The World Of Working Has Changed – Didn't You Know?
If we just look at the entire world of work first, there are some amazing statistics coming out. Many people know, for example, that America has lost a load of people from work. Since April of this year, more than 19 million people have quit their jobs. Many of them do not have a job to go to, which is an unusual thing. If we look nearer to home geographically, the Netherlands, there are more job vacancies than job seekers now. So, we are living in very unusual, unprecedented times for the fluidity of people moving between jobs.
It is a brilliant example of how we are living in a time that no one thought was possible. No one knew what the rules were going to be. It is going to take a lot of research, thinking, reflection to work out really what is going on. But what we can see right now is that attrition rates for salespeople are on the rise – and it is still increasing.
For sales leaders, many do not really understand what is going on. They are losing people but are looking for the same old fixes, the quick fixes that used to work to keep people, but it does not work anymore. And therefore, the toolkits are empty.
What is staggering, is that salespeople are leaving their jobs with no job to go to. Well, why is this?
This has been brewing for a long time. That general sense of dissatisfaction with the old ways of working is the most visible manifestation of that. One reason is the shift of flexible working that employers were simply scared of before the pandemic. The other one is that rates of mental illness and stress are going up.
We now have this opportunity for global reflection. A massive thinking space, that has been imposed on us all. That has then led to people producing new conclusions, seeing for the first time, the need to make some quite dramatic changes to their lives.
On the other side, they may walk out of one, in this case, a sales job, that causes them some issues and just go straight into another one where they will face the same issues because so many sales organisations that have an identical way of running work and identical way of rewarding, measuring, and driving performance.
What Has Caused This Behaviour?
The obvious one is dissatisfaction with their current employer in different ways. Another obvious one is the performance expected of people who are at work and how the performance expectation stays the same because of commitments to the market performance. The performance possibility that people see from the customers has changed from the pandemic and they have not been able to find the same level of sales performance. There is a gap between what's being asked of them and what they can see as deliverable.
There are also at least two real villains that don't get spoken about so much. The first is back to that thinking space. You can argue one of the villains is time to think, and that people have finally had time to think. Family members and friends are encouraging them to do something different and salespeople are listening to it. So that period of reflection has meant people are looking for something different in their lives; whether they can find what they really want is less certain. But the first thing you notice is dissatisfaction, ultimately removal from the source of pain and in this case, from sales. Whether they go back to sales, or another type of job remains to be seen.
The other may be slightly less obvious, but a noticeably clear villain is the values disconnect between leaders and people near the front line. Leaders by and large are still driven by the same leadership values that got them to the top of the pole of very high-performance expectations, expectations of extremely high personal commitment and perfection, putting everything to one side for the sake of the job.
People are looking for a more balanced life. The gap is larger and the widening of that gap between the leadership values and their people's values then drives an enormous tension in the organization that ultimately leads to people questioning whether they can still do their job there.
Generation Specific, Or Something Deeper?
It is more than just generational; it is a transformational effect of the COVID era that we're going through. Some senior leaders are often wired differently. That's why they get to the top.
There is a famous Stanford experiment that goes back to the 1950s when they looked at the ability of people to be able to self-sacrifice to get something brilliant in the future. The experiment was called the ‘Marshmallow Experiment'. It involved putting a child in a room with a marshmallow and the child was told “if you don't eat this marshmallow, you'll get two of them”. Some children just went in, and they were apparently walking around this marshmallow. Some of them even tried to lick the underside of it, hoping no one would notice. Some left it because they knew they would get two marshmallows at some point later.
And when those children were followed up in later life, there was a remarkably high correlation between those that hold themselves back and those that were highly successful in life.
What we are living in now, is a similar social experiment. Those that can hold themselves back, who have become senior leaders now have a different mindset and value system, that is so different from their people that they almost do not speak the same language when it comes to the language of employment, and that they can help themselves. But right now, without the leaders giving themselves thinking space, they're not going to get it in a hurry.
What Are The First Steps A Sales Leader Can Take To Address The Attrition Of Salespeople?
As a leader, first of all, stop and think.
Do not be the leader that spends 15-18 hours a day on back-to-back team calls. Find some space to sit down and think. Talk to your people and be vulnerable. You are in sales; you have got to be optimistic. You have got to drive. You have got to make things happen. But also, be vulnerable and open to talking to your people and hearing some uncomfortable messages that will jar you. Listen to them and do something about it at the human level, not just the performance level.
But how do you give your salespeople a sense of purpose?
Having probably spoken to a few hundred sales leaders and asked them this question, the most important question to fundamentally answer is “What vision do you have for your team?” “Who of you has a vision that you can describe?”. Around 5% admit having some form of vision. So, give or take 95% of sales leaders do not have a reason why people should work for them versus anyone else - It is just never stated.
The first problem is that sales leaders, do not for themselves understand what the purpose of their team is. So, if you do not have a purpose and you are not clear what your purpose is, you cannot then express it to the team. Why would you be surprised if they go for more money somewhere else? Because that is all you are asking them. “Give me the sales performance and I'll give you the money. If you don't give me the sales performance, you won't get the money. I'll probably make you redundant.” There is no discretionary effort. There is no other reason why you should work.
There are a few exceptional leaders that can very clearly understand why someone should be a part of their team. One example is of a performer known to the Consalia Alumni, who was well-recognised within his company. He had an unusual way of working with someone new on the team. This sales leader would sit down with them when they joined his team, he would ask them “how much money do you want to earn?” and then would wait for their answer. It could be a huge number, it could be a big number, it could be a medium number, but he asks them how much do you want to earn? And then together the leader and the new salesperson that came to work for him would go through the rationale of what it would take. What it would take in terms of how you'd have to live your life, how you'd have to run the sales environment, what you would have to do, and the consequences of that, or maybe educational gaps, whatever was required. Then they would agree on a plan that would help them achieve this goal.
The sales leader had massive loyalty and he had an extraordinary number of people who were promoted after working in his team. He prided himself on having people that came through the team and went somewhere else because he knew that would attract new people to the team.
But that is less than 5%. Our guess is 1-2% of sales leaders have that deal of clarity with their team. So, 95% of salespeople at least are treated and behaving like hired guns.
You need to give people a sense of humanity as well as needing high-performance from them. And it is that sense of humanity that is sorely lacking.
What Can Make The Difference At An Emotional Intelligence Level?
What we have learned is coaching can make a massive difference. What we see very clearly is more and more of the coaching workload for sales leaders goes back to that humanity. It is not even about sales performance. It is about people wanting to feel valued, wanting to be listened to. It is not quite therapy, but it is getting there and that may feel uncomfortable. So, coaching can make a massive difference because, in that conversation, people feel valued. They get to surface what is holding them back personally and professionally, and the sales leader can help them improve their lives and improve their performance.
First and foremost, you as a salesperson must want to do it, it must take a leader that wants to actually coach the team. You must create some time because, to begin with, you have got to build the competence, go through that unconscious incompetence through to conscious competence, so it takes a bit of effort to get over that hump. And it is a different work schedule because our research shows that a leader can typically save eventually 20 to 40% of their time because suddenly, your team is making decisions for themselves.
How Can Sales Leaders Keep Attrition Rates Of Salespeople Down?
It is a very easy question to ask and has many layers in it. Part of it depends on how old people are, that you are looking to recruit. Is it Gen-Z’s, millennials, mid-forties, late forties, etc.? So already there is a lot of ‘ifs’ depending upon the age group, but you have to be clear on your employee value proposition.
Why should someone come and work for you? What are you offering? Are you simply offering the most money, so people will not want to leave, are you offering any form of career development or is it just come and do sales and then you are finished? Are you offering people educational development? What are you offering them? Are you in an industry that's expanding? Are you in a role where people could develop some new capabilities on the environment on sustainability or digital transformation?
Think through what your employee value proposition is and make sure you deliver. We often see that much has been promised but very little has been delivered.
Could The Leadership Skills That Have Succeeded Pre-Pandemic Also Be As Successful Post-Pandemic?
No, but there are lots of similarities.
Our MSc Professional Practice in Leading Sales Transformation has now been running for eight years. During that time, we have got to see very high-performing sales leaders, very closely. So, we get to see what they say, and how they think, not just what they tell everyone else, in that time period. We have noticed a huge shift in what high potential sales leaders value and how they behave even in that time.
This was starting to emerge pre-pandemic. In the very earliest days, the stereotype of high performance was everything. You get your money and nothing else mattered. Some of the sales leaders who were more forward-thinking understood the culture of the world and their values were beginning to shift. They understood that there needed to be a softer human component to their leadership approach.
In our latest cohort, there is an enormous amount of self-disclosure and vulnerability, a huge amount of authenticity, and a much higher fraction of humanity. The biggest difference, therefore, in the end, is that it is much less myopic than it used to be and now much more multi-dimensional.
The sales leaders that are going to succeed in this post-pandemic era are those that, that display those positive values or mindsets that we talk about a lot; Authenticity, Client Centricity, Proactive Creativity, and Tactful Audacity.
So, what are you going to do to keep the attrition levels of your salespeople low?
Reflecting on the above; one of the most beneficial ways to retain and attract salespeople is to invest in them. Give them the relevant professional development pathways specific to their role and future, as well as a value purpose within the organisation.