What Really Drives Sales Rep Retention?

We work with distributors to realign their sales and marketing investments with the real opportunities for growth. Getting it right at the top is critical to implementing a sustainable market-based sales model. This blog looks at the impact poor sales management can have on retaining your best sales reps.

The greatest challenge for most distributors is developing top sales talent. Distributors rightly see their sales reps as a vital cog in their customer relationships: the key to growth and profitability. And in today’s hyper-competitive environment, operational efficiency and high service levels are just the ante to play the game. Recognizing this, distributor senior executives get personally involved in hiring, and HR departments develop targeted recruiting and development programs.

Sales force retention is equally critical. Distributors recognize this, as well, investing large amounts of time and money in the development and funding of initiatives and incentive plans. But such plans issued from headquarters are generally not nearly as effective in the field as their creators would like. In the course of our sales force re-engineering projects, for example, we are often amazed by the level of delusion regarding corporate dictates. Headquarters staff will assure us that there is 100 percent compliance with a program that reps in the field have never even heard of!

After all, even compelling initiative and incentive programs will quietly die in the field unless branch and sales managers continuously reinforce them and tailor them to local conditions. So the ability of these programs to positively affect retention rates actually depends just as much on the managers implementing them than on the programs themselves.

Similarly, even well-paid reps can become dissatisfied if they don’t feel they are being recognized for their contributions. Managers are in the best position to give such vital reassurances; as a result, the quality of local management can be the biggest factor in a person’s decision to either stay with a company or to hit the road.

The old saying “people don’t quit their company, they quit their boss” is often true; good managers keep good talent happy. Because they are also critical to the successful implementation of corporate retention programs, sales and branch managers are one of the most critical retention tools in a company’s toolbox.