Your Reps Lifespan is Shrinking: 10 Ways You Can Help

Retaining sales talent is critical. It takes months to fill the seat and even longer to ramp to quota, only to start over when reps leave.

In fact, the average lifespan of a BDR/SDR rep is down from over two years to just fourteen months according to the latest report from The Bridge Group.

Why is our lifespan shrinking?  I have a few theories:

  1. Expectations are increasing. More tools + higher customer expectations and knowledge + the systematic approach to marketing and lead-passing means we have clearer and more demanding expectations of entry-level reps than we did two years ago.
  2. We’re adding tools at an alarming rate. The intent is to make the job easier, but we may be over-operationalizing – especially if we don’t have great hands-on training during onboarding.
  3. Customers are avoiding us. You probably don’t need an explanation here, but when we combine the customer journey stats (70% research done w/out sales) and phone answer rates (it takes 6+ calls to reach most of them), the sales job feels more fruitless on a daily basis.
  4. Desperate hires. The employee pool is shrinking and demand for inside sellers is growing. We may not be onboarding folks who are excited about careers in sales, but instead “testing the waters.”
  5. Role specialization. Although segmenting sellers according to the sales cycle makes good sense, it doesn’t help alleviate the boredom of outbound cold calling nor show the variety and spice that full-cycle selling used to. We’re starting reps in arguably the toughest gig and they’re opting out before getting to the fun of really serving customers for the majority of their days (e.g. in inbound, account management)
  6. Reps want more. More and more studies are telling us that reps seek development on the job and leave when it’s lacking. I’m not seeing studies saying we’re providing more.  In fact, nearly 50% of companies surveyed by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals said they have no ongoing development available. Ouch.

OK, now what do we do about it?  Here are ten millennial, new to sales, rep-rep focused tips to help.

Break up the job

After x hours or days of outbound cold calling, give reps new assignments where they can learn new tasks and talk to customers. Try calling past customers for feedback, riding along on renewal calls, developing new case studies, building the social responsibility calendar, qualifying inbound forms, doing competitor research, and taking some inbound calls.

Mini career paths

This idea isn’t new, and it isn’t just because millennials love trophy guys. When you’re slogging through thousands of calls, you need something to shoot for and quick. If your first company promotion is after fourteen months, pull it in to keep them past their average new SDR expiration date.

Flexibility

Ten years ago we added free breakfast and a ping pong table and checked the engagement box. Now it’s table stakes. So what can you offer that doesn’t break the bank? How about earning flexible hours, early out on Fridays, or work-from-home days?  Low cost with a massive reward (just implement with proper gates and oversight).


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Connect people at all levels

Remember the Gallup engagement studies from long ago? The largest percentage of actions leaders could take were focused on getting the employee connected – with other employees, their boss, and the company. Tie their job into the company mission and vision and help them feel important often. Create opportunities for people to make friends and work and spend time with them. Implement a mentoring program. Have a few work and non-work clubs available (and randomly attend some yourself!). Train managers how to engage their teams and be people leaders over metrics managers.

Individual development plans

Planning reps’ careers and training with a long term focus takes nothing more than an hour of managers’ time and scratches the development itch for reps. Free, easy, winner!

Beware the survey

Yes, you should ask how they’re doing. But the bigger the company, the bigger and longer the process. Truth: when an employee shares an issue or a suggestion, they wonder a week later why it isn’t fixed. This makes it worse! If you have autonomy over your group, keep your input nimble and frequent. (I’m thinking of the 3-button smiley stations after you go through some TSA checkpoints!). Get the gauge, then meet with folks 1:1 or a small group to get feedback and input. Bonus: this gives them facetime with the leader (thank you engagement spike) and helps you set expectations about what’s feasible.

Development budget

Got a plan and zero resources outside of free webinars and books? Fix it. Budget a minimum of $1500/rep/year to give yourself the room to develop and keep them. It’s the new ping pong table. Reps will go where the development is.

Check your reward and recognition

Two common errors here are when the same reps win everything (the tenured folks with the big books of accounts according to your newbies) and our gamification boards celebrating the same garbage (dials and revenue).  Build a strategy where all roles and all levels can feel like winners. Work on celebrating ratios and KPI’s over activity metrics and even try newbie-friendly behavior rewards (these are subjective measures that celebrate new folks doing the right things, even though results aren’t in yet). My favorite is a first-base contest where reps are rewarded for getting the conversation (first base).

Work on your managers

You may have robust rep training, but lack-luster managers – perhaps newly promoted (I speak of what I know here!). Did your managers get training on how to develop their team? Provide proper call coaching? Support rep career growth? You may be doing everything right but failing on the front lines in execution.  Invest in a manager and engage 12 reps…

Clarity is queen

The most frustrating thing for a sales employee is not knowing where they stand. Are your annual goals released on January 1 or March 31? Work on that. Does every rep know their monthly, even daily goals? There’s a worthy action item. Do they know what good sounds like on calls and how to win this month’s meeting or the annual trip? Working on this blocking and tackling can be easier and more effective than trying to open an on-site concierge or daycare (in every employee survey I’ve seen!)

All of these are easy, but only make your top priority list if you get serious about increasing your retention. Find your number and set a goal that your reps will stay 2, 4, 6 months longer than the average. Your commission check will thank you.