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Hire and Keep Your Best Sales Talent: 3 Tips and a Tool

By Susan Hall

Hire and Keep Your Best Sales Talent: 3 Tips and a Tool

As a sales Leader, you may be more concerned than ever about hiring and retaining the best sales talent. According to research published in SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) studies show that half of workers surveyed in North America intend to look for a job this year. The post-pandemic phenomenon is being called a Turnover ‘Tsunami’.

Burnout and the stress of balancing work with life issues such as home schooling children and caring for an aging parent join the list of “typical” reasons for turnover- an interest in higher pay or promotion, more engaging career, professional development.

The shrinking employee pool, along with a post-pandemic shift in the skills required of successful salespeople, can add up to big losses for companies. Recent data show that, when you factor in lost productivity and recruiting costs, it can cost an employer 6-9 months of an individual’s salary to replace them.

I sat down with Dr. Leslie A. Miller, researcher, Organizational and Research Psychologist, and expert in the field of employee measurement and assessment, and asked her about the things that trip up most organizations as they navigate hiring and keeping talented sales people in this new work environment.

Dr. Miller netted out three recommendations:

1. Take another look at your requirements of sales professionals.

When was the last time you took a look at your sales job profiles and requirements? Organizations often default to their standard practices to backfill roles with the same skills they’ve hired for in the past. Have you identified the skills and behaviors that your sales people will need to demonstrate in the future for success? Are you crystal clear on what it takes to be successful in sales at your organization?

The pandemic drastically changed the way businesses operate. Many companies pivoted on the products and services they offer and the markets they sell into. Add in challenges with supply chain and working remotely, the trend toward sales people taking on more of the administrative tasks; all of these changes require a different level of communication, empathy and problem solving skills from your front line sales people.

And don’t forget about values. When we work with leaders to help them clarify new sales roles, we always address values. Does your organization have a documented and widely dispersed set of clearly-articulated values that align with your organization’s aspirations for desired workplace behaviors?” Have your values as an organization changed in terms of work/life balance for example? Has what you value regarding accountability changed due to changing work locations? Knowledge, skills, abilities, values, all of these should be reassessed and identified.

2. How are you assessing your current team to ensure they’re a good fit? Are you identifying gaps and coaching based on these gaps?

Dr. Miller advocates a simple but powerful and often overlooked tool for both recruiting talent and communicating new expectations to current employees: a Realistic Job Preview (RJP.) An RJP is a highly detailed description of a typical “day in the life” of a salesperson at your company. “Generally, companies will tell you about the role and requirements of the job, but they don’t flush out what it will really be like to work in the job and at the organization, nor what is expected of employees in a detailed and specific way.” The RJP is more than a job profile. It offers detailed information to ensure the candidate has a realistic picture of the position, the skills required, and the overall organizational culture. For example:

“While every week can be different, during a typical week you’ll arrive at the office at 7 AM two days a week, and work virtually for three days. No meetings are scheduled between 7-9 AM so this gives you plenty of time to check and respond to all of your emails and phone calls. You can expect to conduct 3- 5 client meetings per day. While the purpose of these meetings will differ, the overall objective is always the same, to spend quality time with strategically chosen prospective, new, or existing clients. Sometimes you’ll spend your time understanding new client needs or positioning our products/services, while other times you’ll spend your time having very difficult conversations with clients.

An RJP can be used as an effective tool to communicate new expectations to sales people and sales leaders. The realistic job preview is often used as a tool that potential applicants can use to self-screen themselves out prior to applying for the job. It allows organizations to paint a detailed picture of what it will be like to work in the job/at the organization, the good and bad aspects of the job. It helps to ensure good person-job and good person-organization fit.

For example, we recently created an RJP for a tech client as one element of their updated recruiting practices. Their turnover was in the high 40’s, and most of it occurred within the first 6 months of being hired. Early turnover is often a sign of missed expectations, and their exit interviews validated this. They included the RJP on the career page of the company website so candidates could get a clear understanding of the role. “They found that a number of candidates self-selected out of the recruiting process, but their overall quality of the candidates that pursued the position improved exponentially. “And, this saved the company thousands of dollars in time spent screening and interviewing applicants that weren’t a fit. Better still, turnover was reduced by 23% due to more clarity and alignment around expectations.

3. Are you following up and coaching to new expectations? 

Do you know who your high performers are? They tend to be most susceptible to burnout. 40% of employees that don’t rate their supervisor’s performance highly have interviewed for a new job in the last three months — compared to just 10% for those that do rate their supervisor highly. What are you doing to engage them and inspire them to stay and continue to contribute their best? And are you coaching and mentoring and making the tough decisions when necessary?

By reviewing and updating your requirements to ensure they realistically reflect sales in the post-pandemic world, assessing current talent and selecting new talent accordingly (perhaps integrating an RJP into your selection process), and coaching performance, your organization will be in a more solid position to hire and retain the high caliber of sales talent required for success in the new world of work, whatever that may look like.

Published: August 27, 2021

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Susan Hall

Vice President - Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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