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The Key to Retaining Top Sales Talent

Dec 27th, 2017

So you’ve found the perfect candidate for your open sales position. From the moment they walk in the door they dominate every task and crush every quota. They are consistently at the top of your sales leaderboard. Then one day they step into your office and tell you they’ve accepted an opportunity with another company. And then it happens again. And again.

Why does great talent keep walking out the door? On a recent webinar, Jim Ninivaggi, Brainshark’s chief readiness officer, and Heather Cole, service director at SiriusDecisions, recently discussed why continuous learning could be the solution to this very worrisome question. In fact, according to SiriusDecisions data, 39% of high performers (sales reps that consistently outperform their quota over a two-year period) indicated a lack of ongoing learning as a key driver in leaving a company. And millennials are two times more likely to jump ship than non-millennials.

Heather states, “We’re seeing shorter tenure, which is driven somewhat by a willingness to move around.” Sales reps are in high demand and when companies look for their next great sales hire, they look for top performers that are already employed. Today’s reps get countless LinkedIn InMails and emails from recruiters every single day. With a solid continuous learning program, not only do sales reps have a reason to stay, you can make them a more effective sales rep along the way.

How do high performing sales teams think about continuous learning?

“You have to have an initial onboarding strategy, and then an ongoing onboarding strategy,” says Jim. This is known as continuous learning. As soon as your reps have reached a competence level that shows they’ve successfully completed onboarding, the continuous learning process should begin.

But high performing sales teams think about continuous learning differently. Based on a SiriusDecisions survey, high performing sales teams are significantly more likely than low performing teams to think about these three tactics when it comes to continuous learning:

how to retain sales reps

Manager-led training: Jim thinks that this type of training is “a best practice that’s gone to the wayside.” While manager-led training was once thought of as training “in a box,” today’s sales teams are taking this training digitally. Training videos should involve extremely detailed instructions on how to hone a particular skill or competency, such as pre-call planning. Think of it as a “learning by teaching” method.

Because it’s on video, sales enablement teams can ensure messaging is consistent from manager to manager, and that everyone is talking to their reps the same way. That being said, managers are the ones that know their team the best and Heather suggests they should feel free to customize their training to resonate better with their team. Once reps have viewed the video, managers should take the opportunity to coach and reinforce those skills.

In-field observation of others: This is also known as shadowing or peer learning, and can be an especially effective learning method for millennials. SiriusDecisions’ research shows that millennials like to watch and learn, and they also like to be watched and then learn from feedback.

Video coaching tools allow you to easily scale peer learning programs. Initiate a coaching activity where you ask reps questions such as, “What’s the toughest question or objection you got this week and how did you handle it?” Once reps submit their video responses, you can then harvest the best examples and turn them into training.

Sales aids: Knowledge retention drops dramatically if knowledge is not used every day or is not reinforced. For example, this could be as simple as finding something in a system. If they don’t use that system again for 20 days, they will forget the majority of the information that you discussed. 

Use a simple one-page document or micro-learning piece as a sales aid that your reps can reference in the future when they need to access the information. Store this document in your content portal or sales readiness solution and use categories and tags so that reps can easily find it.

What happens if reps are still leaving the company?

Let’s say you put together a killer continuous learning program and reps still leave the company. The fact is that there will still be some turnover that you just can’t control. Both Jim and Heather suggest that rather than continuing to fight it, accept the reality and adjust your plan. Don’t try to develop your training programs around unachievable retention goals.

If you know that the tenure of your sales development reps averages 18 months, think about how you can maximize their output in that time period. This may mean putting reps in the field before they are fully competent. Jim suggests that the days of onboarding reps for months and months are over because companies can end up losing money. When onboarding wraps up, continuous learning should begin. With continuous learning you’ll continue to foster sales rep growth while reaping the revenue benefits of getting them in the field faster.

If you’d like to hear more insights on the topic of Continuous Learning for an Ever-Ready Sales Force, check out this on-demand webinar!