Seven Ways To Kill Off Your Best Salespeople

Recently, the vice president of sales of a Fortune 1000 company asked me, “Why am I losing my top producers? They are leaving $100,000 jobs to work for organizations that are paying $30,000 less than us.”

He had ample reason to be alarmed because he was talking about top producers, the top three or four out of his 50+ sales force. And, these sales representatives were writing about 60% or 70% of his total sales. He wanted to cure this difficult problem before the sales force eroded even more.

While there are dozens of reasons why salespeople move from one organization to another, we looked at what I have learned are the seven major factors that cause most top producers to jump ship. So, we focused on these factors first. After doing so, the vice president of sales had his answer and knew how to solve this problem.

1. Top producers believe in unlimited earning potential.

Most people, including most salespeople, only work hard enough to attain what they consider a comfortable lifestyle. If most sales representatives need $70,000 to pay their bills, provide for their families, enjoy a vacation, put a little bit aside for the future and the kids education, they seldom will work harder to earn more.

Not top producers, however. Top producers believe what they were told when they were hired: “Your earning potential has no limit here. We want you to earn lots of money.” That is, until some senior executives meet and say, “Wait a minute, do you know that Sally is going to earn more than we are this year? Thats not right; we are senior executives and cant have salespeople earning more than we do!”

So, they start implementing ways to cap the top producers earnings. Salaries are increased and commissions are decreased. The top producer is told, “You are doing such a fantastic job, we want to increase your salary but, of course, your commission structure will change. And, we are going to increase our contribution to your medical insurance.” When the top producer discovers he will actually earn less money for the same amount of premium dollars, he or she starts looking for a better structure elsewhere.

There are myriad variations on this theme, but all of them accomplish one thing: They kill off the top producer. These changes dont affect those who arent motivated by unlimited earnings potential. Top producers quickly see through these changes and realize they are targeted directly at them. They start to shop for a new job. And, they find it with companies that offer a better salary plus a better commission structure. They stay there until their new senior management inflicts the same damage all over again.

2. Top producers want to be left alone and are not team players.

Collaboration. Team Meetings. QC Circles. Strategy Sessions. IT Rollouts. Corporate America today is abuzz with the sound of many voices talking about how to get things done. The talking takes forever to a top producer. Talented salespeople dont want to collaborate. They dont want to meet. They have defamatory terms for QC and IT. They could care less about rollouts. To top producers, these things prohibit them from doing what they want to doto sell your products and services. Let them do it. Keep them out of these nonsales activities. Let those who dont know how to sell attend these meetings.

3. Top producers want their manager to know how to sell.

Most companies that have a sales force also employ someone they call a sales manager. Usually this person is really a sales administrator, someone top producers view as a sales secretary. Senior management usually keeps this person so busy doing busy work like providing real-time data to them, analyzing data, tracking budgets, and, oh yes, attending all of those meetings top producers hate. Some companies actually have meetings to plan meetings.

Top producers have no respect for this type of leader. They want a sales manager who can coach them, mentor them, understand their daily challenges, advocate for them, and show the top producers ways to improve by demonstrating sales skills during actual sales calls. They want their manager to help them with the process of selling. They want this because they are top producers and want to sell more so they can earn a lot of money. If their manager helps them earn a lot of money, they are really happy.

4. Top producers want to be perceived as superstars.

“We pay these people loads of money. Isnt that enough? Isnt that what they want?”

Yep, top producers want a lot of money because they earn it. Thats why your company is in business. But, no, thats not enough for most top producers. Top producers think stratospherically. Thats what drives them. They dont think 16-foot Boston Whaler. They think 60-foot yacht. And, they want everyone to know about their success. They need recognition. They want everyone to know that they are top producers and that they are valuable. They know they are sales superstars and know there a lot of companies (including your competition) that will enable them to earn lots of money. But not lots of fame. Give em fame; youll keep em longer.

5. Top producers hate paper.

Reports, expense statements, call reports, administrationits all blah, blah, blah to a top producer. Do yourself a favor and hire an administrative assistant to support the top producers in your organization. Top producers want to sell. Let them. Make it easy for them. Mediocre and poor salespeople dont really mind all of these nonselling activities. Thats one of the reasons why they are not top producers.

6. Top producers dont want to be managers.

It never ceases to amaze me that so many companies think they have to promote their top producers to managers. They seem to feel that if a management carrot is not dangling in front of the top producers nose, he or she will leave. Sure, some top producers voice frustration that they could do a better job than their manager and that they could teach others to sell like they do. But, most often this is a cry for recognition and not a scream for promotion. And, its a sure sign that their manager is a sales administrator and not a real sales manager. Ninety-five percent of the time, if you make a top producer a manager, you will lose a top producer and gain a lousy manager.

7. Top producers want to be surrounded by other top producers.

Top producers resent mediocre salespeople and the attention they receive. In some perverse way, managers have come to believe that they have an obligation to nurture, grow, remediate and cure those salespeople who are “just getting by.” Top producers feel like the losers get all of the attention and that they are taken for granted. More sales executives should start getting rid of those who cant sell so they can focus their energy on finding those who can be top producers. By showing top producers that you expect others to work toward excellence in sales by striving to become top producers, you will validate the contribution of top producers and keep them longer.

Harrison Greene is president of Unique Selling Systems, which helps companies increase their bottom line through improved sales results. He may be reached at harrison@uniquesellingsystems.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 30, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.