Blog post

Sales and The Great Resignation – Part 2

By Dave Egloff | October 21, 2021 | 2 Comments

Sales Strategy and OperationsSales Strategy and Design

In August, I wrote about how The Greatest Sales Risk is the Great Resignation and illustrated how you can calculate the turnover-related risk in terms of seller productivity months.  The data behind that blog came from the US Department of Labor showing how nearly 4 million professionals quit their job in June.  Well, according to updated data released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.3 million Americans quit their job in August.  This reflects a 2.9% quit rate.  Admittedly, this is hard to consume without more context.  Simply, this is the highest quit rate percentage ever reported by this US bureau.

Clearly, chief sales officers (CSOs) are taking notice.  They are monitoring this via the lagging metric of seller attrition rates.  A recent Gartner pulse survey of 69 CSOs shows that seller attrition rates are 36% higher than their related target.  That’s significant and isn’t likely to resolve itself.  CSOs must take action.  Here are three strategies to improve seller motivation and retention.

1 – Adjust and align variable compensation

The Gartner pulse survey also found that 65% of CSOs are expecting increased spending on personnel. On average, those CSOs expect a 22.6% increase in personnel budget.  Through a series of client discussions, it seems that budget increases come from both more headcount as well as increases in pay per person.

However, this isn’t simply about the level of pay.  When evaluating variable compensation, CSOs must:

  • Set the pay mix using role dynamics, corporate culture and market practices
  • Simplify play plans by reducing the number of compensation metrics, modifiers and nuances
  • Reinforce sellers’ line of sight to ensure their goals align to organizational priorities AND that their performance drives their pay

2 – Improve manager and leadership quality

We have all heard the adage that “people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss.”  While the truthfulness of this statement may be debated, the fact remains that managers greatly impact sellers’ engagement and intent to stay with the organization.  It’s increasingly impactful as sellers are undergoing a series of changes and issues including (but not limited to):

Sales managers play a key role to help sellers deal with these issues and adapt to the “new normal.”  Plus, managers already have a lot on their plate as they continue to coach sellers, strategize deals and navigate internal complexities to improve customer relationships.

CSOs should look to invest in their sales managers by reducing their burden and improving their ability to drive seller productivity and engagement.

3 – Focus on the employee experience and culture

Traditionally, sellers’ experience and the sales organization’s culture have not been a major concern for CSOs.  Certainly, CSOs didn’t want a bad seller experience.  However, this just didn’t appear to be a high priority.  Culturally, pay for performance has been the target state.  So, what has changed?

For many, the pandemic has changed the attitudes and preferences of employees towards the workplace.  Plus, the “great resignation” reflects employees’ willingness to act on those changed behaviors.  As a result, CSOs must adapt to these changing preferences.

First, CSOs must recognize that culture doesn’t have an evergreen or one-size-fits-all solution.  Instead, it’s an adaptive strategy made up of behavioral norms, daily rituals and sets of written and unwritten rules on how the sales organization operates.  The key here is that it’s adaptive.  As sellers shift, so must the organizational culture.

Seller attrition should not be ignored.  The good news is that most CSOs seem to be aware of this issue and are starting to take action.  CSOs have plenty of opportunities to get ahead of this problem before it persists or gets worse.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Great article. “Culture doesn’t have an evergreen or one size fits all solution” really resonates.

  • Dave,

    Well said and it goes even further when you think of the impact sales will have with supporting teams departing. When SE’s leave and other key roles the sales team needs to think about how they manage to serve their clients and maintain/recruit new people.

    One of the more interesting parts of the stats are that people are not moving jobs, they are just quitting. This means more jobs and fewer people to do them.