3 Strategies for Grooming Future Sales Leaders

Peter Catalano

Turnover continues to be a challenge for modern sales organizations. A strong job market, the disappearance of pensions, and other factors have reframed the meaning of loyalty. More than ever, professional sellers are motivated to maximize their personal earnings. If that means job hopping, so be it.

At the same time, Chief Sales Officers (CSOs) face a variety of challenges. They not only have to exceed targets, but they must continuously drive profitable growth. Turnover is just one of the many internal and external factors on a CSO’s mind. Reps and managers often take what they’ve learned and move to another company. Worst case scenario: they benefit from your training and grooming and move to a competitor. Losing talent disrupts sales productivity at a variety of levels.

Strong retention has obvious benefits to a sales organization. One of the more overlooked benefits is building a strong sales leadership pipeline. The next sales VP or even CSO can and should come from within. But how can a sales organization build a culture of loyalty in a disloyal job market? Why build the next generation of sales leaders when so many are prone to “jumping ship”?

To achieve a high-performance sales culture, employee retention must be a part of the mix. Strong retention also provides the foundation for future sales leadership. Key components of a sales retention strategy include:

1. A Virtual Bench: The best sports teams have deep benches of talent. In the same way, every sales team needs a virtual talent bench. A virtual bench enables companies to quickly place sales leaders into positions when openings arise. Where we’ve seen organizations fail is thinking this bench can be built overnight. Robust virtual benches take time to fill. The goal is to identify the potential for “A” talent early, then patiently nurture these individuals over time. This approach creates a strong sense of stewardship across multiple generations in the sales organization. Typically, high-potential leadership candidates are identified within the first 12 – 24 months of hiring. To be clear, this is not a rate-and-rank type program based on simple quantitative metrics. Instead, virtual benches require qualitative input through thoughtful leadership discussions. Beyond the numbers, what’s the broader potential of team members? What’s the plan to maximize this upside over the long term? Successful virtual bench programs include a variety of candidates at different performance levels.

 2. Rich and Broad Experiences: Simple time-based experience does not mean someone is experienced, and therefore a candidate for the next level. The best sales organizations are intentional in the type of experiences their team members face across their career journey. Make sure to place members of your virtual bench into a variety of scenarios. This requires rotation across business units, geographies, sales models, and customer segments. Broadening experience should also include formal and informal training as well as internal project involvement. Don’t hesitate to assign younger reps and managers to roles on special projects. These projects allow folks to showcase skills not normally seen in their day jobs. Moreover, this diversity of experience helps enhance a sales professional’s situational awareness. Situational awareness, particularly related to deal and customer decision factors, is a critical competency for successful sales leaders.

3. Rehire Policy: A thoughtful rehire policy is an important part of a solid retention strategy. Things happen, and people leave. A virtual bench combined with a plan to broaden experiences will certainly help decrease voluntary turnover. But what about strong performers who left years ago, before implementation of your retention plan? Many companies have an official rehire policy, typically something generic defined by HR. A sales organization needs to make sure this policy works for them. A sales rehire plan goes beyond black-and-white policy details. It requires leaders to continuously check-in with high potentials who might have left the organization. Leverage social media and professional societies to keep in touch. Often, you’ll find excellent candidates for your virtual bench that already know your culture and processes. It’s important that senior leaders recognize managing these relationships as a major part of their talent plan.

The odds are working against retention and loyalty for today’s sales leaders. Open territories erode performance each day a rep isn’t in place. The metrics of teams temporarily left without a sales manager can plummet. Understandably, emotions can run high when top reps or managers leave. Stress and frustration are even higher when the best leave for competitors. But it’s important to remember: retention can be more manageable than many leaders believe. Low voluntary turnover starts with designing and executing a strong sales retention strategy. Done right, such a strategy forms the core of the sales leadership development program.

Contact us to learn more strategies to decrease sales turnover and improve your leadership pipeline. From front front-line managers to senior sales executives, let us help you develop your next generation of leaders.   

Peter Catalano

Peter Catalano

Senior consultant with significant expertise in sales strategy, training, enablement, and transformations. Peter combines his background as a sales practitioner with practical consulting experience to drive successful client engagements.