How to Prevent Other Companies From Stealing Your Best Salespeople

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COVID-19 has put a stop to a lot of business activities. One activity, however, that has not stopped is the of poaching talented salespeople. In good times and bad, talented salespeople are always in demand.

Sales managers: After your next Zoom sales meeting, start thinking about what you should do to avoid having your salespeople snatched away by your competitors.

Incentivize them with more than money

Let me go on record. Incentives will not work if you are grossly underpaying your salespeople. After all, your salespeople have to support themselves and their families. Assuming you are paying them enough, there is more to keeping an employee than just money. Employees will stay if there are rewards that they think are meaningful and that they like.

Do you know what motivates your salespeople? Do you know how they want to be rewarded? If you don’t, then you had better ask them. Different people appreciate different things. Some like tangible items; others prefer intangibles.

I once worked for a sales manager that I never would have left. This manager knew I liked art, and he recognized me with a special award of a beautiful sculpture for being the top salesperson. While the second- and third-place winners each received smaller sculptures, mine was larger and more magnificent, and I will always remember that special treatment. I also won a trip, but it was that special sculpture I still can see every day, and it’s the boss whom I remember so fondly. I never would have left the company while I was working for him.

Consider intangible rewards for salespeople who may not like artwork. Have you ever told a top performer to take a day off on the company because they deserve it? Time is always appreciated since we don’t have much of it. Do you write notes to thank your top performers when they do a job well? I still have the handwritten note from a company vice president who appreciated my work. A good salary is not necessarily enough incentive for someone to stay with a company.

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Don’t mess with the compensation structure when talented salespeople make a lot of money

Are your top salespeople making a lot of money? I certainly hope they are. I worked with a very successful customer whose top salesperson made almost $500,000 a year, and the products he sold were under $5 per gallon. The owner of the company paid his salespeople on commission; they made 17% commission on what was sold. Not only did the owner of the company say, “I want all my salespeople to make $500,000.” He very wisely observed, “When my salespeople make 17%, I make 83%.”

Contrast his view of his salespeople’s compensation with another business owner who was constantly changing the commission structure. This business owner told me: “I didn’t want my salespeople to make too much money.” I asked him why he thought that. He replied: “Well, they might get too confident.”

Say what? I never argued with that crazy logic. His salespeople made nowhere near my other customer’s salespeople. This owner also never was as successful as my other customer.

If you want to keep your best salespeople, ask yourself if you are doing all you can do to help them make more money. Remember, when they make more money, then you make more money, too.

Think like a coach

The job of a coach is to motivate others to perform at their peak, and as a manager, there are several ways to get the most out of your salespeople. One way is to provide feedback. You’ll get the best performance from your staff when you notice and provide positive feedback of behaviors that are working. In contrast, appropriate negative feedback is useful to stop behaviors that may be causing lost sales.

A constructive way to offer negative feedback is to point out the behavior you noticed, and then ask the salesperson what they thought about its effectiveness. If the salesperson still thinks the unsuccessful behavior is working, you can then ask: “Why didn’t your customer do (the behavior that you expected)?“ In a non-threatening way, you are challenging specific behaviors that should produce sales successes.

Another way salespeople can achieve their best performance is when managers move obstacles out of the way. Do you know what your salespeople consider their obstacles? Have you asked? Along with knowing what motivates your team, you have to know what prevents them from being successful. You might find that a simple process change helps a salesperson dramatically improve his or her productivity.

For example, one manager found that a simple change to the job function of an order taker helped a salesperson get better results. The order taker’s job was expanded to confirm the appointments of the salesperson. This resulted in the salesperson having the time to set up more appointments and fewer customers cancelling or missing appointments since all appointments were now confirmed.

Ultimately it takes more than a paycheck

Good salespeople will stay put when competitors call because they are getting more than a paycheck from their employers. Are you providing your salespeople with more than a paycheck?

RELATED: 5 Steps to Hiring (and Retaining) the Best Employees for Your Small Business