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How to Improve Sales Rep Retention During This High-Turnover Period

January 25, 2022

Contributor: Doug Bushée

One-on-one stay conversations assess a seller's intent to remain with the organization and improve their engagement.

Gartner clients report that replacing a seller can cost anywhere from one-half to two times a seller's annual targeted earnings. Thus, this turbulent labor market poses challenges to all sales organizations and sales leaders searching for programs to help retain sellers and mitigate talent risks.

So what options do sales leaders have to help improve seller engagement and reduce seller attrition?

Download now: 3 Strategic Actions for CSO Success in 2022

An increasingly popular option is to integrate stay conversations into the existing sales management process.

What Are Stay Conversations?

Stay conversations are semi-structured, one on-one conversations with sellers, led by their sales manager, their manager once removed or a member of HR. A stay conversation assesses the seller's intent to remain with the organization and improves their engagement. In addition, stay conversations demonstrate a sales manager's interest in how the seller is doing by asking questions such as:

  1. What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  2. What about your role makes you want to hit the snooze button?
  3. Do you believe your work here has meaning?
  4. If you could change one thing about your job, what would that be?
  5. If you could change one thing about the company, what would that be?

But stay conversations aren't simply about asking the seller questions; they're also about engaging with the seller at the right time, in the proper manner and with the right intent.

Download now: Guide to Motivate and Retain Your Sales Team

How Are Stay Conversations Delivered?

Sales managers should deliver stay conversations during regularly planned one on ones with their sellers, but managers need guidance on the correct way to deliver stay conversations. These four critical actions enable your team to lead effective conversations:

1. Teach managers the critical topics to cover during stay conversations. Stay conversations should be semi-structured to allow them to flow organically. They should include open-ended and future-focused questions that address the employee experience and individual needs. Poor sales manager preparation for stay conversations will lead to ineffective and unfocused meetings that will not feel tailored to the needs of individual sellers.

2. Guide managers to conduct stay conversations at the correct times. Work with sales managers to hold regularly scheduled stay conversations, when possible, months away from annual performance reviews to keep the discussions separate. Being strategic about the timing of stay conversations increases the likelihood that sales managers will determine if the seller wants to leave and implement actions to keep the seller in the organization. Conversely, irregular or poorly timed (i.e., too late) stay conversations will not surface outstanding issues in time to take action before a seller decides to leave.

3. Work with sales managers and HR partners to determine action steps after each stay conversation. A key component to the success of stay conversations is the action the organization takes once managers complete them. Stay conversations that reveal seller concerns or problems but don't identify opportunities for remediation may ultimately prove to be further disengaging. Be clear about how the organization will aggregate and share feedback to support changes and improvements at the individual and organizational level.

4. Build stay conversations into the culture of the sales organization. Sales leaders should build stay conversations into the standard sales management process as part of regularly scheduled one-on-ones. Aggressive or awkward questioning around seller motivation and engagement during a stay conversation may diminish the feelings of psychological safety, resulting in a lack of sharing authentic feedback.

What Are the Benefits of Stay Conversations?

Stay conversations benefit sellers, sales managers and CSOs in the following ways:

Sellers: Stay conversations create feelings of being valued by leadership, improving the employee experience and increasing job satisfaction. Sellers tell Gartner their engagement increases when their organization discusses their future and looks for ways to improve it.

Sales Managers: Stay conversations help sales managers:

  • Identify who on their team is most at risk to leave.
  • Create more time and space to address retention issues within the manager's control or plan effectively for eventual turnover well ahead of a seller deciding to leave.
  • Neutralize potentially negative seller emotions early before ripple effects may impact others on the team.

Sales Organization: Finally, while exit interviews primarily identify the historical triggers for an employee's decision to leave, stay conversations, and the corresponding feedback managers provide to the organization, provide a clear opportunity to improve the likelihood that more individual sellers stay by improving the seller experience at scale.

Stay conversations require less HR and managerial effort because extensive training and bureaucratic processes are not necessary for a productive discussion. Thus, the only "cost" of a stay conversation is the manager and employee's time to have one, ensuring a high ROI in terms of turnover avoidance on relatively minimal time investment.

Stay conversations are proving to be a critical tool during a period of higher than normal attrition. Sales leaders and their organizations will benefit from ensuring sales managers know what stay conversations are and understand the best ways to deploy them.

In short:

  • In the midst of what many are calling the "Great Resignation," a record 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their job in December 2021 alone.
  • A recent Gartner pulse survey found 57% of CSOs reported experiencing above-target attrition, with the average increase in seller turnover being 36% above target.
  • Reducing seller turnover becomes a priority for any sales organization at these levels, as replacing a departed seller is costly.

This article originally appeared in The Chief Sales Officer: 4Q 2021. Download the full issue here.

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