome.” It goes something like this: (1) new boss enters the picture; (2) new boss fails to take the time to build relationships with the top producers; (3) new boss says or does something to perturb the top producers; (4) new boss’s involvement actually starts to hinder the top producers’ ability to produce; (5) top producers start accepting headhunter phone calls; and (6) the top producers leave.

  • You’ve increased their risk. This risk may be caused by a company’s poor financial performance, a merger or buyout, or an overall macro decline in the size of the market for the product or service that they’re selling. This one is a bit more difficult to counter, and I mention it only because business leaders should pay twice the amount of attention to top producers when a broad-based decline hits an industry. Otherwise, top salespeople will begin to consider that move to a new career, and you’re left with mediocrity.

Having spent the last decade recruiting salespeople, I know that these factors are what headhunters are trained to watch for when they come calling for salespeople. If they perceive that one of these scenarios is occurring in your company, they will zero in on your top producers like a missile. The truth about top producers is that they’ll continue to help you make money if their ego is sufficiently stroked, if they are fed with good marketing support, if their comp plan is solid and if you get out of their way

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