Are You in Danger of Losing Your Salespeople?

Are some of your salespeople getting ready to walk out the door? Quite possibly, but it doesn’t have to happen.

Some salespeople are like talented migrant workers who move from job to job to wherever the crops are easy picking. Some of these people think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence without realizing that it’s just how the light is being reflected and, in reality, the grass is as green (or equally brown) on both sides.

It’s not so much that these people are professional drifters, but the good ones are always going to be in demand and an easy target for “career consultants” (recruiters) or even your competitors.

Selling is a transportable skill and once you have it, it’s yours forever. Oh, it might get a bit rusty from non-use. But, basically, once a person has honed his selling skills, he becomes a hot commodity for employers looking for someone to sell things.

Changing Times

In addition to the danger of having someone poach your salespeople, we live in a time when people naturally change jobs more frequently. Long gone are the days when someone took a job for life like our grandfathers used to do. Now-a-days, people are changing jobs every two to three years, or less, depending on the industry. So, if you’ve got salespeople who have been with you for over four or five years, consider yourself lucky and make sure you keep doing whatever it is you’re doing that keeps people from straying from the camp.

Why People Stray

People change jobs for a multitude of reasons. While money is often cited as the biggest reason, unless you’re paying way below the industry norm, money is seldom the prime reason people change jobs.

What often happens is that the person becomes unhappy about something at work and he decides to look around. This is usually when he becomes vulnerable to being approached by a recruiter or competitor. Only after a person has decided to look for a better opportunity does money become a big part of the equation. It’s usually something other than money that starts people looking for a new position.

The first Law of Employment Inertia states that a content employee will stay put unless forced to move by some form of discontentment (I just made that law up!). In other words, keep your people content. It’s not as difficult as you may think.

Motivating People to Stay

Most of us have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that states that people operate on one of five levels of need (Survival, Security, Social, Esteem, and Self-Actualization) and that what motivates us will vary as to where we are in this hierarchy. For example, a person can quickly move from Esteem to Security when he shows up for work on a Monday morning and discovers the company is laying off staff. He quickly drops to the Survival level when he discovers he’s one of the people being laid off!

Another somewhat lesser-known but popular theory of motivation is Herzberg’s Two-Factor theory. Fredrick Herzberg, a noted sociologist, felt that there was little managers could do to satisfy the lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy (Survival and Security). He concluded that only the upper levels (Social, Esteem, and Self-Actualization) were left for motivational purposes.

Motivators and Maintenance Items

In his two factors, Herzberg called his higher-level factor “Satisfiers” or “Motivators” and the lower level “Dissatisfiers” or “Maintenance Items.” The theory is that if the items under the Maintenance Items list are not met, they will cause dissatisfaction. On the other hand, if you satisfy people through job enhancement, etc., you are more likely to motivate them.

The following list gives you a better idea of the dividing line between Motivators and Maintenance Items.

Motivators (Satisfiers)

  • The job itself
  • Potential for personal growth
  • Advancement
  • Recognition
  • Responsibility
  • Achievement
  • Sense of belonging
  • Ability to influence events
  • Money

Maintenance Items (Dissatisfiers)

  • Money
  • Working conditions
  • Job security
  • Relationship with co-workers
  • Quality of supervision
  • Status (job title)
  • Job location
  • Fringe benefits
  • Type of business

Money Doesn’t Motivate

You’ll notice that money is on both lists. It’s at the bottom of the list as a satisfier and the top of the list as a dissatisfier. As a maintenance item, if the person doesn’t have enough money, it becomes a dissatisfier. Yet money can certainly act as a short-term motivator however when used as a bonus or incentive for special effort. I say short term because it quickly changes from an incentive to an expectation.

Case in point. One company I worked for years ago gave the employees a Christmas bonus whenever the company had a profitable year. They did this for five years and then they had a very bad year. Even though the employees knew the rule about profitability, they still grumbled because they didn’t get their bonus. It had become an expectation, not a motivator.

What You Can Do

Herzberg contends that your job as a manager is to enhance the satisfiers and minimize the dissatisfiers. In many cases, you can have little influence over the dissatisfiers. Take location for example. If your place of work isn’t conveniently located for a particular salesperson, you are unlikely to move the company to a more convenient location. On the other hand, if you can arrange for the salesperson to do at least some of his or her work from home, why not?

Sometimes the best you can do as a sales manager is to build on the satisfiers (motivators) and create an ever-widening chasm between them and the dissatisfiers (maintenance items) over which you may have little influence.

If you minimize the potential dissatisfiers and create a motivational environment for your people to work in, you’re not too likely to lose any good salespeople to a competitor for money alone. You may lose them, but there will have to be extenuating circumstances beyond just compensation.

Bottom Line

As a sales manager, you have the responsibility to create an environment where people want to stay and do their best. It’s called sales leadership.