Look After Your Salespeople

Those of us who are old enough (and I mean REALLY old)  may remember the old Allen Sherman song with these lyrics:

Oh, salesmen come and salesmen go
And my best one is gone I know,
And if he don’t come back to me
I’ll have to close the factory.

While you may not have to shut down your factory if you lose your best salesperson, it certainly makes for interesting times.

Now I’m not implying that your salespeople are the most important people in your firm, but I am here to tell you that they’re the tip of your marketing arrow and if they don’t hit their targets, you won’t either.

When I was a young lad (late ’40s to mid ’50s, not the early 1800s!), companies practised a paternalistic management style. The company cared for and looked after you, sometimes to an extreme. For example, if you were a male worker in a bank, you couldn’t get married without your employer’s blessing and he wouldn’t give it unless he felt you were making enough money to properly maintain a family. In the first half of this century, people expected to have one job with one employer for most or all of their working lives. Times have certainly changed. 

Management no longer has the control they once had and people entering the workforce today are told to expect to have several careers—not just jobs—over their working lifetime. Over the past several years there has been an eroding of loyalty between organizations and their employees. This lessening of loyalty has created a semi-migratory workforce. People are willing to change employers at the drop of a hat. The last numbers I saw showed that people change jobs about every 27 months. Salespeople in particular are a very fluid bunch and easily flow from job to job if they feel neglected, unloved, or financially deprived. They will also move if they are poor performers who are about to be uncovered.

All is not lost, however. Here are a few tips on how to keep good employees, particularly good salespeople:

Competitive compensation. If you pay a salary, make sure you pay at or above what your competitors are paying for the same talent. Make sure your commission plans result in a similar income for performance as your competitors’ plans.

If you can’t find out what your local competitors are paying (using corporate intelligence—i.e. spying), try calling a similar business in another area where you don’t compete and do a mini compensation survey.

Keep the compensation plan simple. I’ve seen plans that run 38 pages long and the salespeople spend most of their time trying to work the plan instead of working the street. If you want some practical ideas on building a sensible and simple compensation plan, read chapter three of my book, The Secrets of Sales Management.

Turn on the spotlight. Shine the light of appreciation on your people from time to time. Some managers think that the pay cheque is enough light. Appreciation shouldn’t arrive in an envelope every two weeks. People appreciate appreciation! Give them some whenever appropriate. Showing you care breeds loyalty, loyalty breeds longevity, and longevity breeds stability and low staff turnover.

Know your people. Forget the Golden Rule that states do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and use the Platinum Rule instead: Do unto others as they want done unto them. Spend the time to know your people as individuals. Gain an understanding of their likes, hopes, and desires. Learn a little about their families. People stay where they feel wanted. Take the time to care.

Hire the right people. Hire for attitude and train for skill. It’s even better if you can hire a trained person with a good attitude. Beware of the person who is leaving his current employer for the money because, sooner or later, he’ll leave you for the same reason.

It’s not hard to keep good people. Just be good yourself, look after your salespeople, earn their loyalty, and they’ll stay with you.