How to Attract & Retain Top Sales People

I’ve spent the last year working with some fantastic Financial Advice firms and Life Companies. One of the areas that I’ve found really interesting has been observing the different sales professionals at work and this got me thinking….What are the factors that help some firms recruit and retain the best sales people while others struggle with underperforming sales teams?

Now this article focuses on the human factors and interactions. By doing so you can’t forget all of the other factors of your brand, the work environment etc. – but they’re for another day.

It’s all about Money….or is it?

Actually it’s not just about money. Yes, your remuneration structure must definitely reward the most successful sales people and it must also have the right goals in place across all of the metrics that you want to achieve – income, new customer numbers, recurring income etc. The reward structure is very important but successful sales people want more than that…..

They also want recognition – both inside and outside your company. They want their colleagues aspiring to be as successful as them and want to be known as the top dog. They want you and all the senior people in your company remarking to them about their success. They also want their success to be promoted externally too so that their customers, their industry peers and competitors know about their ability. Promoting them won’t push them into the arms of a competitor if you look after them properly.

Top sales people want their views and insights to be listened to properly. They are successful; they are more than likely adopting best practice so use this as an asset. You’ll really demotivate them though if you only pay lip service to this and don’t utilise your learning. Then they’ll think you’re only trying to “stay in with them” by pretending to listen.

A career path is very important to them too. They’ll see this as a collaborative responsibility. Focus on developing them through coaching and further education – these people want to improve their skills! They’ll also want to see though where their outperformance and personal development will take them – will it be a management position, a shareholding? There needs to be a longer term carrot than this year’s target as a good career (and the recognition that goes with it) is very important to them.

Know what you’re looking for

So where do good sales people come from? Well, referrals are a very good source but a good fit in one company does not always transfer to another as all organisations are different.  The key is to know exactly what attributes you’re looking for and to relentlessly seek these without being blinded by an excellent referral.

Personal values such as integrity and professionalism are obviously simply hygiene factors and pre-requisites in any new recruit as are their qualifications and advice capability. After that, skills & competencies are key to your recruitment process. Product and industry knowledge are important factors but what differentiates the good guys from the rest is their personal motivations, their drive, their focus and their resilience. So make sure you look for these.

Getting it wrong pays a big price. Nobody wants to be left with a serial underperformer. When it comes to sales, “bad breath is worse than no breath” as it will drive your customers and relationships away and damage your business in the long run.

How do you manage Top Performers?

Don’t just leave them at it! Give them your time in one to one meetings to help develop them and to give them an opportunity to raise issues etc. Also give them time out in the field with customers. Again don’t just tip the cap to this, do it with a mind and in a way to really add value to them.

Push them! They thrive on challenges! Involve them in important pitches and projects. However at the same time, don’t put unnecessary hurdles in their way, let them do their job. Look at areas such as support work that may be best done by someone else and also performance reports that you seek from them.  Yes, reporting is critical for you to understand your business overall but make sure you can clearly demonstrate the value of it as nothing drives a good sales guy up the walls more than reporting for reporting sake.

However at the end of the day, don’t forget about the rest of your team! Do your own business objectives include raising the standard of the rest of your team to be as good as your top performers? They should do, because unfortunately top dogs sometimes go out for a walk and don’t come back!

If you have any comments in relation to this article or fundamentally disagree with any of it, I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment below!

Happy hunting!