Sales team churn is a big deal.

According to a 2018 report by the Bridge Group, only 8 percent of respondents said they were at their sales job for 3 or more years. The average is closer to a year and a half -- which is hardly any time at all to get the kind of institutional learning or relationship building that returns on the investment you made in the hiring process.

The best way to prevent sales team churn is to have strong sales team management in place, but what actually works? Turns out, it’s really it’s more about what you don’t do.

Here are a few common ways sales team management can go wrong, and what to do instead.

Onboarding new sales reps with a “sink-or-swim” method.

As a leader, you are constantly being pulled in many directions and may not think you have the time to train your team. Perhaps you had to figure a lot of things out yourself to get where you are today, and figure your new staff will do the same.

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But isn’t that a waste of their time? And isn’t that time that you’re paying for? Why wait for your team to catch up when you can help them perform their best much sooner than raw experience could teach them?

Besides being fiscally irresponsible, choosing a sink or swim method of training is a bad idea for a whole host of other reasons. Here’s what you could risk:

  • They won’t ask you for help when they definitely should: If you start out your relationship as someone uninterested in their development or unavailable to train them, chances are they won’t reach out before things go from bad to worse. Which is a liability in many delicate aspects of sales. Remember, you don’t want to be a “firefighter manager.”
  • They could be picking up on bad habits: If you leave your training to other members of the team, they may be teaching them inefficient ways of doing things or styles that are just plain wrong -- all of which could be prevented with a solidified training process.
  • They may miss (or misunderstand) your incentive structure: If you’re not clear about what compensation or professional development opportunities are available, it may make your top salespeople go quiet and won't incentivize your underperforming players to really do their best.

Better Sales Onboarding:

Building a training program doesn’t have to solely rest on your shoulders. Create an outline of your ideal onboarding needs first and then invite senior members of your sales team to flesh out the specifics. Act as editor and pair down your training to the best tools that will get your new hires quickly ramped up.

Sales Playbooks

One great template for trainings can be through sales playbooks, a popular sales team resource that sums up the best tactics by the highest performing sellers. Or creating quick video tutorials can be massively effective -- one study said they helped get win rates up by 28 percent! Once these resources are distributed, provide a feedback loop so that new hires and trainers can both submit feedback and refine after each hiring period.

Only having team meetings.

It may be a no-brainer, but it’s worth really being honest with yourself -- how consistently do you set up your 1:1 meetings with your sales people? Are they as consistent as your team meetings? If not, you could be losing up to 7 percent of your annual revenue growth.

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Team meetings may feel like an easy and efficient way to mass market your feedback, consider how they’re probably not helping you understand the needs of your team:

  • You’re probably not hearing about the problems you need to know about: Who wants to share their biggest struggles in front of all of their coworkers, some of whom they are competing with for bonuses? If you’re not making time for individualized, private discussions, you may be finding out about big issues way too late.
  • Top performers may find them a waste of time (at a price of their morale): Too many team meetings can make your top sales reps feel frustrated because they’re sacrificing time that they want to be using closing sales.
  • Constantly addressing a group can make your message feel insincere: Sure, public speaking may make you feel vulnerable, but there’s also a low chance of organized dissent in that setting. People want to be talked *with* not talked *at,* and the generalization of your message that happens after too many team meetings may make your advice grow stale.  

Better Sales Meetings:

Mentorship is consistently ranked as the biggest driver of success by top sales execs and 1:1 time is crucial to help figure out each of your seller’s individual potential. However, they must be paired with a consistent agenda to collect their progress and their opportunities for improvement. One great way to structure your 1:1 meetings is by using the SMART feedback model.

Also, different experience levels of different sellers may make them need more or less 1:1 meetings -- but be sure those expectations are transparently communicated to the entire team or else some sellers may feel picked on by needing more meetings.

Thinking your team should be mainly motivated by love for your company.

Don’t assume everyone is there for the magical mission you may have in your pitch deck. Chances are, you have great workers who do not have the heart-swellingly inspirational view of how your company is absolutely going to take over the world --  but simply by the stability your company provides their family. And that’s not only okay, it should be the standard by which you define your expectations.

This new and very toxic culture trend of treating a company “like family” has been a huge problem in startups, and is worth a moment’s attention as to why it’s such a bad idea:

  • You have entered into a business contract with your employee, not a blood oath. Setting the bar as high as family can make necessary cuts or pivots feel like a death rather than a sad but normal fact of business. Remaining team members may feel a level of betrayal or hostility that will breed discontentment.
  • It can bring up a ton of HR-level issues that will destroy your sales goals. Getting too chummy can lead to a variety of easily avoidable, yet easily done ways to go “over the line” with your remarks or anecdotes. And letting some people work longer (or shorter) days than others can open you up to compensation scrutiny. Keeping it professional keeps it safe for everyone.
  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry -- and that’s bad! (Yes, I know, that’s also not love but hear me out.) Judging your employee’s displays of affection toward your company can open you up to implicit bias levels of favoritism or create an inauthentic culture that favors sycophantic loyalty over critical thinking. Dangerous!

Better Sales Culture:

As Netflix’s famous slide deck on company culture put it, your company is a team, not a family. And teams have rules, consequences, and work to do. When planning any sales team management strategies, get specific.

Define your compensation, expectations, and roles as if you writing a glossary for your company. Determine your key sales metrics, set clear pathways to obtain them, and distribute them like your teachers did with syllabi back in high school. Be open to feedback, but stay firm with a formal process. It’s impossible to cater to everyone’s individual wants and needs, but your sellers want (and expect) transparency.

Selecting a management model just because everyone else is doing it.

If you’ve researched how to structure a sales team, chances are you’ve encountered models that include metaphors that mention islands, assembly lines, and pods. Although those may dominate sales team management strategies in the industry, popularity doesn’t always mean the best (or innovative).

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When you think through the three sales team structure models that dominate the sales industry, the ways they both do and don’t match what you need becomes clear:

  • The Assembly Line Model divides up a sales team into speciality areas usually: Lead Gen, Sales Development, Account Management, and Customer Support. This strategy is used by larger teams who have lots of clients as it’s super efficient. However, it can come across as impersonal and leave large gaps during handoffs where details or learned client behaviors can slip through the cracks.
  • The Island Model makes every sales rep into their own mini-sales team and lets each one handle every stage of the sales process. This guarantees a level of intimacy with the customer that is irrefutable, but severely limits the amount of clients each person can handle.
  • The Pod Model is a mix of the Assembly Line and the Island -- every small group of salespeople are responsible for a bunch of clients. Some members of the pod may be specialized, while others are generalists, which can create a collaborative atmosphere -- but if communication or working relationships are even a little bit “off” the balance of the team can quickly fall apart.

Better Sales Models:

Instead of thinking about the structure of your team, think about what it will take to get the clients you want. Is it an industry that requires a lot of cold calling with an elevator pitch, or does it require creative account proposals that require a long term relationship? Are they busy and want a “set it and forget it” relationship, or would they want to view your team as partners building something side-by-side?

What kind of resources will your sales people need and would you feel comfortable outsourcing it, whether it be lead gen or pitch deck creation? Working backwards will make a model much more clear. Embrace creating one yourself instead of a one size fits all solution (because it does not exist).

Not celebrating successes (or doing so in a lazy way).

What happens when someone closes a sale? If the answer is, “well that’s what I pay them to do” -- you may be needlessly wasting a morale building moment!

Sales is a tough job with a lot of rejection, thus the high burn-out rate referenced at the beginning of this article. Why add to it by not celebrating your team when it manages to overcome the odds?

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However, it goes deeper than just a hip-hip hooray or telling everyone to “please clap.” There are a few things to consider when selecting celebratory tactics:

  • Does it avoid favoritism yet encourage healthy competition? If you’re only focusing on one metric, it could make a certain type of seller seem more important (or worse, you could find yourself only celebrating your top seller week after week.
  • Would it make a low or entry-level seller feel overwhelmed or inspired? If the only kinds of wins you celebrate are the biggest or most impressive ones, it’s not only intimidating, it paints an inaccurate picture of how a healthy sales team performs. It takes all kinds of wins (both big and “small”) to consistently and sustainably surpass your key sales metrics.
  • What’s the story behind the sale you pick to celebrate? Sure, everyone's gonna love big numbers (we’re in sales, after all), but if it just came about by a seller’s slick rolodex, the whole thing might be needlessly discouraging to your newer hires (especially if they have a dose of “imposter syndrome”).

Better Sales Celebration

Identify a unique way to celebrate that reflects your office’s unique culture. Is it a place that would enjoy a personalized email sent company wide? Or would a physical bell being rung in the bullpen feel more authentic? Or how about if it was a Slack integration that sent a digital “gong” where everyone could express their congratulations with GIFs and emojis? Do some research and get creative -- your sales strategy isn’t lazy, so your celebrations shouldn’t be either!

And beyond individual sales, investing in team building activities that *won’t* make your employees roll their eyes is a good way to encourage lesser performers that their value is still certainly appreciated as part of your team -- but make sure you continue that positive energy as soon as you’re back in the office, or you may lose out on the investment.

Sales doesn’t have to be a high-churn industry!

By avoiding the above sales team management mistakes, you can create a thriving sales environment that treats employees like the investments they are.