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4 C’s to Help Sales Leaders Win the War for Talent

By Dave Egloff | December 01, 2021 | 0 Comments

Sales Strategy and Operationssales performancesales compensationSales OperationsSales Strategy and Design

As mentioned in Sales and The Great Resignation – Part 2, sales leaders are noticing a 36% higher than target seller attrition rate.  While some of this may be pent-up demand from the prior two years, nearly all of the sales leaders that I speak with are increasingly concerned about losing top talent and prolonged open requisitions.  Clearly, open requisitions lead to open territories, fewer opportunities and missed revenue targets.  It’s time to get proactive.  Sales leaders should use these four “C’s” to attract, motivate and retain top sales talent.

1 – Compensation

There are two ways to look at compensation.  First, there is compensation as a potential demotivator.  Compensation is demotivating when the base or on-target total compensation levels are below market competitive rates. Before sales leaders use compensation as a motivator, they must acknowledge if and resolve how compensation levels may be an inhibitor to talent attraction and retention.  Importantly, even as compensation stops being a demotivator, it may not become a motivator.  To motivate sellers with compensation, well-designed variable incentives – like commission plans – align an individual’s pay with their performance.  Note, well-designed incentive plans serve as motivators.  Many sales incentive plans fail to motivate sellers because they are less well-defined and:

  • Overly complex
  • More punitive than rewarding
  • Disconnected from an individual’s performance

For financially constrained sales leaders, boosting compensation levels to market rates may not be an option.  Alternatively, consider non-financial options.  Time compensation – like reduced workweeks or radically flexible schedules – should be considered when traditional compensation increases aren’t an option.

2 – Career Path

In Gartner’s 2017 Global Labor Market Survey (n=4,508), 27% of Gen Z listed career path as a top attraction driver.  Additionally, 23% identified development opportunities as their top attraction driver.  This is not to say that career path and development opportunities only resonate with those early in their career.  It’s just a reminder that the employee value proposition isn’t merely about compensation, even for sellers.

Sales leaders must keep early career sellers engaged – they are often the ones most likely to leave.  If sellers see themselves growing within your organizations, they’ll stick around with all other things being equal.  Traditionally, this has been a challenge given how sales roles and titles are designed.  For some sales roles, sales leaders should add title steps to reduce the duration of time between promotions.  These intermediate steps better reflect a seller’s progression and development.

3 – Coaching

Recently, a Gartner survey (n=69) revealed that 90% of chief sales officers recognize that manager and leadership quality was the second highest factor in terms of motivating sellers to exert high levels of effort.  Note, the top response was variable compensation at 91%.  One of the best things that you can do for a seller is to give them a great coach.  A great coach does more than just increase the level of effort.  Coaches:

  • Build skills
  • Prioritize time
  • Connect sellers to other resources
  • Reinforce good behaviors
  • Correct “not so good” behaviors

Gartner research finds that high-quality coaching improves core seller performance by 19%  (Source: 2005 Gartner Building a World-Class Coaching Program Survey, n = 2,600).  Unfortunately, while most sales leaders recognize the value and importance of coaching, too few:

  • Equip sales managers with objective sales metrics to improve coaching conversations with sellers
  • Prescribe a focused and proactive approach to sales performance management
  • Assess the value and impact of sales managers’ coaching effectiveness

Coaching must be more than a hope strategy.  Sales leaders must invest in their managers to ensure they know how, when and how much to coach.

4 – Culture

Culture is a tricky one.  Most of us know what is meant but few define it succinctly and well.  Gartner defines culture as “the set of behavioral norms and unwritten rules that shape an organization’s environment and individuals’ interactions within it.”  These norms trigger decisions, habits and expectations.  As an example, if the sales culture is to be collaborative, it’s expected that peers help each other improve effectiveness and productivity.  Alternatively, if the culture is focused on productivity and performance, sellers may not help each other as it’s seen as an opportunity cost to reaching their personal goals.

Sales leaders must evaluate their organization’s culture.  Specifically, they must assess the sellers’ perception of the culture as well as the consistency across internal messaging, behavior and business decisions.  Sales leaders will not find success saying one thing but operating as though they believe something else.  The talk must be walked.

Sales leaders need to explore all options and exhaust all avenues to win the war for talent.  While compensation is the natural area to look first, career paths, coaching and culture must be explored as well. 

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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