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How to reduce sales staff turnover

Getting good sales people is one thing, holding onto them is another! Jeffrey Bean, a Director of sales personnel assessment company Sales Team Focus Ltd looks at an often overlooked cause..

Have you ever recruited a salesperson that was so much better than all the other candidates that it was a ‘no brain’ decision, only to have him/her resign within a matter of months? Equally, have you ever recruited a salesperson that simply couldn't get to grips with detailed product knowledge or grasp the finer points of your sales training? Don't feel too bad if you have, these are frequent occurrences!

Sales staff turnover (voluntary or compulsory) is a real problem for many organisations. Some lose a significant number of new recruits within months (or even days) of them being hired. Not only does this represent a huge waste of training resources and sales management time, it can reduce confidence amongst clients affected by the lack of continuity.

Whilst there are many reasons why sales recruits fail to make the grade, one of the easiest to overlook is their ability to absorb detailed product knowledge and the finer points of sales technique critical to success in their new role. When this happens, the sales manager often ‘carries’ the individual for several weeks in the hope that performance will improve. When it becomes clear this is unlikely and the individual is not going to quit of his/her own volition, the decision to fire the person concerned can be put off no longer. Even more frustrating for sales managers is when one of the ‘best’ recruits moves on - the one that lapped up the training and was being highly productive in no time at all. In both instances, the expensive and time consuming process of recruitment has to be repeated.

So why do the best people often move on soon after becoming fully productive? Extensive research into all aspects of employment has proven that once we reach our financial ‘comfort zone’, most of us are motivated by factors other than monetary reward. These factors include ‘feeling valued’, ‘being challenged’ and ‘having meaningful and interesting work’. This is equally as true in sales as any other discipline. So, in the context of this research, one dimension that is frequently overlooked is that after the challenge of getting to grips with new products and a new market has faded, the everyday demands of the role aren’t sufficiently challenging. Quite simply, successful salespeople often become bored!

So what's the solution? Clearly a balance has to be struck between recruiting candidates who find the role sufficiently demanding yet have the intellectual horsepower to assimilate product and sales training. To help them select the most appropriate candidates, many employers already use personality profiles to measure an individual's drive and motivation. Some employers also assess applicants’ numerical and verbal reasoning skills. But such tests can take over an hour to complete and are unable to measure an individual's ability to absorb product and sales training. Neither do IQ tests appear to provide a solution. For we all know somebody with an extremely high IQ who simply cannot communicate effectively or appears to live on another planet!

To ensure recruits are able to absorb training and are matched to the everyday demands of the job, Sales Team Focus Ltd recommends use of the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT). One of the world's most widely used and well-respected tests of adult mental agility, WPT is a twelve-minute, timed test that provides a quick and simple analysis of an individual's ability to learn, adapt, solve problems and ‘think on their feet’. With recommended minimum (and maximum) scores for a wide range of sales roles, WPT helps sales managers identify candidates who are able to get up to speed quickly yet will find the role sufficiently challenging to not get bored within a few months of joining.

© Sales Team Focus Ltd

September 1997

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